Something Surely Hidden: Conspiracies and Codes in the Margins of a First Folio Facsimile



image preview


At left, poems by L. Digges and I.M. commemorating William Shakespeare are shown from the SUNY Buffalo State's facsimile of William Shakespeare's First Folio from 1866. At right, we see the second and third pages of 'The Tempest' in the same facsimile.

Throughout the SUNY Buffalo State First Folio facsimile (and as shown on these pages in particular), the marginaliast uses blue (and occasionally red) colored pencil in the margins and directly in the text to argue for Baconian authorship of the plays.

Colored pencils are a far more recent invention than many would think – the first colored pencils did not appear until the nineteenth century.[1] These early colored pencils were available only in blue and red and were used, not by artists, but by editors for “checking and marking.”[2] The reds and blues stood out from the black text, making edits easier to spot,[3] and “the blue pencil” became an iconic part of copyediting.

All the same, colored pencils remained a strictly professional tool well into the twentieth century. In 1906, The American Stationer ran a lengthy article explaining what a colored pencil was and how it might be used.[4] Clearly, the colored pencil had not caught on with the general public yet.

The specialized use of the colored pencil by the marginaliast in the SUNY Buffalo State First Folio facsimile suggests that the marginaliast was a professional. In the early twentieth century, blue and red pencils were used by editors, architects, accountants, and artists, and for “general commercial work.”[5] It is likely the marginaliast was professionally involved in one of these fields and, given the literary subject at hand, probably in publishing or editorial work.


[1] “Invention and History of Colored Pencils,”, accessed March 7, 2016,

[2] Margaret Holben Ellis and M. Brigitte Yeh, “Categories of Wax-Based Drawing Media: Colored Pencil” on, accessed March 7, 2016,

[3] The Writer: A Monthly Magazine for Literary Workers: Volume II January-December 1888 (Boston: The Writer Publishing Company, 1888), pg. 254

[4] “Colored Pencils,” The American Stationer Volume 60: November 10, 1906 (New York and Chicago, 1906), 27.

[5] The Writer, 254.

< Previous Exhibit Page

Next Exhibit Page >


William Shakespeare, First Folio, marginalia, book history, editing, pencils