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facsimile edition

The Oxford Companion to the Book

facsimile edition 

A *documentary edition that reproduces a text precisely, duplicating its linguistic features (e.g. *spelling, *punctuation) along with some of its bibliographical features (e.g. *typography, spacing). Unlike *critical editions, facsimile editions present a text as it is, leaving in place whatever peculiarities and errors lie therein. No attempt is made to regularize the text, expand *abbreviations, or align extratextual features with modern publishing conventions.

There are currently two main kinds of facsimile edition: the photofacsimile and the type facsimile. Photofacsimile editions use film or digital imaging technology to produce an ‘exact’ copy of the original document. However, the image quality varies widely, from the grainy, sometimes illegible, black-and-white available on microfilm to the high-resolution, colour-perfect images used for expensive collectors’ editions printed on *vellum. When distributed in *codex format, photo-facsimile editions are typically reserved for texts that are unique (i.e. medieval and later MSS) or that bear some historical or cultural significance (i.e. the private journals of George Washington), or that are useful for scholars (such as *Alston’s Scolar Press series). *Microform and microfiche are more common, and less expensive, formats for duplicating texts deemed less significant. With the advent of the Internet (see world wide web), photofacsimile editions of rare texts have become increasingly available to scholars through online editions (by Internet Shakespeare Editions, for instance) and electronic databases that store *PDFs or *JPEGs of documents (e.g. Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online). Both print and MS texts are well represented in photofacsimile, but it is a particularly good choice for MSS, which often have characteristics that cannot easily be communicated via printed text, such as *erasures, drawings, or idiosyncratic *letterforms. The *script of some MSS may be difficult to read, however, spurring many editors to include *diplomatic transcriptions alongside or following the facsimile.

Type facsimiles, in contrast, do not replicate the original document, but recreate its appearance with a new setting of type. Editors reproduce the spelling, punctuation, and placement of the words: marginal commentary is printed in the margins, *interlinear glosses are printed between lines of type, and prose lineation follows that of the exemplar. Type facsimiles of printed documents usually employ the same *typeface found in the original printing; for MS documents, obviously, type cannot mimic the script’s appearance. However, the physical arrangement of headings, salutations, dates, or images does duplicate that of the original text, whether MS or print.

Prior to the invention of photographic printing technology in the late 19th century, all facsimiles were essentially re-creations. In the 18th century, facsimiles were made by hand-tracing text and/or images on to transparent paper, then transferring the tracing to *woodblocks or copper *plates for printing. Thus, the facsimile—whether engraved or lithographic—was not a perfect replication of the original document, but was always mediated by the copyist, the engraver, and the *compositor.

Such mediation remains a feature of contemporary facsimiles. While they propose to offer readers access to the ‘real thing’, facsimile editions are no less constructed than critical editions. Type facsimiles require careful transcription, which some editors have compared to translation. Likewise, photofacsimiles of printed documents entail decisions regarding the priority of a text’s

facsimile editionClick to view larger

Type facsimile of part of Revelation 5–6 taken from the Codex *Alexandrinus. The specimen was produced at London c.1714 and survives in the *Bagford collection. © The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved (BL Harl. MS. 5966(36)

various *impressions and *issues before editors can determine which particular copy would be most suitable for replication. Indeed, it is possible to create an *eclectic edition in facsimile. For his photo-facsimile edition of *Shakespeare’s *First Folio (no two copies of which are identical), *Hinman selected various pages from individual copies, choosing those that represented the latest and most correct stage of printing to create one ‘ideal’ copy.

In short, facsimiles can only ever approximate the originals. Reproductions may be faulty, resulting in loss of palaeographical detail, omission of faint punctuation marks, or miscolouration of ink marks or illustrations—all of which can lead to invalid interpretations of the text at hand. Moreover, elements such as *watermarks, paper stock, ink, etc. simply cannot be duplicated. Nonetheless, facsimiles can and do serve important aesthetic, historical, and scholarly roles by making otherwise rare texts available to a greater number of readers.

Rebecca Stark-Gendrano


G. T. Tanselle, ‘Reproductions and Scholarship’, SB 42 (1989), 25–54Find this resource:

    F. Weitenkampf, ‘What is a Facsimile?’, PBSA 37 (1943), 114–30Find this resource:

      H. R. Woudhuysen, ‘“Work of Permanent Utility”: Editors and Texts, Authorities and Originals’, in Textual Performances, ed. L. Erne and M. Kidnie (2004)Find this resource: