Comparing Two Metamorphosis Books 1810 published by Wiatt and 1811 printed by Rakestraw

By Colette Slagle and Jacqui Reid-Walsh

At the beginning of this school year, Jacqui and I wrote a blog in which we compared the 1810 Metamorphosis book printed by Solomon Wiatt and the 1811 Metamorphosis book printed by Jonathan Pounder (held at the Bodleian Library).  Penn State Special Collections recently purchased an 1811 Metamorphosis book printed by Joseph Rakestraw.  Today, we decided to revisit the 1810 Metamorphosis book held at Penn State, and compare it to the newly purchased 1811 Metamorphosis book, due to the close proximity of their publishing dates and locations.

The 1810 version was published by Solomon Wiatt at No. 104, North Second Street, Philadelphia, PA.  The 1811 version was printed and sold by Joseph Rakestraw at No. 248, North Third Street, Philadelphia, PA.  These two addresses appear to be only one street apart from one another.  The similarities between the two versions are striking; however; they are not without differences.

The images in the main text of both versions are identical, though the images on the verso differ.  In Wiatt’s 1810 version, there is an image of a man seated in a chair and handing a little boy a book, and an image of a woman in chains in prison.  In Rakestraw’s 1811 version, there is an image of a woman beneath a tree with a reclining African American man beside her, and an image of a couple fleeing.  The title pages also both feature the same image of a man sitting underneath a tree.  According to Welch, Wiatt’s 1810 version is the first one to feature this image (392).

Verso of Wiatt’s 1810 version (top) and verso of Rakestraw’s 1811 version (bottom) (Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)

Interestingly, Rakestraw’s 1811 version and Pounder’s 1811 version are completely identical in the images they use, including the extra images on the verso.

Verso of Jonathan Pounder’s 1811 version. (Bodleian Library, Oxford University Vet. K6 f.92)

The text in Wiatt’s 1810 and Rakestraw’s 1811 is also identical, with only a couple of minor differences, likely due to typographical errors (i.e. the occasional missing comma, and the misspelling of “Saviour” as “Savour” in Rakestraw’s 1811 version).

Misspelling of “Saviour” as “Savour” in Rakestraw’s 1811 version. (Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)

The biggest differences, however, were not in the images or the text.  The most striking difference is the size of the paper.  The 1811 version printed by Rakestraw is visibly larger.  It measures approximately 14 ¼ inches x 5 ¾ inches, while the 1810 version published by Wiatt is approximately 13 ½ inches x 5 5/8 inches.  This means that the difference in length between the two is about ¾ of an inch, and the difference in width is about 1/8 of an inch.  While the widths of the two texts are very close in size, the lengths are significantly different.

Wiatt’s 1810 version (top) and Rakestraw’s 1811 version (bottom). (Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)

Another interesting difference between the two are the borders used in each version.  In the 1810 version by Wiatt, when the flaps are closed, the borders around the text are straight and rectangular, except for the set of verses numbered 7 on the top flap of the third panel.  Here, the border is a wavy line rather than a straight line.

Wiatt’s 1810 version (top) and Rakestraw’s 1811 version (bottom). (Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)

When the flaps are open in the 1810 version by Wiatt, they all have wavy borders around the text, matching the 1811 version by Rakestraw.  The only difference between these two versions when all of the flaps are open is the dividing lines between the original verses and the added verses.  In Rakestraw’s 1811 version, all of the dividing lines are wavy, matching the borders that surround the text.  In Wiatt’s 1810 version, however, the dividing line has a different design, with the exception of the top flap on panel one featuring sets of verses numbered 13 and 2, which strangely matches the wavy dividing line of Rakestraw’s 1811 version.

Wiatt’s 1810 version.  The wavy dividing line featured on the left matches the wavy dividing lines used in Rakestraw’s 1811 version. Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)

We have enjoyed comparing these two texts and going forward we are excited to look at other versions of Metamorphosis books that are presently being catalogued at Penn State. With the help of curator Jose Guerrero, Jacqui was able to locate a few more versions.  In addition to the 1811 version, there are 1815 and 1816 versions, both also printed by Joseph Rakestraw.  This means that Penn State now holds editions printed by Rakestraw from 1811, 1814, 1815 (a hand-colored version), 1816, and 1817, which we are excited to compare when we return in the fall.

An Alternative Origin Story?: A Printerly View

By Jacqui Reid-Walsh and Colette Slagle

The last blog post ended with a question about the centrality of the mermaid in the making of the strip. In this post, we take a “printerly” view of the entire printed object in order to explore a possible alternative narrative where the mermaid is central.

As mentioned in the earlier blog, in the first panel there are four images produced by the two blocks (mermaid and Adam). From a reader-player’s view the sequence is Adam, Eve, the merman (when lifted against instructions) and the mermaid. Moving from the opposite direction, from the bottom up, we see that both Eve and the merman are formed by moving one flap each, and Adam is created by closing both flaps. Therefore, there are two prime positions: the top and the bottom both made by full blocks. Due to the ease of lifting the flaps to make these transformations, all from a mermaid first perspective, is there an alternate origin story being suggested?

(Jacqui’s woodblocks made from the Bodleian Library, Bodleian MS Wood E 25(10))

The official origin story is created by following the instructions. It places Adam as the major image and the mermaid as only an extension of Eve—the swirling tail suggests the serpent of the fall and the evil sexuality of Eve. Eve and the mermaid’s connection is reinforced by both figures having a flower in their left hand and a comb in their right.

(Photo courtesy of Penn State Libraries, Special Collections)*

If we start from the “printerly” view an opposing origin narrative is suggested. In a podcast for the University of Liverpool entitled, “Why do we love mermaids?”, English Professor Sarah Peverley discusses the function of merfolk as protective guardians in the ancient world. She notes that mermaids have long been present in our cultural mindset, although their form has changed over time. Even ancient Mesopotamia include frequent representations of merfolk. Peverley notes: “Largely it’s mermen to start with, although there are merwomen as well….They’re associated with creation itself. In these legends… the merfolk are there in the primordial oceans, the soup that creates all living things, and they act as protective guardians.” (

(Photo courtesy of Penn State Libraries, Special Collections)*

Because this reading is physically submerged or hidden under the flaps, so not as easily accessible to a reader-viewer-player, Jacqui proposes this could be an alternate narrative to the official and more readily available story of Adam and Eve.

*These photos are of the undated Beginning, Progress, and End of Man owned by Penn State Libraries, which has no bibliographic information.  As such we do not know for certain how it relates to the 1688/9 edition held by the Bodleian Library.  We hypothesize that it may be a version based on this this edition due to the similar text and images.

Mermaid at the centre

By Jacqui Reid-Walsh and Colette Slagle

(image courtesy of the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press,

After spending some time with quasi diplomatic description and focusing on the fonts, styles and languages of the text of the metamorphic books, Colette and I have turned back to the four of five sets of woodcut images that populate all the books from the 17th century Beginning, Progress and End of Man though all the later versions of the Metamorphosis; or a transformation of pictures, whether printed or homemade. No matter the number of panels, the first set is always Adam, who turns into Eve, the intended transformation of Eve into a mermaid, and the (presumably) unintended one of Adam in into a merman. While there is text to support the first three figures, there is nothing to describe or comment on the merman.

Just as the anonymous verse is biblical or traditional, the sources of the woodcuts are unknown, although thought to be medieval. This turn to the visual also connects with a post sabbatical project of Jacqui’s that was based on “critical making” a facsimile of the first panel of the Bodleian library version dated 1688/9 version. This was undertaken using a period printing press and facsimiles of the woodcuts that were made for Jacqui by the library (please see the Bodleian Library blog entry in the Conveyer for Feb 6, 2017). Richard Lawrence did the actual printing, and The BlockShop in Liverpool  made the first set of blocks from the line drawings made from the Bodleian version (1788/89).

What was revolutionary for Jacqui when she saw the first panel being made was that there were actually only two blocks: Adam and the Mermaid. Since the paper is laid horizontally and the long edges turned down and up to make flaps, the mermaid is printed first so she is the prime image! When the two edges of paper are folded to meet in the middle, the Adam woodblock is placed over the break.

This ordering is the opposite of how we encounter the images textually by reading the words, following the instructions, and lifting the flaps up and down. Eve does not exist as a woodblock. She is formed only by the reader-viewer-player who follows the instructions to “turn Up the Leaf,” causes the image to transform into Eve. This sequence of images is perhaps an attempt to enact the biblical story of Eve coming from Adam’s rib.

To make matters more mysterious, there is a fourth figure that also emerges from the movement of the flaps, either by design or inadvertently. This is the merman—He is formed two ways. One is inadvertent. After lifting the top flap to create Eve a reader is instructed to “turn down the leaf” to see the mermaid at the end of sequence. But due to the design and weight the top flap tends to fall down to form a merman, who is not in the verse at all! Alternately, a disobedient reader-viewer-player may choose to turn down the lower flap first instead of lifting the top as instructed. The Adam transforms into the merman before he does into Eve. In all cases the effects and playability are only possible by the way the sheet is printed with the mermaid as the prime block on the underside of the unfolded paper strip.

This impels Jacqui to ask what is the importance of the primacy of the mermaid in the making of the strip? Is there any significance from the playful engagement of the flaps to create a merman? In order to think about this, what if we take a different approach to engaging with and interpreting the narrative? What would happen narrative if we examine it from a printerly view?

(Images courtesy of the Bodleian Library, Bodleian MS Wood E 25(10))

Who are G.S. and G.C. Peters?

By Colette Slagle and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh

In our continued explorations of the English and German versions of the Metamorphosis books printed by G.S. Peters in Harrisburg, we began by searching for Peters through our Union Catalog website (  We searched both “G.S. Peters” and simply “Peters,” and to our surprise found an additional entry for the latter listed under the name G.C. Peters.  There is an 1831 German version held by the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, an 1831 English version held by the Bodleian Library in Oxford (this entry currently being added to the Union Catalog), an 1833 German version held here at Penn State, and an 1843 English version held at Library Company of Philadelphia.  While three of these are listed as having been published by G.S. Peters, the version held by the University of Michigan lists the publisher as G.C. Peters.  This discovery lead us to question who these two Peters were, and what the connection was between them.


We then went on a search to learn more about G.S. Peters—and were pleased to discover what we found!  G.S. Peters (Gustav Sigismund Peters) was born in Langebrück, Germany near Dresden in 1793 (Earnest et al. 6).  He immigrated to America in 1820.   He lived in Baltimore and Carlisle before eventually moving to Harrisburg in 1827.  While in Carlisle Pennsylvania, Peters began a partnership with Johann B. Moser and the two opened a stereotyping foundry and printing office (Cazden 323).  Peters printed primarily in German, though he printed in English as well.  He was a commercial success as a printer and is credited with being the first in the country of being a commercial success for printing in color (Earnest et al. 6).  Even a basic Google search showed the shear extent of his printing—from chapbooks to turn-up books to baptismal certificates and beyond.


When we searched G.C. Peters we found some results, though fewer than G.S. Peters.  We were immediately struck by the similarities in style, dates, and locations between the two men.  We wondered if the two might be related, or if they were actually the same person.  We then contacted the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, and their Head of Reader Services, Terese M. Austin, kindly sent us a pdf of their 1831 text for our research purposes.  As their version is in German, we compared it to the 1833 German version Penn State holds.  Both are printed in the typical Fraktur font, a blackletter typeface that was common for Pennsylvania German texts at this time (Earnest et al. 5-6; “Fraktur”).


We noticed that the two are very similar overall, and that the publisher names listed are identical.  Both are actually published by G.S. Peters, though because of the Fraktur typeface the “S” is a bit hard to decipher, particularly for an English-trained eye. When comparing the appearance of the capital “C” and “S” in Fraktur style, it is clear how easy it would be to mistake the two.  Jacqui noticed that the S looks much more like a serpent in the way it twists in on itself.

Cover of 1833 German version (Photo courtesy of Penn State Libraries, Special Collections)

Now that we have ascertained for ourselves that G.C. Peters and G.S. Peters are most likely the same person, we would like to compare the two English and two German versions of the Metamorphosis books that we are currently aware of.  We are curious about the similarities and differences between all of Peters’s versions of the text, and if there may be even more versions that we have yet to stumble upon.

Works Cited
Cazden, Robert E. A Social History of the German Book Trade in America to the Civil War. Camden House, 1984.
Earnest, Russell D., et al. Flying Leaves and One-Sheets: Pennsylvania German Broadsides, Fraktur, and Their Printers. Oak Knoll Press, 2005.
“Fraktur (Pennsylvania German Folk Art).” Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias,

How to work in German when you can’t read German?

By Jacqui Reid-Walsh and Colette Slagle

During our latest excursion to Penn State Special Collections we spent some time comparing the two Metamorphosis turn-up books, both published by G.S. Peters in Harrisburg.  The 1831 version (located at the Bodleian Library) is published in English and the 1833 version (located at Penn State Libraries) is published in German. The two are very similar visually, particularly in terms of the images used.  We presumed the 1833 version is a translation of the first partly because the date 1831 is left in the lower right of the sampler border under the skeleton.

1833 German version with 1831 date in sampler border (Photo Courtesy of Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)

Although the format and images of the two versions are quite similar, the script is strikingly different—the 1833 German version is in blackletter. The note to the reader is present in both (and basically the same in content), but differs slightly in appearance.  For example, there are no italics in the German version of the note to the reader due to its blackletter script.

Note to the reader 1831 English version (Photo Courtesy of Bodleian Library, Oxford Dep. f.135)

Note to the reader in 1833 German version (Photo Courtesy of Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)

We also noticed that the last set of verses in the English version (no 21) is absent in the German version. Instead, the poem ends with the set of verses numbered 20, and an additional poem is included in place of number 21. Since neither of us is versed in German, we referenced the loose German translation of the text located on the Learning as Play website.  The poem included in place of the last set of verses is titled “Praise of the Peasant,” and tells an entirely different story about honoring peasants for their labor—quite different from the Fall of Man!

“Praise of the Peasant” poem in 1833 German version (Photo Courtesy of Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)

We then went through the German translation and compared it to the English version. The core verses (numbered 1-12) appear basically the same, but in the second extended poem (numbered 13-21 or 20, depending on the version) there are some notable differences.  While the trajectory of the story is similar, the plot speeds up a bit in the 1833 German version due to the omission of the last set of verses (no 21).  This begins with set of verses numbered 14, and as we read through both versions of the text side by side from that point on, we noticed that the German version seemed to be about one set of verses ahead of the English version.  For example, while the set of verses numbered 14 describes Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the set of verses numbered 14 in the German version details God’s warning to Adam not to eat the fruit which is not described in the 1831 English version until number 15.

14. In happy Eden see them plac’d,

Who stood or fell for all our race ;

In a sweet bow’r, compos’d of love,

This happy pair might safely rove.


There was no curse upon the ground,

Nor changing grief there to be found :

There nothing could their joys control,

Nor mar the pleasures of the soul.

1831 English version (Bodleian Library, Oxford Dep. f.135)


14. Adam, you shall not eat
Of this fruit, listen,
If you forget this now,
You will be a dead man ;
Death will rightfully struck him
Who disdains my word,
As well as his race,
Adam, consider this well.

1833 loose translation of German version (Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)


15. This land they freely might possess,

And live in joy and happiness :

Adam was lord of all the land,

Made by the great all-forming hand,


Eat, said the Lord, of all you see,

Except one interdicted tree ;

And on this truth you may rely,

You may not eat that lest you die.

1831 English version (Bodleian Library, Oxford Dep. f.135)

Set of verses numbered 14 and 15, 1831 English version (Photo Courtesy of Bodleian Library, Oxford Dep. f.135)

Set of verses numbered 14, 1833 German version (Photo Courtesy of Special Collections, Penn State Libraries)

Other than learning German, we are interested in learning more about the relationship between the English and German versions going forward.  In particular, we are planning to explore in more detail other versions of Metamorphosis in English and German published by G. S. Peters in Harrisburg.