Friday, August 29, 2014

Book Sizes and Collation

Information that book collectors should have readily at their fingertips are the sizes of books and their designation in annotation. Here might be a helpful table that can be cut and pasted or printed (a jpg file) and stored whenever anyone runs across a books description or a reference of a book that perhaps you as a book collector are thinking about buying.

It is important to remember; that when measuring a book, it is not the book jacket or the book cover that you measure or the binding but the actual page! A habit that many binders had, when asked to rebind a book, was to trim down a book for a new binding, cutting or trimming the page sizes. This reduces the size of the pages, sometimes considerably. In older books, you can look at what is called the pagination or the page count, that a printer will put at the bottom of the page that has a series of letters and numbers, usually according to the alphabet but over the centuries some unique page pagination or signatures were used to tell the printer, which page follows which previous page. Many bookbinders had workers who may have been great craftsman but could have been illiterate and also following a simple and repeatable pattern of binding pages reduced errors in the binding of a book.

Another designation was the ‘last word repeat’ this is a technique where the printer would print the last word of the sentence at the bottom of the page again and it would be the first word on the following page. Both designations; the alphabet/numerical/symbol designation and the repeat word designation describes the collation or the page counting of a book. Let’s be clear, there are two numbers to a page, verso and recto so a single page could have the number 1 and the number 2 on the opposite side of the page but in pagination it is only counted as one page.

Some further explanation is needed of why books are designated by name as folio, 4to, 8vo etc. These descriptions are how many times a single sheet of paper is folded after printing. A folio is a single sheet of paper in the case of a standard folio, which is approximately 24 by 30 inches and is printed on both sides with print equally distributed, top to bottom and side to side. The printer would set the type for one side in a folio sheet with two areas that were the text. They would then print 500 or 1,000 sheets on a single side, wait for the ink to dry, change the type, turn over the sheet and print the next two pages and this would be repeated over and over again until the book was completely printed. The unfolded sheets were then sent to the bookbinder who would fold the sheets in half, line up the paginations or the last word repeat, sew along the spine, add boards, leather etc. completing the binding of the book. The books would then be sent to the Booksellers or to the subscribers of the book, if it were sold in advance. Publishers were in the minority and in order to protect their printing, authors would often engage themselves completely in the printing, binding, subscription and distribution of their books. Once a book was printed, copies were often made within a very short period of time by other printers as there was NO COPYRIGHT protection until the end of the 19th century (Mark Twain often lamented about the unscrupulous behavior of printers and publishers, he likened them to Politicians, neither represented an honorable trade). It was a cut-throat business filled with many unscrupulous characters. In England, booksellers were considered nearly as low as actors and prostitutes in London society. The King considered them as seditious, unruly and needed to be controlled. Booksellers often became publishers and printers often became booksellers and publishers. Good bookbinders were looked upon as ‘craftsmen’. Embellishing a book not only meant creating color within the book but giving it a character when holding it and opening it. The more money you could spend on binding a book, the higher your social status within society. But back to printing.

Printing production becomes a little more complicated as we move down the size designations of a book printer and the book binder. A 4to has four folds of a single sheet of paper and the printing must be done so when the single sheet of paper is folded, all the pages are in the SAME DIRECTION after the page bottoms are ‘cut’ by the binder or in some cases, the owner or buyer of the book. A good way to understand how this works is to take a single sheet of paper and fold it so that there are four sheets and study it. Try to imagine the single sheet laid out on a single bed and the print type being laid out so that upon printing and folding, it all comes together including the reverse side of the sheet. As we move up the designations, 8vo, and 16mo and up to 64mo, the complications of printing, binding and font size all play a role in how a book looks; feels and reads. We complicate all of this by throwing in engravings, flourishes, and many other signatures at the top and bottom of pages and we can see the character of books emerging as unique works of art, printed in limited editions, lost or destroyed over time and the surviving specimens have a variety of differences that all go into the description of a book. Understanding how a book is put together, its binding and its collation are critical to understanding the value, scarcity and character of a book that you are purchasing either for resale or for your collection.

It will be hard to imagine that a digital image of a book will one day have any value to a collector. Books have always had a character, developed through the paper it was printed on, the type of ink used and the font, the pagination, the embellishments and the book binding. Equally important was the size. Some very small books have a remarkable character to them and large books such as an atlas folio or for that matter a regular folio with wide margins and a period binding are equally enchanting in much different and powerful ways; they equally compel you to marvel at their beauty and strength.

You are reading this text of Calibri font developed by Microsoft in 2003 versus my usual is New Times Roman, developed in 1931 by the Times (London).