noun1 : a cap or hood usually with bells worn by jesters 2 : a conical cap for slow or lazy students 3 : a size of paper formerly standard in Great Britain; broadly : a piece of writing paper
The exhibit includes a number of early legal documents written on foolscap with quill and ink.
“In 1894, Lincoln’s personal secretary, John Nicolay, published what he called ‘the autograph manuscript’ of the Gettysburg Address. The first page was written in pen on lined stationery marked ‘Executive Mansion’; the second is in pencil on bluish foolscap.” — Allen G. Breed, Watertown Daily Times (New York), November 24, 2013
Did you know?
These days, we are most likely to encounter “foolscap” as a reference to a sheet of paper or, more specifically, to a sheet of paper that is similar in size to a sheet of legal paper. In the mid-1600s, when the use of “foolscap” was first attested to in English, we would have encountered it as a reference to an actual fool’s cap—the cap, often with bells on, worn as part of a jester’s motley. How did we get from this colorful cap to a sheet of paper? The connection is attributable to the former use of a watermark depicting a fool’s cap that was used on long sheets of writing or printing paper. There are various explanations for the introduction of this watermark—including the claim that a 1648 British parliamentary group substituted it for the royal arms during exceptionally turbulent times—but such explanations remain unsupported by historical facts.