Gaskell 1972

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Book Production: The Hand-press Period 1500-1800

The Hand-printed Book

printing process:

  1. compositor: type --> composing stick (several lines) --> galley (whole page); tie with string, move to the next
  2. imposition: arrange many pages of type for one sheet --> fix in a pair of iron frames (chases), one for each side --> locked together, two chases of type create a forme
  3. trial prints (proofs) made from formes; compared with copy; errors marked by corrector (possibly author), marked proofs used by compositor to correct type
  4. formes placed on printing press: wooden frame; screw, worked by hand, to force the platen down onto the type; movable carriage for type and paper to run under platen; worked by two pressman --> one fits paper on frame, folds it down onto the type, and runs the carriage under the platen; the other inks the type; printed one side, then another
  5. arranged piles of printed sheets along a bench, picking them up one by one to collate the sheets
  6. collated sheets sent to binder, who folded each sheet and sewed them together into volumes

foliation: numbering leaves pagination: numbering pages

direction line: first word of the next page at the bottom of the page

head: top of book tail: bottom of book

gathering: one or more pair of leaves (conjugate paires) joined at the back, made from one folded sheet, or fraction of a sheet, or several folded sheets tucked inside one another (quired)

  • identified by a signature, a letter or letters of the alphabet placed in the direction line of the first recto, often repeated on subsequent rectos, indicating order of the gatherings
  • main signature series begins with the text; title page, dedication, etc., often not included because they would have been printed last -- reprints may begin signatures at the beginning

imprint: identifying printer on the title page colophon: identifying printer at the back of the book


  • handmade, rough-surfaced
  • of-white
  • shows pattern of broad-spaced lines (chain lines) crossed by close together lines (wire lines)
  • smooth edges cut by binder or rough, uncut, or unopened


  • endpapers, of a different color or texture, at the front and back of book, added by binder
  • then strips of paper waste to secure spine
  • then boards, stiff upper and lower covers made of wood (in early days) or pasteboard, then millboard, covered with leather or rough paper
  • decorated with heated brass tools, using gold leaf (gilt) or plain (blind)

Printing Type

casted in an alloy of lead, antimony, and tin called type-metal which had a low melting point, didn't shrink or expand with temperature differences

height to paper varied from 24.0-27.5mm before standardization in eighteenth century (international type standards not established until late nineteenth century)

fount: group of type-cast alphabets of one body and design

making type:

  1. relief patter cut by hand on the end of a steel punch (~45mm long)
  2. punches were hammered into small blocks of copper (matrices), each matrix trimmed to squared and set to correct depth (process called justification -- different from justification in typesetting)
  3. matrices fixed to a mould, a teel box clad in wood for insulation
  4. typecaster puts two halves of mould together, holds them with left hand
  5. drops molten type-metal into mouth of the mould with right hand while jerking hand to get metal into recesses of matrix
  6. lays down ladle, removes spring holding matrix in place, pryes out type with iron picks
  7. jets of metal from mould mouth snapped off, type planed to be smooth
  8. type inspected for defects

casting type was very skilled; required precision jerks of hand for particular letters

early on, punch-cutters were specialist engravers; later (by late 15c) became independent professionals -- would strike matrices from their own punches and sell them to printers

  • high trade in matrices, but not type
  • printers would own matrices, and employ specialist casters to make the type
  • 1560s-70s, type-founding evolved as separate trade selling cast type
  • three specialist foundries developed: Guyot-Plantin foundry in Antwerp, Egenolff-Sabon-Berner-Luther foundry in Frankfurt, and Le Be foundtry in Paris

Type sizes and description

early-middle sixteenth century, standard type sizes evolved, identified by name

determining size:

  • body-size: measure twenty lines of type vertically (without interlinear leads), answer given in nearest millimeter
  • face size: vertical distance from top of ascending character and bottom of neighboring descender, then multiplied by twenty
    • this is the approximate 20-line measurement of the minimum body on which the face could be cast without overhangs
  • x-height: height of the letter "x"
  • capital height: height of capitals
  • therefore, typesize: [face height x 20] x [x-height]:[capital height]; e.g.: "Body 82. Face 80 x 1.7: 2.5."

table of nine bodies most commonly used during hand-press period (double pica, great primer, english, pica, small pica, long primer, brevier, nonpareil, pearl)

Type faces

  1. M S letter forms as printing types
    1. exotic alphabets
      1. greek
      2. cyrillic
      3. hebrew
      4. etc.
    2. latin alphabet
      1. gothic forms
        1. formal
          1. textura
          2. rotunda
          3. bastarda
        2. cursive
          1. civilite
      2. roman forms
        1. formal (roman)
        2. cursive (italic)

Gothic type

textura, type of the first printed books, based on formal book hand with minimum of curves

rotunda, distinguished by curved letters "c", "d", "e", etc.

  • black letter, constrast between thick and thin strokes
  • widely used for all but very formal texts in 15c, fell out of fashion in 16c

bastarda, based on quickly written but not cursive book hands

  • out of use by mid-sixteenth century
  • although Fraktur, "cut with a contrived formality that belied its cursive origins", became most successful gothic type, surviving in Germany into the mid-twentieth century

civilite, gothic cursive type cut in mid-sixteenth century by French punch-cutter Robert Granjon

Roman and italic type

based on formal book hand perfected in Italy by humanistic scribes during first half of 15c

used chiefly for editions of classical authors, gothic types preferred for religious and vernacular works

books in English began to be set in Roman from late 1550s, although the Bible survived in black letter until 1640

two early romans set patter for development of the face:

  • 114-15mm. romans introduced by Venetian printers Jenson (in 1470) and Aldus Manutius (in 1495)
  • Jenson's closer to calligraphy
  • Aldus's roman taken as model for French punch-cutters of 1530s and 1540s, including Claude Garamont
  • Parisian romans were high quality; Garamond became very popular typeface across Europe

by early seventeenth-century, center of type production moving from Paris to Lower Rhine

  • Hendrick van den Keere, Belgian punch-cutter developed successful roman
  • English printers began to prefer to buy type from Dutch foundries

in 1720s, William Caslon began imitating Dutch fonts in England

  • became harder to import type, English presses began using Caslon
  • most English books of mid- to late-eighteenth century printed in type from Caslon foundry

first italic typ: 80mm. fount cut for Aldus by Griffo

  • used initially for a series of octavo classics appearing in 1501
  • widely imitated; followed by calligraphic italics based on cancellaresca hand and initiated in 1524 by Lodovico degli Arrighi (called Vicentino)
  • both gradually superceded by Parisian italics, most influential coming from Robert Granjon

in the seventeenth century, fonts began being designed not based on handwriting, but specifically for print; two main trends:

  • towards an increase of contrast, moving stress from oblique to vertical;
  • narrower types of large x-height
  • example of the new romans: by Hungarian Nicolas Kis, cut in 1680s, known by the name of Leipzig foundries of Janson and Ehrhardt which owned the matrices
  • romain du roi, designed fro the Imprimerie Royale by team of Academicians under the Abbe Jaugeon

18th-century punch-cuttes increased the new features of roman type design introduced in 17c

  • J. M. Fleischman
  • Louis Luce and P. S. Fournier
  • John Baskerville
  • Alexander Wilson

in 1784s, F. A. Didot introduced new roman "at last fulfilled the logic of vertical stress" -- the ascender serifs being thin horizontal lines without brackets

  • developed further by Bodoni in Italy

Greek type

Greek type the only exotic alphabet of major importance in western European typography

largely experimental in 15c

the cursive style of greek type was successful; introduced by Aldus in 1490s and perfected by Garamont and Granjon in mid-16c

accents cast separately on narrow bodies, then combined with kerned vowels to make accented sorts

Founts, cases and type-stock

fount of type: set of letters and other symbols with each sort suppled in proportion to its use frequency, all of one body-size and design; includes:

  • capitals
  • small capitals
  • small ("lower case") letters
  • accented letters
  • ligatures
  • punctuation marks
  • figures
  • special symbols
  • in total, around 150 sorts, as well as spaces for between words and quads for blank lines

in 15- and 16-c, tied letters made by combining several letters in one mould

type stored systematically in cases; lay of the case follwed two traditional patterns:

  • single lay: one large, squarish case holding 75 lb. of type; capitals arranged in rows along the top (same size boxes), small letters in varying-sized boxes underneath
    • normal form until mid-16c
  • divided lay: two cases to a fount, smaller and more oblong than single lay case; 40-50 lb of type each
    • capitals and figures in upper case, same-size boxes
    • small letters, punctuation marks, spaces in variously-sized boxes of lower case

printers ordered fonts based on weight; early printers only kept around 200 lb. of font on hand, while 18c printers tended to have much more; differentiation within founts

"it is the combination of different founts of type in a printer's stock, each one in a particular state of revision (or mixture of various states of revision) and wear, that identifies him. Add to this his stock of unique woodcut ornaments and initials, and his finger-print is plain, a typographical equipment that belonged to him alone." (39)


Copy: preparation and organization

manuscript copy, sometimes messy although there's evidence the printer was commonly provided with a fiar copy

copy might be prepared: corrected and annotated by professional corrector; common in 17c and 18c

compositor cast off copy by counting words, computing how many pages a particular work would take, given page and type size

  • if accurately cast off, setting could begin anywhere in the book, with multiple sections being worked at once
  • also allowed for setting by formes, as opposed to continuous setting (setting by formes largely abandoned by 1700 though)

shared setting might create irregularity in pages or section length

Setting type

compositor's apparatus:

  1. type cases
  2. composing stick
  3. galleys

compositor's sat until mid 17c; then stood for faster work

sheets of copy set on case, or put on special clip (a visorium)

composing process:

  1. composing stick in left hand (holding 3-6 lines [England]); set to measure, width of column of type in book (usually a multiple of the body size of the type);
  2. lays type, feels for nick;
  3. read left to right, but upside-down and mirrored
  4. checks for errors, changed spaces between words to justify or fit the last word on the stick
  5. empty onto galley, on the righthand side of uppercase, by holding it together evenly with pressure (if it muddled, would be pie)

two kinds of spaces:

  • thick spaces: four to the "em", same as middle space
  • thin spaces: what would now be called a hair space

Page and galley

after creating a whole page , compositer marked page number on copy, as well as signature; added a headline with running title and page number, as well as direction line at the bottom and possibly a signature; tied the entire page with page cord, transferred it from the galley to a paper wrapper and stored it


each sheet signed on first page with letter of alphabet; signatures on rectos after the first of each sheet had numerical suffixes (e.g. "A2")

English printers sometimes began with "B" to account for a sheet of front matter ("A")

in 15th and 16th centuries, included a register summarizing the signatures after the colophon

Preliminaries, pagination, catchwords, etc.


  • title page
  • prefatory matter
  • table of contents

15c: no preliminaries, signed by print in colophon

first leaf blank to protect book; grew into title page, which gradually included printer's name, place and date of publication; by 17c, protected the title page with initial blank leaf, which then itself took a short title (half-title)

direction line became common in mid sixteenth century


when type got low, took already-printed forms and replenished case

set type weighs ~.0175 kg/cm2


en: half of an em in any type size; number of ens in a setting of type is proportional to number of pieces of type in it

competent workman could achieve 1,500 ens per hour or more; usually net rate of 1,000 ens/hour

how fast individual workers were, though, varied widely; labor conditions of craft printing mean jobs were variable, flowed at different paces



reached Europe from the East in early 12th century, expanded rapidly w/invention of printing

raw material: undyed linen or hempen rags, bought in bulk, sorted, washed, and put in wet heap for several days to rot (sweated rags)

cut into small pieces, placed in wooden mortars and pounded to pulp (stuff) by water-powered hammers -- three or four stages of pounding

Hollander machine, invented in Holland in late 17c, minced rags with knives; required less power, was faster than stamping and therefore widely used (although believed to make paper weaker)

stuff tranferred to vat (~330 gallon capacity); diluted to porridge, kept tepid

team at vat: maker (vatman), coucher and layer tools at vat: pair of moulds (wire sieves mounted on wooden frames) and deckle (removable wooden rim), pieces of felt, and standing press

  1. maker fits deckle to mould
  2. taking them together by the shorter sides, dip into sutff in vat
  3. pull it out, shake sheets in one direction, then the next to weave the fibers and shut the sheet
  4. lifts the deckle, slides to coucher, who turns onto felt
  5. layer takes it to the standing press to press out water
  6. newly strong paper is pulled from felt, pressed again, then hung to dry

at this stage, called a waterleaf; waterleaf is dipped in sizing, an animal gelatine made from vellum or leather shavings boiled in water and alum

sized paper is then pressed, dried, pressed again and (if writing paper) smoothed by rubbing or hammering

ream: 20 quires of 24-5 sheets each, smaller ream (480 sheets) normal in England/Holland, with larger (500 sheets) normal in French/Italian mills

each quire folded in half for packing; outer quires made of imperfect sheets and known as cassie or cording quires

at large mill, around 3,000 sheets of large size paper (royal) per vat per day, with small size (foolscap) made at 5,000 sheets per day

Paper in English printing

until 1670, white paper in England comes from foreign mills, mostly France

English mills: lack of skilled workmen, lack of linen rags (English wore wool)

Moulds and watermarks

mould side or wire side: where paper sat in mould; distinguishable by chaining pattern felt side: where paper hit the felt

deckle edges: rough, uneven, where stuff seeped between deckle and mould

tranchefiles: edge wires or water bar wires just inside the shorter edges where drops of water fell from deckle onto sheet

watermarks: fashioned in wire, sewn to surface ofmould to show image in paper; first appeared in 13c; by 15c were put in the center of one half of the oblong; supposed to be seen from the mould side

during 17c, watermarks began showing quality or size (international conventions); 18c, size and quality marks replaced trade marks

countermarks: showing maker's initials, etc.; in England, became appendages of main marks

watermarks in 15&16c have small "dots" where wire attaches mark; later, attached with running stitch

moulds would wear in ~12mo; watermarks in ~6mo

until mid-18c, all moulds were of the laid (chain and wire) pattern, wire mesh attached to frame; ~1755 James Whatman the elder made paper for Baskerville with mesh woven like cloth; more difficult to make, slow to be taken up by papermakers

Sorts of paper: quality, weight, and size

fine quality papers made from best white linen; worse quality used colored rags, rope, even wool

three kinds: fine, second, and ordinary within those standards, good, retree and broke paper; retree and broke used in cassie quires

weight of paper determined in pounds per ream

many different sizes, but in practice no more than 6 main groups of sizes at any given point in hand-press period; 14c, four sizes laid down for Bolognese paper-makers:

  1. imperialle, 74x50cm;
  2. realle, 61.5x44.5cm;
  3. meçane, 51.5x34.5cm,
  4. reçute, 45x31.5cm

by 15c, still mostly the same;

  1. forma regalis: 70x50cm
  2. forma mediana: 50x30cm

most medieval paper made with ratio 1:sqrt(2) (~1:1.4), therefore remaining the same shape when folded in half; paper increasingly became 1:1.25, making long folios and squarish quartos

16c: most paper of foolscap size; ordinary size gradually increased to demy range by 18c


  1. super royal
  2. royal
  3. medium
  4. demy
  5. crown
  6. foolscap
  7. pot


sheet identified by:

  • major dimensions (from uncut copy of book)
  • patterns of mould wire and watermark
    • spacing in mm of the chain-lines and wire-lines
    • wires per cm for woven mould
    • watermark's relationship to chain-lines
  • weight and quality



  1. compositor slides the pages for one forme onto the imposing stone, following direction lines
  2. chase set around pages (chaset -- standard size for all jobs until 18c)
  3. fill spaces between type and chase with wooden wedges and quoins, short wedges hammered between big wedges and chase
  4. type hammer down flat
  5. quoins hammered in harder with shooting stick to lock forme tightly
  6. pushed it aside, made up second forme of the sheet in the same way

some chases were tightened with screws in France and Germany


the format of the book: the arrangement of its formes and subsequent folding of printed sheets to make a gathering

folio: sheets foled once on longer side; two leaves and four pages to a sheet; vertical chain-lines

quarto: pairs of four-page formes folded twice; four-leaf, eight-page gatherings with horizontal chain lines

  • still called quarto if sheets were cut in half first, two leaves with four pages each
  • size of paper determined by watermark, etc., can say: foolscap quarto, demy quarto, etc.

octavo: three folds, eight leaves, sixteen pages

duodecimo: folded twice along second dimension and three times across the shorter; twelve leaves, twenty-four pages

long twelves: folded once along shorter side, five times across the longer, making twelve leaves and twenty-four pages

sixteenmo for more complex foldings making sixteen or more leaves

broadsheets, not folded at all

handbill might be in half-sheet or quarter-sheet

pages laid on stone in mirror image of order of printed sheet; e.g.: [1][4] (printed) [4][1] (laid out in type)

outer forme: printed onto outer side of the sheet (in folio, pages 1, 4); always contains page 1 inner forme: printed interside of sheet (in folio, pages 2, 3); always contains page 2

may impose for gatherings of several sheets quired together; e.g., three sheets, the outermost with pages 1, 12, 2, 11, then 3, 10, 4, 9, then 5, 8, 6, 7; sheets would be signed with same signature letter, then numbered to indicate position in gathering; folding designated '2° in 6s'

15c: folio gatherings consist of up to 5 sheets; quarto up to 2 sheets 16c, 17c: most folios gathered in 6s 18c: folios gathered in single sheets

half-sheet imposition: all pages for a half sheet imposed in one forme, then heap of paper turned of and printed from the same formed on the other side; then each sheet slit in half to yield two copes of the same half sheet

turned chain-lines: chain-lines run the wrong way, found in late 17c and early 18c books; can be from cutting double-sized sheets of paper in half before printing, or of sheets made in side-by-side two-sheet moulds; usually tranchefiles on one of the long edges only

Identification of format


  1. make note of:
    1. dimension of uncut leaf (add 1-2cm for cut edges in large books, .5-1cm for small)
    2. direction of chain-lines
    3. position of watermark
    4. number of leaves per gathering
  2. determine format (usually 2°, 4°, 8°, 12° or long 12°) (Key I); multiply leaf by factors appropriate to format to otain uncut sheet size (Key II)
  3. for unusual dimensions, see Key II and III (85-6)

see diagrams, keys and notes, pages 85-107

Imposition in practice

preliminaries printed last; in pamphlets, preliminaries wrapped around all gatherings

small sizes of paper (pot, foolscap, demy) more common; scarcely any books printed on paper larger than royal in 16c and 17c

pages printed in wrong position were rare; caught during proofing

Stripping and skeletons

once printed, forme returned to compositor for stripping, cleaning off ink and removing chases

skeleton forme: reusable parts (rules or ornaments regularly repeated), the chase, quoins, and furniture

  • could print a whole book from one skeleton, although 2 or more commonly used
  • second edition of Newton's Principia, changes in skeleton pattern shows interruption of printing

Proofs and correction

compositor and corrector (could be author, printer or journeyman) work together to examine proofs

literals: mistakes in individual letters

corrector often had proofs read aloud to him, since he wasn't checking for textual details but language

  • reading aloud performed in "sing-song" monotony that didn't account for accidentals, only words
  • in foreign language, read letter by letter
  • some errors known from corrector mishearing
  • corrector read more or less automatically

conventional proofing signs in use since early 16c

compositor unlocked forme, picked out wrong letters with a bodkin and corrected on the stone

few "first proof" errors in early printed books (turned letters, etc.), showing this was a process almost never omitted from book production;


  1. first proof, possible with revision proofs
  2. clean proof pulled for author (with possible additional revision proofs pulled)
  3. press proof: forme or sheet read for residual blemishes; done in the middle of a run in early days, so corrections had to be made stop-press

Standing type

most printers couldn't afford to keep type standing; however, title pages and small specialty settings may have been set aside for re-use; short books/pamphlets may also have been set aside to be reprinted -- a collating machine can identify disturbances in type possibly caused by re-imposition in new furniture

1587-1637: in England, editions limited by decree to 1,500 copies, though there is evidence that many different impressions were made against regulations


The wooden hand-press

common press: hand-powered screw press built in wooden frame; two groups of moving parts:

  • carriage assembly, carrying type and paper in and out of press
  • impression assembly

carriage assembly: two upright cheeks, between them the winter and the head; carriage assembly runs horizontally between cheeks, mounted with coffin that holds the press stone; paper lowered onto press stone by means of tympan -- parchment-covered frame of wood and iron at the front end of the coffin -- and frisket, an iron frame hinged on top of it

impression assembly: between cheeks and above the winter; brass nut embedded in head, screwed down; platen -- hardwood or metal face that would cover the back of the tympan


size of the paper limited by the tympan

Preparing the paper

remove cording quires from papermaker's reams; arrange good quires into tokens of 250+ sheets (editions often in multiples of 250); only about 3% put aside for errors; bad paper sold or put aside for proofing

heap given day before use; each quire drawn through a pan of water, unfolded, laid flat on top of one another; paper had to be damp to take ink, since press didn't put enough pressure to ink rough paper

horse (later bank): bench that held piles of paper


two parts, manufactured separately and combined to make ink

  • varnish: liquid medium binding color to the paper; made of nut/linseed oil
  • color: lampblack, condensing the smoke of burning resin then calcified, ground to a fine powder (for red ink, ground vermilion or red mercuric sulphide)

decline in quality from earliest inks -- good ink costly to make

kept in ink-block on the press, transferred to type using ink balls, leather sacks unbound at the end of the day, cleaned of lumps and soaked in urine to soften

Making ready

in England, tendency to print inner forme first


  1. make register, laying first forme relative to press points for even printing;
  2. then lay a tympan sheet to mark the spot for future sheets
  3. pack space between inner and outer tympan with woolen blanket, to ensure type presses evenly
  4. cut out grid where text was printed on the newly covered frisket frame -- creating a kind of stencil
  • kept the rest of the paper clean from the dirty parts of the press
  • frisket frames cut to standard format could be kept for reuse (made of parchment)
  1. forme checked, heap positioned; ready for printing

Pulling and beating

beater distributed ink on balls, rocked balls over forme

puller laid clean paper on tympan, lowered the frisket, and folded it all together on the forme; then gave the rounce one full turn counter-clockwise, running the forme under the platen; then pulled the bar towards him to press down the platen

working at half press: working with only one pressman

devils or flies: boys who took printed sheets off tympan

Printing the reiteration (or perfecting)

pressmen turned the printed heap over (side to side for duodecimo, otherwise end to end), changed the forme, tested the register; then printed reiteration

tympan sheet replaced with linen cloth, less likely to take offset from first formes

reiterations printed immediately after the white paper, since paper was wet and would shrink or change shape if redamped; could be kept for no more than 2-3 days

concurrent perfecting: two presses working simultaneously on same sheet, one the inner forme and the other the outer; possibly explains anomalies in early printed books, but no evidence for it

Press figurse

press figure: arabic figure or symbol at the bottom of a page of the forme about to be worked; put on any page without a signature; done during late 17 and 18c; two uses:

  • enabled pressmen to identify their own work
  • enable master to identify pressmen's work
  • used with irregularity

Cancels, etc.

ways to correct errors:

  • list of errata
  • whole-sheet cancellation -- difficult to detect, since different paper could be used for a variety of reasons and skeleton formes were fairly stable
  • cancellation of leaves -- common;
    • would reprint page with other corrected pages on later sheet;
    • cancellandum (cancellanda): leave to be cancelled
    • cancellans (cacellantia): left to replace it;
    • cancellandum cut out of sheet, cancellans pasted onto stub
  • overprinting, running sheet thorugh press or stamping by hand
  • printing corrections on slips pasted over errors
  • amending manuscript

Special paper

sometimes, fraction of an edition produced with some differences; technically these are states not issues

special issues on vellum common in 15c, 16c; cost 3x as much

Two colors; and music

expensive to print red alongside black

could do two colors simultaneously :

  • take red type out of forme, ink it red; ink the black; replace; print

by beginning of 16c, two-color printing done with two impressions to each side of the sheet;

  • holes cut in the frisket to only red type spots;
  • repeated for black ink, with quads filling holes where red type was removed

or could use special tall type that differentiated red from black

music also printed by double impression, stave lines first; later, used plate printing; in 1750s, J. G. I. Breitkopf created small standard-sized units of moveable type that could built up a score

gold letters: done by hand, inking pieces only with varnish, then covering it with gold leaf and rubbing off whatever didn't stick


token of 250 sheets printed on one side called, by convention, an hour's work; but wide variation in output of pressmen

pressmen contracted for 2,500 or 3,000 impressions a day

sometimes pressman got price per token

at first, pressmen earned slightly moe than compositors; after 1580, situation reversed; 16c, 16c, French pressmen made 40% more than compositors; English printers of same period, compositors though earned more than pressmen -- pressmen despised in later period in England as mere "horses"

The Warehouse

Paper stock

paper would be ordered for an edition, since printer's couldn't keep a stock of paper; if the printer ran out, may find different papers in an edition -- but always consecutive

anomalous paper might be put in the middle of a book; pamphlets printed on odds and ends

Drying the paper

after printed on both side, warehouse-keeper hung paper to dry, often in the warehouse or other drying room

doubling, a stack of paper, peeled up with board and put on a rack to dry; sometimes overlapping

could take one day to a week to dry

large presses, such as Plantin's, may have needed an artificial source of heat to help dry the papers

Gathering the books

when dried and piled together, heaps were set in signature order on a long table; gatherer (possible still warehouse-keeper) would take the top copy of the last sheed of the book, walking along to collate a complete copy of the book in sheets

book then knocked down smooth, laid down with any inserts and cancellantia; repeat this process; folded, pressed, baled for delivery


The binding trade

each edition distributed by publisher-wholesale (may also have been book's printer) to retail booksellers; retail booksellers had small batches bound locally or sold unbound

London: retailer would have books bound by a specialist bookbinder; English provinces: binders primarily large retail booksellers

edition binding is never normal in hand-press period; tied up capital unnecessarily; sheets were easier to transport

certain classes of books normally sold bound: school books, classical texts, bibles, prayer books, devotional handbooks and collecions of sermons, practical manuals, reference and law books

normally sold stitched (in wrappers from mid 17c): controversial pamphlets, single poems, plays, sermons; expensive works of literature and learning

binders might have sets of plates on hand to be inserted into bibles; could also rule margins in red before folding

Binding technique

books arrived with sheets gathered, roughly folded in half into quires of 1-2 dozen sheets each


  1. folded correctly;
  2. collated by signatures
  3. cancel leaves and plates put in correct place at this stage
  4. folded book beaten flat with hammer, block
  5. book placed on sewing frame, folded sheets sewn by hand onto four or five cords or thongs
  6. endpapers sewn on, reinforcing joints and protecting endpapers
  7. spine of the book was rounded and given shoulders (backed) with hammer, for the boards (covers)
    1. boards were wood until later 15c, then paseboard and later rope-fibre millboard
    2. attached to the cords sewn to th sheets
  8. edges cut with a plough
  9. headbands attached to head and tail to strengthen the spine
  10. book covered with leather
    1. pulled tight across the spine until around 1800 in England, when spine became hollow
  11. designs stamped on cover


  • pallets, lines set on curved rockers
  • fillets, wheels with lines on the circumference
  • rolls, wheels with elaborate designs on the circumference

Trade binding styles

cheap bindings of hand-press period now rare

early 16c, books still secrued with clasps or ties; cords thick and solid

from later 15c, books stored on their edges instead of sides, but placed fore-edge outward, with the title written in the fore-edge in ink; books turned around on the shelf around later 16c, although titles not lettered until mid 17c

Decoration and Illustration

Printed pictures

for most of the 16c, woodcuts more common than copperplates; could be printed with type

by the end of 16c, engraved plates replaced woodblocks for large illustrations and title-pages

woodcuts declined during 17c, copperplates becoming standard for all but cheapest book illustration

Relief blocks

made of hard, fine-grained wood (box or fruit wood) cut along the grain

could be pressed with type, usually made just under type height; extra tympan padding helped make the impression strong

factotum: woodcut initial, square ornamental block with a hole in the middle for a piece of type

design cut by hand on the surface with a knife or graver; could make positive or negative image; design often done by someone other than the block cutter

printed with water-based inks; in 15c and 16c, could have been colored by hand

Intaglio plates

design engraved on survace of polished copper; engraved areas filled with ink, flat areas wiped clean; damp paper pressed hard against them

rolling press in the Low Countries in later 16c, brought to England from Antwerp in the early 17c; frame with two large roller; copperplate warmed, inked with dabber, wiped clean, then laded on a board with the damped paper and sandwiched with felt; board, plate and paper all passed between rollers

plate mark, ridge of paper forced down over the edge of the plate from the pressure of the rollers

copperplate printers were generally specialists; plates created separately and added during gathering

engraving done by coating plate with wax, then tracing the design and cutting it into the copper; could also be done in:

  • drypoint (from late 15c): design sketched directly onto plat with steel point
  • etching (from 1500): cut in wax ground so that, when the plat was immersed in acid, furrows were eaten away by acid
  • mezzotint (mid 17c): plates roughened with a serrated rocker, then graded by burnishing
  • stipple (mid 18c): combined etching and engraved dots
  • aquatint (from 1768): gradations of tone by progressive etching
  • color plates: differential inking of the plate and handcoloring the print; rare in books

cost of making prints for finely illustrated books equalled production costs for the rest of the book

Patterns of Production

Variation of demand

printers had to be flexible to accommodate different levels of demand and workflows

Edition quantities =

early small editions ran 200-300 copies; by mid 16c, books typically ruan in editions of 1,000 to 1,500

small edition of a large book could take 2 years to print

compositor's wages made up a large portion of the labor costs for under 1,500 copies; over that, pressmen's wages began to increase; 1500-2000 copies was a nice economic balance in an industry that required heavy capital, with gaps of time between returns

was profitable, though, to print small, cheap books at large runs of several thousands, even tens of thousands, of copies

Productive capacity

printer's greatest investment -- as much as 2/3s -- was his type; presses costing 5-15% of the whole; printers would keep extra presses for heavy loads or work, or let them stand idle as needed

journeymen could be employed or dismissed according to the amount of work

Concurrent production

printers kept several books in production at once, to keep hands busy

individual books therefore took longer to print than otherwise

minor jobbing -- labels, bills, etc. -- filled gaps in book production stages

therefore most books set by several compositors, over a disrupted period of time; also set on multiple presses

"it was unlikely that any two books would be precisely alike in their patterns of composition and presswork." (166)
"The shifting patterns of concurrent production meant that there could be no regular correlation between particular skeleton formes and particular compositors or presses." (167)

printing or setting of a book sometimes shared between two or more shops

journeyman may move between shops, as well


we think of hand-crafted objects as being produced with great care and love; but it was an industry like any else; few incentives to earn more than a basic living

journeymen worked 6 days, 72 hours a week; labor was repetitive and boring; journeymen pushed themselves to do work faster in order to make more money

decline in printing standards throughout Europe during 16c and 17c; likely too much competition, pushing printers to reduce quality to make cheaper products; decline in printing standards coincides with "great price revolution" fo 16c and 17c, wherein real wages and standard of living also declined

by 18c standard began to rise, encouraged by Oxford and Cambridge University presses and the French Royal Academy

The English Book Trade to 1800

Europe and England

"the English book trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was in important ways unlike that of the great book-producing countries of continental Europe." (171)

  • beginning of 16c, England "was a small, backward, and unimportant appendage of Christendom, where printing had arrived late and where it was deficient in technique and provincial in content" (171)
  • England increased in importance over next 2 centuries, but book trade remained "small and backward, confined by tight political control and by the restrictions of a monopolistic trade gild" (171);
  • England took little part in the international book trade, except as an importer
  • changed in 18c with expanding home market, relaxation of political control over printing and development of native type-founding and paper-making

Printing personnel

five main grades of personnel:

  1. master-printer; owner of business; usually trained
  2. senior employee acting as master's deputy; overseer parceling out work to journeymen; paid regular wage; rarely employed by English printers pre-18c
  3. correctors, men of education specially employed on part-time basis; rarely employed by English printers pre-18c
  4. journeymen and apprentices
  5. a boy or two, journeymen's devils, messengers, cleaners
  • journeymen had 7-yr apprenticeship, usually as pressmen or compositors
  • free journeymen could bind apprentices of their own
  • paid for piecework; until mid-19c, compositors piece-rates calculated by the page, the sheet or the book, before payment per 1,000 ens superseded this system; pressmen paid by number of sheets ortokens pulled
  • journeymen got free copy of the book until 1635, when Stationers' Company substitued a payment of 2d. a week in lieu of copies
  • many aliens employed in English print shops

Gild and chapel

apprentices, journeymen and masters all member sof the printer-booksellers' craft gilds; in practice, gilds "were federations of master tradesmen who, in return for monopoli8stic privileges, co-operated with the government in its censorship of the press"

  • e.g. Stationers' company of London, "most powerful and restrictive of all the European gilds from the later 16th until the end of the 17th century" (175)

journeymen would then organize their own associations, known as chapels

  • well established by mid-16c
  • in England, mostly social clubs

Scale and finance; book prices

in 16c, ~85% of print houses only had 1-2 presses; 26 printers in London in 1688, largest only had 6 presses; only 198 printers altogether in London in 1668, 75% of whom were journeymen; only 2-3 printers per press, on average four men in the shop

book production required heavy capital investment; constant money flow issues; direct costs of book production were printing paper (~75% of total in 16c, 50% by 18c), wages (almost all the rest) and supplies (ink, candles)

when the printer was the publisher, retail price of books was at least double the unit production cost, usually 3-4x as much

when the printer was employed by a publisher, as became common in 17c, printer only had to cover his own costs; publisher paid for paper, editorial fees, etc

early 16c in England, books retailed ~.5d/sheet; production costs were higher in England

into 18c, prices still calculated by the sheet

Publishing and bookselling

traders in production and distribution of a book:

  1. publisher who owns or controls a text, financing its production in print
  2. printer
  3. wholesale distributor
  4. retail booksellers

functions overlapped

in 16c London, publishers, sometimes in small syndicates, wholesaled their own books but were also retail booksellers; printers were frequently members of publishing syndicates and may have had a retail shop, too; and retail stationers puveying new and second-hand books, as well as writing supplies; also binders, wholesale stationers of paper, and publisher-retailers specializing in foreign books

no printers and barely any publishers in provinces after 1550s, apart from university presses

from 1680s, several large publishers formed permanent association known as conger; dominated until mid-18c

authors could finance their own books by collecting private subscriptions, mid-16c to mid-17c

serial publication introduced in England in later 17c by Joseph Moxon; number books became popular in 18c, reaching peak in 1730s

unbound books traveled in barrels or chests

international trade run by wholesalers; great European book fairs, such as at Frankfurt or Leipzig

15-16c, books were advertised by printed publishers' lists, carred by salesmen and put up in retail shops; followed by book-fair catalogues, retailers' catalogues, and collections of trade announcements (e.g. Term catalogues issued 1668-1711).; titlepages sometimes posted as advetisement; lists printed in backs of books, advertised in periodicals from 1690s; trade cards, handbills, etc.; printed Proposal, developed in England in mid-17c inviting subscriptions for printed books

Authorship, copyright, and censorship

16c: authors received little return for work; in later16c, income derived from patrons

author's copyright did not exist before 1710; royal patents protected stationer's right to produce a particular copy, but no author protection; first trade publisher owned copyright, so if pirate's published it first, they took the rights to the book

publishers -- enter copies pre-publication in register of Stationers' Company; only 2/3 copies were actually entered, though

Licensing Act of 1662: protecting publishers' copyrights; lapsed in 1695; in anticipation, first wholesale conger formed in 1680s

Copyright Act of 1710 gave copyright to author, not publisher; enabled author to get paid for work; author could still sell or parcel copyright

by incorporating the stationers in 1557, government constructed machinery for censoring press; printing presses were limited in number; Licensing Act of 1662 was an attempt ton control publication by awarding official imprimaturs; but regulations were unpopular and ineffective, not renewed after 1695; afterwards, no organized general censorship of books in England

Book Production: The Machine-press Period 1800-1950

end of 18c: increased demand for print, increased literacy; printers expanded their shops

could speed the press by applying steampower to, first, presswork, then binding, then composition

"Although a 19c printing factory, with it shundreds of hands and its dozens of clattering machines, looked very different from a two-press shop of craft days, the technology of book production had really changed very little." (189)
  • individual metal types still set by hand until end of 19c, with intro of composing machines;
  • not until mid-20c that any large number of books were printed other than by inking metal and pressing sheets of paper to it

Britain and US originators of most changes

Survival and change


compositor's equipment and methods basically the same

double or job case: same dimensions as divided lay, but lowercase in left-hand two-thirds, uppercase in right-hand two-thirds

individual working continued; companionship system (ship) also developed -- compositors working in small teams lead by a clicker; two methods of organization:

  1. working on time or in pocket: whole group did whatever was needed, money divided equally
  2. working upon lines: work divided, clicker keeps track of who does how many lines; clicker sets headlines, possibly imposition, etc.; money divided by number of lines, with clicker taking as much as the highest-paid compositor


only new imposition was duodecimo without cutting: duodecimo sheet folded and sewn without the need to remove and quire-in an offcut

signatures still used; using arabic figures instead of letters was revived

Iron hand-presses

delicate romans and increased demand for print meant printers needed a machine with more power and reliability

wooden frames not strong enough; in 1800-3, Earl Stanhope built hand press in cast-iron frame that could produce strong impressions; heavier to lift, though, so out put not much greater than th common press

lever-powered successors of the Stanhope: the Columbian, the Albion, the Washington

  • all adaptations of the common press
  • innovation was in "their capacity for printing large formes with great delicacy" (199)
    • could print on type-area of 98x58cm, compared with 49x39cm area of common press

making ready: because tympan was now hard, all type needed to be the same height; unevenness was patched with overlays of tissue paper; would also offset, requiring the use of offset paper

iron press cost 3x as much as common press, but very durable



successful use of stereotypes throughout the 18c, but never became common practice

stereotyped pages set with taller spaces and quads than usual; then framed with type-high barrier; type oiled, plaster poured over it; plaster baked; put on iron plate, whole thing put in casting box; molten metal poured in, filling the space between the plate and the mould

later, flong, or pasted layers of blotting and tissue paper, was used, beaten onto the face of the type

stereotypes came into use more in first half of 19c; became important for printing magazines, newspapers -- could send columns of type as plates to regional offices


pages set, put in type-high barrier; wax was pressed into type, wax covered with graphite; placed as an electrode in an eletrolyte bath; "grew" a plate of copper

stronger than stereos, but took longer to make

Type, 1800-1875

Manufacture and trade

still highly skilled work; fewer than a dozen punch-cutters in Britain in mid-19c; cost of type remained high

lever mould accelerated handcasting

little progress on standardizing size until 1875

demand for larger type sizes for posters, etc.

dabbing: pressing wood or metal on half-molten cast type

sanspareil matrix: invented by william Caslon IV; letters cut in brass stencil, used as matrix

largest typefaces cut from wood, across the grain


modern typeface swept in at the turn of the 19c; old typefaces no longer in use, many matrices destroyed

foundries began making many different sizes of the same font (unusual before)

from 1840s, reaction against modern type, revival of old-face romans

explosion of exaggerated and decorative forms for display; 3 varities

  1. traditional serifed roman with fat face and high contrast
  2. letter with slap serifs (Egyptian)
  3. little contrast, sans-serif or grotesque (in America, gothic)

Paper in the machine-press period

Hand-made paper after 1800

1800, all paper made from rags still

new methods of bleaching, though: chlorine discovered in 1774

1790s: change from laid to wove paper

machine-made papers dramatically decreased use of handmade paper by 1820s

Paper-making machinery

French paper-making suffered from strikes in 18c; pressure for new machines

Nicholas-Louis Robert, 1796-9, constructed machine to make paper in endless strip, financed by Dido; took it to Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, who hired Bryan Donkin to develop; created a prototype Fourdrinier machine in 1803; essentially same machine in use today


  • beaten stuff dribbled across belt of woven wire
  • shaken, pressed down, turned onto felt
  • emerged from machine in a web, still wet, to be cut into sheets later

dandy roll: lightweight wire mesh roller, could watermark paper

John Dickinson, created cylinder machine that produced from a dandy roll half-submerged in stuff; paper not as strong, because wasn't shaken

paper still made much the same way; newspaper machines have gotten faster

Machine-made papers

hard to find better vegetable fibers than those in linen rags; esparto paper mad from a dune grass of the Mediterranean used increasingly at the end of the 19c in Britain -- but still insufficient to meet demand

woodpulp: ground untreated logs (mechanical wood or groundwood) or digested chemically (chemical wood); mechanical wood cheaper, used in cheap paperbacks and newsprint; chemical wood still cheap in appearance if mixed with soda; produced with sulphite, more stable

papers were loaded with other stuff, like china clay

still had to be sized

pg 224: table of common paper sizes in 19c

machine paper has grain; long fibers paralleled the machine direction; folding was easier along this line

pg. 226-8: tests to determine kinds of paper used

Nineteenth-century paper industry

by 1900, 99% of all paper made by machine; output increased 100x, prices went down by 10

chief distributor continued to be wholesale stationer

most countries made their own paper, although raw materials were traded internationally

Edition binding


  • speedier prefabrication in bulk of complete binding cases
  • piecemeal mechanization of binding
  • use of cloth as covering material

New procedures

change in order of binding

prefabricated cloth cases attached to sewn book

books began being delivered in ungathered signatures

stabbing, stitching through the spine instead of sewing fold together, became more common for parts of novels

late 19c, wire stapling introduced, but would rust and become brittle

around 1840, method of cutting off fold and gluing with flexible rubber

Binding machines

mechanization came slowly; little incentive, since women who did most of the work were low paid

mechanization: first, use of rolling press to press folds; next, preparing the covering cloth, dying it, embossing it; sewing machines, cutting machines, nipping machines

printers increasingly had to follow imposition schemes of folding machines

Publishers' cloth in Britain and America

table of standard colors, grains: pgs 238-44

cotton cloth: originated with William Pickering; technical problems of colors and dressing solved by binder Archibald Leighton

Other styles of publishers' binding

also used leather, printed wrappers, printed paper boards, etc.

edition binding in leather offered as an alternative for bibles, prayer books, etc.

paper wrappers had been in use from early on, but they began to display and advertise books to a greater extent, with pictorial designs and ad matter

yellowback: cheap edition of fiction in small crown octavo, retailing at 2 shillings, printed with colored blocks on yellow strawboard; period from 1855-1870; largely English phenomenon

Twentieth century

nearly all processes of casing could be mechanized

cloth styles changed; embossed clothes died out during 1930s

non-woven covering materials introduced

development of dust jacket as advertising medium

Printing machines


could increase speed with steam power to work a larger flat platen, or to use a cylindrical platen powered by hand or steam

cylindrical platen applies pressure progressively, reducing all-at-once power, invented 1790 by William Nicholson but couldn't produce them; first working machines made by Friedrich Koenig

helped to divide printing into specialized book, news and jobbing houses

Machines for book printing

in Britain: iron hand-presses common until 1830s;; eventually supplemented by powered platen machines, then cylinder machines (Wharfedales)

in America: Adams press introduced in 1830s, a powered platen machine; more gradual change to cylinder machines

Napier double platen: first manufactured by Hokinson and Cope from 1830s; two formes could be printed together

Machine operation

machineminder or machineman: operater of machine, responsible for setting the formers of mounting the plates; oversaw boys (or in America, girls) operating the machines, known as layers-on and takers-off

commonest imposition schemes: octavo and duodecimo work-and-turn schemes (like half-sheet imposition in hand-press work)

inking was automatic

Color printing

specialist color printers used multi-color cylinder machines;

for use with normal machines, had to make separate formes for each color, then work them off one at a time

Other printing machines

three other main classes, in addition to platen and sylinder machines:

  • flat-bed perfectors: printed on both sides of the page in one pull
  • rotaries: like wringers, paper nipped between cylinders, one with type on it, the other supplying the impression; fed by paper from a web
  • platen jobbers: small clamshell platen press worked by a treadle

Processes of reproduction


blocks still used; sometimes took 10-12 days work to cut one; block's life extended by making eletrotype of it; color blocks made by cutting out the different colors into parts


principles established in Germany by Alois Senefelder in 1798

lithographer draws design with grease pencil on a flat surface, like limestone; drawing fixed with an acid solution, which etches ungreased portions; whole stone washed with water, so that water pits into etchings; stone rolled with greasy printing ink, impressed on paper

well established by 1820 for music, maps, decorative prints; less common for books, since it had to be printed separately from letterpress

chromolithography developed in 1830s by Engelmann in France and Hullmandel in England; multiple impression color lithography used for frontispieces commonly

photographic lithography integrated into cylinder machines around 1900, eventually integrated into general letterpress printing

anastatic printing: form of transfer metal-plate lithography; soak page in nitric acid, press to a metal plate; acid on paper portions eats into plate; could be used to reproduce originals

Photographic processes

early phogographically-illustrated books contained actual photographs; first ink-printed photographs were pictures of art reproduced b intaglio plats

not until 1850s, Fox Talbot and Pretsch in Viena developed photoengraving intaglio plates with commercial possibility

Pretsch, Photographic art treasures (London 1856-7): large prints made by photogalvanography; photographic exposure made on gelatine; surface molded in rubber, then eletrotyped to a copper matrix, then the matrix eletrotyped to make a positive intaglio plate

  • expensive, took ~6 weeks for each plate
  • as a result, books continued to be illustrated with actual photographs

photogravure: perfected by Karl Klic of Vienna, 1879; could tone the plate with resin dust or a net of fine lines; development of rotary press for gravure became rotogravure, developed 1890-5

photolithography: 1850s; checmical film spread on surface of litho stone or plate made stone insoluble or waterrepellent by exposure to light; used to make reproductions of art

1858: production of a photolitho facsimile of the first quarto of Hamlet

collotype: bichromate photolithography, tone given by reticulation of gelatin in chemical film rather than graining the underlying surface; offered faithful reproductions of photographs, but also cheap

zincographs: photo-etching of zinc blocks in relief; like lithographs, but using zinc plate

meshed screens used to create light tone


difficult to identify;

letterpress blogs printed in the form, generally show some impression on the back of the leaf;

lithographs and intaglio plats printed separately, no impression on verso;

slight roughness to ink printed from copper or steel

lithgraph appears flatter, often slight greyness

half-tone block has round dots, photogravure dots are rectangular, strung together in lines

Mechanical composition, and type 1875-1950

Cold-metal machines

1882, William Church designed machine that dropped cast type in a line when a keyboard was punched;

  • increased setting speed (up to 5,000 ens per hour for composing), but still had to be justified by hand;
  • were opposed vehemently by hand compositors;
  • mostly used by periodicals

Hot-metal machines

instead of pre-cast type, equip machines with matrices; however, needed large number of matrices to equip machines, as well as punch -- more than the punch-cutters could supply

by 1884, Benton produced punch-cutting machine that became prerequisite for hot-metal composing machinery

linotype: developed 1880s by Ottmar Mergenthaler of Baltimore; early version in use by 1886; with addition of Benton punch cutters in 1889, could produce the machines in quantity;

  • couldn't cast kerned type, so self-contained "f" and "j" indicate use of linotype
  • keyboard grouped characters by frequency
  • produced average rate of 6,000 ens per hour, skilled operator could average 8,000-10,000 ens per hour

monotype: keyboard punched holes in a roll of paper; at the end of a line, spaces determined and code keys in; then moved to the next line; roll then fed to a casting machine; air blown through holes in the paper set the proper letter's matrix in place; machine read the code backwards, knowing how many spaces to put in then casting letters backwards

  • caster produced a galley of type
  • kerned type could be cast
  • could use different fonts by retaining punched spool and recasting with different matrices
  • adopted more readily in Europe, though developed in America
  • type could be set as fast as with linotype, but then operator had to feed spool, which took time
  • monotype keyboard was awkward, arranged by thickness of letter utnil 1908, when the "D" keyboard was introduced
  • by 1920s, most of the largeb book houses in Britain were using monotype

Type since 1875

casting machinery did not change appearance of type much

1886, type-founders in US agreed to use as a standard the pica of Mackellar, Smiths, and Jordan

  • 12 points of 0.351mm each
  • significantly less than Euro standard of 0.376mm

adopted standard height-to-paper of 23.317mm

baseline agreed on, so that different fonts of the same body size could stand in a line together

because of standardization and use of eletrotype matrices, fonts of type from different foundries cannot be told apart

linotype fonts undistinguished until c. H. Griffith took over as typographic Director in 1916

monotype fonts were two until 1922, they began creating original typefaces

Printing practice in the machine-press period


small shops still worked by 10-12 men

more apprentices (cheap labor)

endemic unemployment for journeymen

printing machines: two kinds of personnel, machineminders and machine boys

nightwork common in news and periodical offices

poor working conditions -- bad ventilation, stifling heat; earlier death rate among printers i n19c than other industries

unions gaining strength in 1820s-1860s

Production routines

usual to make at least one set of plates if edition quantity exceeded a thousand or two

make-ready much longer process; could take an entire work day

printing by half-sheet and other imposition changes meant "there could be no such thing as a copy of th book showing a consistently early or a consistently late state of the type; every gathering necessarily showed pages that were separated from each other in printing order by half the total run" (296)

a full-length book could be produced in no more than 2-3 days if rushed, with a large number of compositors on a single job or dividing the job between printing houses

usual rate was 3-4 sheets per week, so that a three-volume novel of the usual length in 50-60 sheets took about four months to print

The book trade in Briatin and America since 1800

Structure of the trade

publisher-wholesaler, printer, and retail bookseller

central figure in the trade was the specialist publisher, wholesaling his own books but not a printer or binder, and possibly without even a retail shop

  • organized production, advertising, wholesaline of editions
  • financed publication
  • financier and speculator of the book trade

author-publisher agreements:

  • outright sale of copyright (still most usual form of agreement)
  • profit sharing
  • royalty agreements (outgrowth of profit sharing)
  • commission publishing

Forms in nineteenth-century publishing

three-decker dominated English fiction in book form from 1830s-1880s;

  • expensive, but worked for lending libraries like Mudie's;
  • typically cloth-bound octavo with 20 gatherings, about 320 pages, per volume

also part-issue serial novels

series of cheap reprints

  • Archibald Constable, creator of Constable's Miscellany, imitated by other publishers
  • Everyman Library, 2902;
  • Penguin Books, 1935

Edition quantities and prices

in hand-press period, 2,000 copies was economical; with machine compositors, 10,000 became economical, flattening out thereafter to about 100,000

therefore greater variety in edition size:

  • first editions of fiction, history, biography, travel, etc., still 750-1,250 copy editions
  • popular author part-issues and magazines reached tens of thousands
  • 20,000-30,000 for Everyman titles, with Penguin editions reaching hundreds of thousands

18c, booksellers and publishers agreed to maintain prices; in 1829, publishers agreed to withhold supplies from booksellers who offered new books (less than 2 years old) for less than the 10% discount typical for cash; 1852, price fixing ended by free trade agreement; inflated prices collapse around 1890s

Copyright, national and international

copyright secured to author for fixed period of time

  • 14yrs in Britain, extended to 28yrs or life of the author in 1814, then to 42 years in 1842, or the life of the author plus 7 years, then to life of the author plus 50 years in 1911
  • America followed British law

until 1891, copyright only secured by American citizens in America, meaning "pirated" (though legal) copies of British works proliferated

restrictions relaxed in 1891 with Chase Act, but books still had to:

  • come out simultaneously in England and America
  • be printed from type set in America or plates from such type

Bibliographical Applications


Edition, impression issue, and state

ideal copy: description of ideal copy notes all blank leaves, all excisions, insertions, and cancellatia that belonged to "the most perfect copy of the work as originally completed by its printer and first put on sale by its publisher" (315), as well as notes on any subsequeent changes or modifications

edition: all the copies of a book printed at any time(s) from substantially the same setting of type; includes all impressions, issues, and states; includes copies printed from relief plats made from that setting, copies reproduced photographically, and all copies deriving from a particular Monotype spool, computer tape, or other programme of composition, however reproduced

  • in the hand-press period, difference in damage to type and spacing between words can indicate edition
  • linotype more difficult to identify, since spacing is mechanical; more a problem of classifying reprints made indirectly from one setting, one act of composition
    • e.g., copies from plates or photolithographs are considered part of the original edition
    • e.g., in monotype, edition definited not by settnig of type by by the setting punched on a paper spool, even if a different font/type is used from the same spool (since the spool is the original act of composition)

impression: all the copies of an edition printed at any one time

  • new impressions sometimes marked by special symbols or new signatures

issue: all copies part of an edition which is identifiable as "consciously planned printed unit distinct fro mthe basic form of the ideal copy" (315)

  • book differes typographically in some way , yet is largely composed of sheets derived from the original setting
  • "are a purposeful publishing unit" distinct in form (separate issue) or time (reissue) from the original issue
  • cases of separate issue': alteration of title-pages; impressions on special paper; added or deleted material
  • cases of reissue:new or altered title-page, new impression with a new title-page

state: "all variants from the basic form of the ideal copy" (316); five major classes:

  1. alterations not affecting page make-up; e.g., stop-press corrections
  2. addition, deletion or substitution of matter affecting the make-up of the page, but done during printing
  3. alterations made after copies are out (but not involving a new title-page); e.g., cancellation of preliminaries, addition of advertisements
  4. errors of imposition or machining
  5. special-paper copies net typographically distinct

terms only for printed books, not binding variants

Assessing the evidence

first, seek title page, imprints or colophons

be wary of the term "edition" -- often used in printing for "impression" or "issue" instead of the bibliographical sense

with dates, if the book is not finished printing before November, the date of the following year is used

dates and places most often bungled in bibliographies; assess:

  1. printed clues: imprint, colophon; initials and dates elsewhere in the book; typographical style and conventions of signatures, catchwords, press figures
  2. typography: printers used the same fonts, so letters will show wear in the same place; can match typography to a known printer
  3. paper: watermarks, particularly in hand-made paper
  4. binding: less helpful, since removed from place of printing; but still can indicate general place of origin
  5. provenance: marks of ownership


hand facsimiles among hardest to spot; were used to supply missing pages in old books

  • 3 19c facsimilists named John Harris; the second supplied missing leaves in early printed books by pen
  • paper usually gives it away

made-up copies: booksellers and collectors would sometimes complete an imperfect copy by supply msising leaves from another imperfect copy -- can tell by mismatch in staining, paper, etc.

Bibliographical description

Purpose and scope

techniques of description:

  1. transcriptions of title-page
  2. formula analyzing format and collation of the book in conventional shorthand
  3. technical not, detailing press figures, type, paper, inserted plates, etc.
  4. details of the contents of the book
  5. notes on other information pertaining to the book's history, and register of the copies examined

Transcription and reproduction

title-pages produced in quasi-facsimile:

  • text copied in full, including all punctuation and long fs, swash sort, digraphs, VV for W, etc.
  • line endings marked with single vertical stroke
  • editorial comments interpolated with square brackets []
  • omissions marked [. . . ]
  • <> used to close conjectural reconstructions
  • words at the end of a line of transcription not hyphenated, even if broken, unless the original is hyphenated
  • kind of type (roman, italic, gothic) is followed
  • two sizes of capitals on one line are distinguished from each other, but not if, e.g., small caps is all one line
  • words in color are underlined
  • wrong-font letters and misprints noted separately
  • descriptions/measurements of all rules, frames, printers' flowers, ornaments, and cuts, as well as plated, included in square brackets, upright dimension first, with captions, plate-marks, signatures, etc. noted

also used for transcribing colophons, running titles, etc.


  1. determine imposition, paper size, and folding; form _size_ | _format_ | _folding_; e.g.: pot 8°; royal 2° in 6s
  2. collational formula; assume A-Z used for signing the gatherings
    1. superior figures added to show how gatherings are folded, how many leaves are contained in each gathering; thus a single-sheet folio with two leaves is A^2; must always be even number
    2. Zz is 2Z; Aaa is 3A
    3. whole gatherings or folds: B^4; individual leaves in B^4: B1, B2, B3, B4 (with numerical signatures, written as inferior figures; conjugate leaves indicated B1.4, point indicating conjugacy
    4. when reference is to the page instead of the leaf, a superior alpha and beta are used to refer to recto and verso, respectively
  3. formula completed with statement of signing placed after the collation in square brackets; "$" means "all the signatures (up to and including the number given" -- e.g. $3, all up to and including 3 -- followed by a note of any departures from this normal practice
  • unsigned books: gatherings listed numerically in brackets
  • missing signatures: if they can be inferred, supplied but set in italics
  • unsigned sheets, additional to regular signature series: pi sign (π) for preliminaries, "chi" for anything elsewhere
  • if interpolations are inside gatherings, indicate them with parentheses
  • parentheses also used to note cancellations with a minus sign, e.g.: (-D3)
  • cancellandum replaced with a cancellans is indicated by a plus-minus sign
  • when using parenthetical notes, separate the signature from the series; e.g.: A-F^4 G^4(-G3), not A-G^4(-G^3)
  • signature symbols repeated without the usual doubling are indicated with a superior prefix, e.g. ^2A, and separated from the series with a comma
  • duplicated preliminary signatures are distinguished with a superior pi sign prefix; duplicated signatures given a superior chi sign prefix

statement of pagination or foliation: total number of leaves in a book (excluding plates), then the page numbers (

  • without page numbers, add them in brackets after "unnumbered"
  • if pages are out of order or wrongly labeled, note them, with total number in brackets; e.g.: pp. 1-24 26-29 31-182 [=178]
  • misprinted noted in parentheses, e.g. ff. 1-308 (misprinting 9 as "6" and 102 as "201")
  • parts of a sequence missing but inferred supplied in italics without brackets; can't be inferred, include the total of each unnumbered group in italics in brackets

Technical notes


  • signature positions: shown relative to the nearest word
  • catchwords: note wrong or missing catchwords
  • press figures: give both the page and the forme in which each figure occurs
  • type and paper used: may includ type dimensions, number of lines to a normal page, text type, references to woodcut ornaments; chain-line spacing on paper, watermark, uncut sheet-size
  • plates or insets not in the collation: include number and position of each plate, process of making them


description of what is on each page; e.g. A1^a title, A1^b blank, A2^a-A4^b preface; when contents are given in greater detail, use quasi-facsimile, placed in single quotes

Other notes

may include notes on structure of the book; full details of variant impressions, issues and states; descriptions of trade or edition bindings; relevant information from external sources on edition quantities and prices; register of the copies examined

Textual bibliography

Textual criticism and bibliography

textual criticism of Bible, classical & medieval works, two stages:

  • recension, creating a tree of relationships among existing documents to reconstruct original
  • emendation, textual problems solved by knowledge of transmission processes, uncovering "the true readings that underlie the corruptions" (336)

textual bibliography is textual criticism applied to printed texts; aim to produce critical edition "which will represent as nearly as possible the author's intentions for his text" (336)

in case where multiple versions of a text, many overseen by the author him/herself, are extant, the editor becomes a literary critic\


copy text: chosen original used to prepare a critical edition; in most cases, an early printed version but not the manuscript

The transmission of the text

  • composition; "manuscript copy is rarely set in type without being changed in the process" (343); can introduce intentional change or involuntary error
    • pre-1700, frequent spelling changes -- range of orthographic correctness, spelling preferences can mark a particular compositor
    • until ~1630 in England, manuscripts written in gothic cursive "secretary" hand, Latin copy written in italic that would later take over as most common hand
    • errors divisible into:
      • foul case, case with pieces of type in wrong boxes
      • mental lapse; unconsciously substituting one word for another; omitted or repeating part of the copy; involuntarily pick up type from the wrong box
      • ex. of Compositor B for Shakespeare
  • proof-correction; potential to introduce new errors from misreading
    • author did not necessarily compare copy and proof; in fact not normal practice to send copy back with proof during hand-press period
    • proofs read and corrected at press in 16/17c London, creating stop-press corrections
  • later stages of production:
    • changes to type or plates during printing an impression
    • changes made to type/plates between impressions
    • changes in preparation of sets of duplicate plates
    • transatlantic reprints often harried with changes in spelling, updating of the text, etc., in 19c and 20c
    • collating machines can show differences

The treatment of accidentals

typically use first or early printed copy; author's manuscript not necessarily reliable indication or guide for creating a textual edition; accidentals in a copy-text should be followed, but are not considered immutable

"But the need to emend the accidentals is not altogether a misfortune: it makes the editor think hard about what his author really mean; and that in the end is what bibliography is all about." (360)