Frisket sheet

A frisket sheet used in the binding of Expositio hymnorum totius anni (London: Julian Notary, 1510)

This small piece of parchment is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, known artefact of any colour printing process in the West. Traces of its three ‘lives’ are still visible. First, it formed part of a medieval manuscript. Then, it was presumably sold to a printer who used individual leaves as protective masks in the part of the printing press known as the frisket; during the printing process, the sheet of paper is held in place by a sturdy frisket sheet that also prevents stray ink from marring unprinted areas. The small rectangular holes allowed single letters to be printed in red, and what appears on the frisket sheet as blurred red text was printed in black in the finished book. Finally, the used frisket sheet was probably sold on to a binder, who used it inside the binding of Expositio hymnorum totius anni, where it was discovered when the book was repaired in 1902. The surface ‘dirt’ is paste and other materials from the binding. Although no early modern frisket sheets for the colour printing of images are known, it would have been as simple as cutting holes to suit the design of a woodcut rather than a block of text.

This frisket sheet was identified by Dr Elizabeth Upper in her ongoing research into the use of frisket sheets in early modern colour printmaking. Any information about other early modern frisket sheets would be gratefully appreciated; please email

MS Add.2708 (22)

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