Bowers 1949

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Bowers, Fredson. Principles of Bibliographical Description. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1949.

Descriptive Bibliography

catalogue or handlist: compilation of titles on a given subject

descriptive or analytical bibliography: describing printed variations of a text

(some "bibliographical catalogues" exist between these two forms)

"The concern of the descriptive bibliographer ... is to examine every available copy of an edition of a book in order to describe in bibliographical terms the characteristics of an ideal copy of this edition, to distinguish between issues and variants of the edition, to explain and describe the printing and textual history of the edition, and finally to arrange it in a correct and logical relationship to other editions." (6)
See Belanger, "Descriptive Bibliiography."

bibliographies may help librarians and collectors identify the books in their possession, "but from the bibliographer's point of view this possibility should be only a by-product of his work. The facts, the distinguishing 'points' are the necessary main concern of the collector or librarian. these are of crucial importance in bibliography, too, but only as the penultimate step to textual and literary criticism." (8)

"true bibliography is the bridge to textual, which is to say literary, criticism." (9)

"The purpose, then, of the physical description of the book is twofold: to serve as a basis for the analysis of the method of publication, which has a direct bearing on the relations and transmissions of texts; to provide sufficient evidence for readers to identify books in their possession as being members of the precise state, issue, impression, and edition of the 'ideal copy' listed, or as being unrecorded variants requiring further bibliographical investigation." (23)

symbols must be standardized for bibliography to retain meaning (24-5)

"Analytical bibliography deals with books and their relations solely as material objects, and in a strict sense has nothing to do with the historical or literary considerations of their subject matter or content." (31)

5. Format and Collational Formula


Quarter-sheet - 1/4° or q.s. or qs Half-sheet - 1/2° or h.s. or hs Broadsheet - 1° or b.s. or bs Folio - 2° or fol. Quarto - 4° or 4to or Q° or Q Octavo - 8° or 8vo Duodecimo - 12° or 12mo Sexto-decimo - 16° or 16mo Tricesimo-secundo - 32° or 32mo Sexagesimo-quarto - 64° or 64mo

sometimes double-size sheets were made, then probably cut in two before being printed;

  • folio would then be the size of a bs, quarto the size of a folio, etc., but still takes the format name based on how it's folded
  • Greg suggests adding a note such as: (2°-form) 4°

broadsheet has printing parallel to short side; if printing is parallel to longer side, should be called an oblong broadsheet; indicated by:

  • 1°(obl.), etc.

if no figure is possible, oblong or otherwise, called single-piece

"the statement of the format is a statement of a number of leaves formed by a whole sheet of paper folded to make it ready for binding in the book along with other sheets" (196)
  • whole sheet always considered a unit; cutting it to make a half-sheet is the equivalent of a folding
  • so a half-sheet folded twice to make four leaves is not a quarto, but an octavo in 4's

Collational Formula

formula is that of an ideal copy; "the form in which sheets were meant to be issued, rather than as they were printed" (197)

"demonstrable divergences are usually recorded between the printing and the issue-formula, so that many collational formulas combine the two" (197)

to include leaves not printed -- i.e., portraits, title page engravings? or only material that went through the printing press?

  • Bowers: exclude anything that didn't go through the printing press; but can include engraved leaves that are conjugate with printed leaves
  • plate positioning often too variable to be included with any certainty
  • if number of leaves includes plates, there's no easy way to know the number of sheets used to print the book

superior numbers (or index numbers) indicate the conjugate quired leaves in each gathering

  • "the formula records analytically only the printing makeup of the book" (199)

Normal gatherings

23 letter alphabet, without "J" or "U" or "W"

  • sometimes a "W" was used; if so, indicate in the signatures by adding it in as any other abnormal symbol
  • if printer used brackets, often best not to replicate the brackets, since it can lead to confusion (square brackets are used as a sign of inference in bibliography) -- can avoid confusion by using italics for inferential brackets; parentheses cause less confusion

upper and lowercase letters are distinguished, but little else; e.g., even if signatures printed in Gothic, italic, etc., formula aways uses roman ("such variations in font have nothing to do with the construction of the book and are rpesented not in the collational formula but in a note on the book's typography," 204-5)

write 2A in place of Aa or AA; 3A in place of Aaa, AAA, etc.; if alphabet follows regularly, can simplify to e.g. A-7H

if printer duplicates the same symbol (i.e. uses "A" twice, instead of moving on to "AA"), indicate by a superior figure written before the signature

inferred signings enclosed in brackets, treated as separate items; superior figures go outside the brackets

  • Greg prefers italic type (211); this is acceptable to Bowers

"pi" sign used for prefixed unsigned gatherings or leaves where the signing is uninferred; Greek letter "chi" used for unsigned and uninferred separate leaves or gatherings not prefixed

by "prefixed", Bowers accepts a liberal definition: anything unsigned before the start of a regular series; e.g., before "A", or before the second start of a series beginning with "A"

if prefixed gatherings begin with "A", then begin again with "A" at the start of the text, superior "pi" figure can be placed before the first "A"

additional or inserted gatherings prefixed witha superior "chi" (221)

(in general, problem with "prefixing" -- uses literary content as a marker for understanding bibligraphic content, violating rule that the formula should only describe the book's physical structure)

prefixed superior figure carries to every signing until a comma, although for clarity is sometimes repeated

isolated/identifiable missignings are "silently corrected in the collational formula" (222), although they may be noted elsewhere in the description

for Greg, index number must always be even, since its indicating regularly quired conjugate pairs of leaves in a gathering (226)

  • conjugacy is essential; if the last two leaves are cut off in a duodecimo, it is not A^10, since two pairs are missing one leaf; if a fold is missing, though, it is
  • put another way: A^2 would never indicate two non-conjugate/distinct leaves
  • lack of conjugacy is an abnormality, must always be noted in a formula
  • (odd numbers would confuse, because then the index figures are used to mean two different things -- see note on 228)
  • odd numbers may be acceptable for the occasional book in which the odd number indicates a consistent method of printing a whole book
  • occassionally come across leaves that appear to have no conjugate; could have been printed on an individual scrap leaf, don't need to be indicated by an index/superior figure

normality: full sheet is always necessary as the norm; abnormalities are excisions or additions to this norm

  • symbols indicating addition or excision don't necessarily mean later insertions or cancellations, but only the physical structure of the gathering
  • "abnormality only means physical divergence from the norm of a complete sheet or sheets in regular folds, and does not imply textual abnormality caused by treatment to correct error after the gathering had passed the press" (227)
"Every normal gathering as printed (though not necessarily as bound) consisted of an even number of leaves; therefore, its proper makeup is noted by its normal even superior number which indicates the ncessary number of leaves in folds in the sheets composing a textually complete and normally quired gathering as they passed the press. The nature of any modification -- that is, of any disparity between the number of leaves actually present in the bound gathering and the number of conjugate and normally quired leaves indicated by the superior figure -- is immediately added in parentheses." (231)

insertions are single leaves pasted or bound in between the folds of a normal gathering (232); with odd numbers, must determine if the leaf is an insertion of a smaller gathering or a cancellation of a larger gathering


separate leaves at the beginning or end of a gathering are only included in the gathering if they are associated with its signing or direction-numbering

when leaf can be associated with preceding gathering, indicated by plus sign, placed in parentheses after the signature of the final leaf of the preceding gathering

insertions within a gathering are also indicated by a plus sign and the signature of the insertion

folds outside a gathering, if signed separately, are treated as a separate gathering

however, if direction-numbering continues the previous gathering in some way, indicate (241): D^4(D4+*D4.5.6.7)

  • periods are a sign of conjugacy -- do not use a dash

quotations (single quotes, always) indicate signing

Cancellation and substitution

simple cancellation of a leaf indicated by a minus sign before the cancelled leaf: C^4(-C2)

cancellation followed by insertion (a cancellans replaced by a cancellandum) is indicated by simultaneous plus and minus sign

  • difficult to indicate signing using quotes, since it's uncertain whether the cancellans or cancellandum is signed; hence all quoting is dropped

when cancellation is followed by an equal number of leaves of different conjugacy (or no conjugacy), do not use simultaneous signs, but an expanded formula: M^4(-M1,2+M1.2)

quotes used conservatively to draw special attention to the fact that the identification is actually the printer's signature (246)

Preliminary and final leaves

hard to determine at end if a gathering has leaves cut out, or is actually a smaller gathering; often cut leaves would be used for preliminaries or insertions elsewhere (252)

  • must be careful -- affects the number of sheets used to print the book

blank: "blank refers to the absence of letterpress or of a decoration substituting for letterpress"; prelim leaf with only a signing, w/ or w/o factotum, is still blank (252)


minimize punctuation

use space between items; commas or semicolons only between major series like duplicated alphabets

place commas/semicolons outside of quotation marks (British system)

indicate volume in multi-volume works (254)

7. Signing Statement

collational formula, then signing statement, then total number of leaves, then numbering statement (284)

separate paragraph, or in square brackets after the collational formula

foliation: numbering leaves

pagination: numbering pages

note pages that are unnumbered; collational formula should match up with number of leaves / pages

all printed matter not printed as sheets (like interpolated plates) is ignored in the statement of pagination/foliation (273)

preliminary unnumbered leaves/pages noted in italics in square brackets, followed by printer's notation; e.g. 40 leaves, pp. [4] 1-76

  • sometimes just use inference by italics (282)

misnumbering and misprinting placed in square brackets after the statement


plates included with printed material if it has printing on it, and/or is conjugate with another leaf

otherwise, not separately after numbering statement

Table of contents

listed to give a general idea where parts of the book are; signatures used to indicate place

can range from paraphrasing of parts of book to detailed quasi-facsimile transcription of section titles; consistency is the key demand


selected list of catchwords acts as check on re-setting across different editions

Greg lists the catchword at the end of each gathering

  • however, this is less useful for detecting variant settings within a single edition

note missing catchwords, position relative to any footnotes

written in quasi-transcription without quotations

direction-line: usually contains both signature and catchword