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Class Visits to Rare Books and Special Collections: Anatomy of a Book

Lists of materials for specific classes that have visited RBSC. Click on the tabs for your subject areas

Anatomy of a Book: Glossary of Terms

Hand-press period: Roughly from 1450 to the beginning of the 19th century. The period during which books were printed on machines powered by people, not steam or electricity.

Signatures: Letters of the alphabet, numbers, or symbols, usually at the bottom of the first few leaves (after folding) of a gathering, indicating the order in which the individual leaves should go. The term signature is sometimes used to denote a gathering. Signature marks can help you to determine format.

Quires or Gatherings: A single printed sheet of paper, folded, ready for binding in sequence. This is also often called a signature.

Recto: The right hand (front) side of a leaf

Verso: The left hand (back) side of a leaf (easy to remember: "reverse" side)

Leaf: A piece of paper consisting of two pages, front and back (either of which may be blank). When doing collation (counting signatures), the leaf is the basic unit of measure, not the page.

Page: One side of a leaf (sometimes numbered, sometimes not). Modern books are typically described by the number of pages.

Format: The relationship between the size of the original printed sheet of paper and how many times it was folded before binding. Folios are folded once; quartos are folded twice; octavos are folded three times.

Collation: The act of determining a book’s format and its completeness. Collation is done by counting signatures and making sure that they logically match up with the physical evidence.

Folio: A format of book in which the sheets are folded once and then bound together. In a folio, the watermark will generally be in the center of the leaf on the right-hand side, and the countermark will be on the center in the left-hand side. Chainlines will be vertical in a folio. Folio is often abbreviated as: fo., fº or 2º.

Quarto: A format of book in which the sheets are folded twice, parallel to their short sides, and then bound together. In a quarto, the watermark will generally be found in the center of the inner margins, and chainlines will be horizontal Quarto is abbreviated as 4to or 4º.

Octavo: A format of book in which the sheets are folded three times, parallel to their short sides, and then bound together. Octavo gatherings are found with eight leaves (16 pages); another common version of octavo gatherings has four leaves (8 pages). Chainlines in an octavo format are vertical, and the watermark is found at the upper edge of the inner margins. Octavo is abbreviated as 8vo or 8º.

Conjugate: two leaves that are joined to each other through the spine or gutter of the book.

Laid paper/ hand-made paper: Paper that is made by hand (not machine), using a mold. In handmade paper, you can usually see chainlines, wirelines, watermarks, and countermarks. Handmade paper comes in sheets, which are then folded to produce gatherings after printing.

Chainlines: Translucent lines visible in laid (handmade) paper when held up to the light. These lines usually go parallel to the short side of the sheet, typically about an inch apart. These lines are caused by crosswise wires in the paper mold that create a thinner area in the sheet of paper. Often, the direction of chainlines in a bound book can help you to determine its format.

Wirelines: Less visible lines in laid (handmade) paper, parallel to the long side of the sheet.

Watermark: A translucent design visible in handmade paper when held up to the light. Watermark designs were typically wired into the paper mold, and can denote either the size of the paper, the place of manufacture, or the intended market. Typically the watermark is present in the center of the right side of the paper mold.

Countermark: A translucent design, usually letters or numbers, that appears in conjunction with a watermark. Typically the countermark, if present, is located in the center of the left side of the paper mold.

Machine-made paper: Paper produced by a machine powered by steam or electricity. Often, watermarks were impressed in this paper to simulate laid paper, but typically, chainlines are not present in machine made paper.

--Adapted from Belanger, Terry and Peter Herdrich. The Anatomy of a Book: I. Format in the Hand-Press Period. Workbook. Charlottesville: Book Arts Press, 2004, p. 16-21.

Anatomy of a Book

These are materials held in RBSC that serve as examples of the process of making (and selling) books from medieval manuscript production through the nineteenth century. The process of collation, and understanding format for the hand-press period, is explained using the items below, along with sample papers from the Book Arts Press. Students have an opportunity to practice collation, and to learn the proper handling of early materials. This program works well in conjunction with the DVD "Anatomy Of A Book," available in the Microform and Media Services area on the 2nd floor of the Library. To request a class visit, please email the Curator.

Before the Printed Book:

The structure and process of creating a medieval manuscript book is explained using Medieval Manuscript Leaves These illuminated leaves, encased in mylar for safe handling, provide a glimpse into manuscript production for a variety of works from 1150 to the early 1400s. 

Vellum Manuscript, ca. 1200. This vellum manuscript, which was originally part of a binding, allows students to feel actual 13th century vellum, and to examine it close up without worry of damage to the materials. Manuscripts collection PA8200.A1 .V444 1200A

The Ellesmere Facsimile of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. (1995 facsimile of ca. 1400 manuscript) NIU's copy if this illuminated facsimile is bound in an early fifteenth-century-type binding of oak boards and quarter leather. Book Arts Coll. O/S PR1866 .W761995a

The Hand-Press Periodincunabulum

Martial. [Epigrammata]. Martialis cum duobus commentis. [Venetiis, Bartholameu[s] de Zanis de Portesio, 1493]. This incunabulum is one of the library's oldest printed books. It shows a full-leather repaired15th century binding, with clasps. It is also an example of a folio. Rare Oversize. PA 6501 A2 1493

Bible. Latin. Vulgate. 1590. Biblia Sacra : quid in hac editione à theologis louaniensibus praestitum sit, paulo post indicatur. Antverpiae : Ex officina Christophori Plantini, apud viduam, M.D.XC. [1590] This 1590 Bible in octavo format was printed by the widow of Christopher Plantin. The Plantin Press in Antwerp was one of the most important presses during this period. The Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp is dedicated to continuing their legacy. Rare. BS75 1590ba

Bible. O.T. Psalms. Greek. Selections. Psalmorum Dauidis aliquot metaphrasis Graeca, Ioannis Serrani. Adiuncta regione paraphrasi Latina G. Bvchanani. Precationes eivsdem graecolatinae, quae ad singulorum Psalmorum argumentum sunt accommodatae. [Geneva] Anno M.D.LXXV, Excudebat Henr. Stephanus. 1575. The Etienne family was famous for creating the first scholarly editions of works. This example of a side-by-side Greek and Latin translation of the Psalms of David in octavo format from the Etienne press is the 16th-century equivalent of standard works such as Penguin or Norton Critical editions used by students. It includes blank leaves suitable for notetaking. Rare BS 1441 S47x 1575

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island. A comedy: As it is now acted at His Highness the Duke of York’s Theatre. London: Printed by J. Macock, for Henry Herringman at the Sign of the Blew Anchor in the Lower Walk of the New Exchange. 1676. Introduction by Dryden. This is an example of a quarto book, published just 50 years after Shakespeare's time. Rare PR 2833 A1 1676

Piles, Roger de, 1635-1709. Cours de peinture par principes, par Mr. de Piles Amsterdam et a Leipsick: Chez Arkstee & Merkus. Et se vend a Paris, chez Charles-Antoine Jombert. M. DCC. LXVI. [1766] This 18th century example includes plates, which can present problems to beginning collation students. Rare ND 1130 P59x 1766

19th Century Publishing Practices

Eliot, George, 1819-1880. Daniel Deronda. Edinburgh : W. Blackwood, 1876. This is an example of 19th-century publishing practices, specifically the "triple decker" novel (although in this case, it is a quadruple-decker). Rare PR 4658 A1 1876a

Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870. The life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, his relatives, friends, and enemies ...Edited by Boz [pseud.] With illustrations by "Phiz" [pseud.] London, Chapman & Hall, 1843-44. This is an example of a book issued in parts (serialized), one of the other typical methods of publishing 19th-century novels. Rare PR 4563 A1 1844a

Other sample titles provided for practice in collation (many more available upon request)

Gay, John, 1685-1732. Plays. viz. The captives, a tragedy. The beggar's opera. Polly, or The second part of The beggar's opera. Achilles, an opera. The distress'd wife, a comedy. The rehearsal at Gotham, a farce ; to which is prefixed An account of the life and writings of the author. London : Printed for W. Strahan [and others], 1772. Rare PR 3473 A1 1772

THE INTELLIGENCER. no. 1-20. LONDON: Printed for FRANCIS COGAN, at the Middle-Temple-Gate in Fleet-street. MDCCXXX. Rare AP 3 I6 1730

Pope, Alexander, 1688-1744. An epistle from Mr. Pope to Dr. Arbuthnot. London, Printed by J. Wright for Lawton Gilliver at Homer's Head in Fleetstreet,1734. Rare PR 3630 E6 1734

Fénelon, François de Salignac de La Mothe-, 1651-1715. Dialogues concerning eloquence in general; and particularly that kind which is fit for the pulpit: by the Archbishop of Cambray, tr. from the French, and illustrated with notes and quotations; by William Stevenson. Glasgow, Printed and sold by R. and A. Foulis, 1750. Rare PN 4173 F45 1750

Toland, John, 1670-1722. Amyntor, or, A defence of Milton's life : containing I. A general apology for all writings of that kind. II. A catalogue of books attributed in the primitive times to Jesus Christ, his apostles, and other eminent persons ... III. A complete history of the book, entitul'd Icon Basilike, proving Dr. Gauden, and not King Charles the First, to be the author of it: with an answer to all the facts alleg'd by Mr. Wagstaf to the contrary; and to the exceptions made against my Lord Anglesey's Memorandum, Dr. Walker's book, or Mrs. Gauden's Narrative, which last piece is now the first time publish'd at large ... London : Printed, and are to be sold by the booksellers of London and Westminster, M.DC.XC.IX. [1699] Rare PR 3581 T644 1699a

Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870. Oliver Twist, or The parish boy's progress. New York : Wm. H. Colyer, 1840. Rare PR 4567 A1 1840

Reynolds, Joshua, Sir, 1723-1792. The works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, knight containing his Discourses, Idlers, A journey to Flanders and Holland, and his commentary on Du Fresnoy's Art of painting ; printed from his revised copies, (with his last corrections and additions.) In three volumes. To which is prefixed An account of thelife and writings of the author by Edmond Malone, esq... 4th ed., corrected. London, Printed for T. Cadell, jun. and W. Davies, 1809.  N27 R25 1809

Homer. Homer his Odysses, translated, adorn'd with sculpture, and illustrated with annotations, by John Ogilby. London: Printed by J. Flesher for the authour, 1669. Rare PA 4025 A5 O34 1669

Subject Guide

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Sarah Cain
RBSC: 815.753.0255; Regional History Center: 815.753.9394