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From woodcut to photograph: techniques of book illustration

A forged First Folio title page

Forgery of title page of William Shakespeare's 1623 First Folio, with a portrait of Shakespeare, produced by using the photographic techniques of photogravure and photozincographyForgery of title page of William Shakespeare's 1623 First Folio, produced by using the photographic techniques of photogravure and photozincographyIn 2006 Foyle Special Collections Library staff discovered what at first sight appears to be an original title page leaf of the 1623 First Folio edition of William Shakespeare’s plays, tucked with other miscellaneous documents between the pages of a book.

However, closer investigation revealed it to be a comparatively sophisticated forgery, carried out in the late 19th or early 20th century. The forger, whose identity and purpose are unknown, was able to take advantage of two reproductive techniques, both involving photography, to create the forged title page.

A clue to the method involved was one of the other documents found with the forged title page. This was a facsimile of the copy of the First Folio known as the Cracherode copy and held at the British Library. Examination of the forged title page leaf and this facsimile leaf with the aid of a light-box revealed that on both there are pin-pricks at two of the four corners of the famous portrait of Shakespeare by Droeshout.

It appears that the facsimile portrait was produced by photogravure, whereby a photographic negative of the original is transferred to a metal plate and etched in. This process results in an incised metal plate whose grooves hold the ink in the same way as the plate that would have been used in 1623.The textual portions of the forged title page were produced by a different process, photozincography, involving the photography of the text and the subsequent creation of a zinc relief block.

This technique was probably favoured by the forger because the raised letters of the zinc relief block impress the ink onto the paper in the same way as conventional printing by movable type; even under magnification it is not always possible to detect that photozincography has been used.

The pinpricks indicate where the two resulting new images – photozincograph and photogravure – were lined up for their final reproduction on a sheet of 17th century paper.

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