T is for Title-page

Like so many elements of book design (bindings, bookplates, typography), the appearance of the title-page has been subject to fashions, and the amount of information offered on a title-page has varied over time accordingly. For example, whilst the earliest title-pages were relatively simple, in the 17th century it became standard practice to cram as much information as possible onto the title-page – with extensive sub-titles and detailed author and publisher information, often in multiple types, and within decorative frames. This trend died off in the 18th century, as a tendency for more simply set-out title-pages (often accompanied by half titles) took its place. This pattern repeated; the 19th century saw a return to more elaborate title-pages, whereas the emergence of modernism accompanied a more stripped-back approach in the 20th century.

As engraving came to be used more widely in book illustration from the late 16th century, engraved title-pages emerged. Occasionally books contained additional engraved title-pages alongside a letterpress title-page, as in the example below.

The earliest of printed books do not contain title-pages at all however; nor do most medieval manuscripts. Instead, these texts are generally identified by the “incipit” and “explicit” – the opening and closing words of the text, from the Latin verb incipere (‘to begin’) and explicitus, meaning ‘unrolled’.

An example of an incipit from a work printed in 1481.

Early printed books often closed with a “colophon” – a closing statement, providing, for example, the name of those involved in the book’s production (scribe, printer, publisher), and place and date of publication.

Earlier in this series we met the half-title page: here it is worth noting that the history of the half-title page, as outlined in this earlier post, also helps to reveal how it was that the title-page came to be – “printers would produce the pages of a text – the text-block – which they sold unbound”; a “blank sheet originally intended for protection came to be marked with a short-title in order to help differentiate one text-block from another, and it was this that then developed into the full title-page, with publication details as well as author and title.”

References and further reading:

Smith, Margaret M. “Title-page” in Michael F. Suarez, S.J. and H.R. Woudhuysen eds., The Oxford Companion to the Book, 2010.

Smith, Margaret M. The title-page: its early development 1460-1510, 2000.

British Library, Catalogue of illuminated manuscripts, 2018

S is for Subscription

From the 17th to the early 19th century, and occasionally since then, books might be issued ‘on subscription,’ to solicit orders in advance of publication from subscribers attracted by a preliminary proposal. A printed list of subscribers’ names would often appear in the published work. The first known subscription list is that for the second edition (1625) of John Minsheu’s Guide into Tongues (SPEC Knowsley 349/oversize but without the list of subscribers).

Books whose publication was financed by subscription typically included particularly expensive books (for example highly illustrated books), specialist works (for example scientific and musical works), privately printed books, or special copies (for example, ‘large paper’ copies printed on a larger size of paper) making up part of an edition. The response to the subscription helped gauge the market for the work prior to publication and acted as a guarantee for the bookseller’s outlay on publication costs.

Subscription proposal for Milton’s Works (1757). SPEC Knows. pamph. 264
Receipt for the Countess of Derby’s first payment for Milton’s Poetical Works. Signed by Thomas Houlston.

The lists of subscribers in the published work were often arranged hierarchically, giving the most eminent names first, and might include addresses and occupations. William Enfield’s 1773 Essay towards the history of Leverpool included views and a plan separately so subscribers could choose which parts of the work they wanted.

References and further reading:

  • Michael F. Suarez and H. R. Woudhuysen (eds), The Oxford Companion to the Book (Oxford, 2010)
  • John Carter and Nicholas Barker, ABC for Book Collectors. Eighth edition (Oak Knoll and British Library, 2006)
  • P. J. Wallis, Book Subscription Lists: Extended Supplement to the Revised Guide (1996) and ‘Book Subscription Lists,’ Library 5/29 (1974)

R is for Rags

Making paper by hand.

During the hand-press era, the raw material for the production of paper for books was cloth rags – most often linen. Rags were bought in bulk by paper-makers, often sold to them by itinerant rag collectors; rag-and-bone men. The paper-making process began with washing the linen, which was left it in a damp heap to rot. After four or five days, the rotten rags were cut into smaller pieces, and then pounded down to form a pulp, using water-powered hammers. This pounding process was repeated two or three times; with pauses in between to allow for further rotting. By the 18th century the hammers had been replaced by a rotary machine which macerated the rags using knives – a much more efficient method. Invented in Holland, the machine was known as a Hollander.

Once the process of breaking-up and rotting down the rags was complete the pulp that remained was put into a vat and watered down to form a concoction resembling a watery porridge. Further stretching the porridge analogy – this mixture was kept warm and stirred occasionally using a paddle.

A close-meshed sieve made of metal wire (the mould) was then dipped into the mixture, before being lifted out with exactly the right amount of pulp in, laid flat, and skillfully manipulated to form a uniform ‘sheet’ of pulp across the mould. The mould was then expertly shaken, first forward and backward, and then side to side, to ensure the fibres crossed in each direction, which helped to strengthen the paper. The sheets were then removed from the mould and sandwiched between layers of felt. The resultant piles of paper interleaved with felt were put under a heavy press to squeeze out excess water before being hung up to dry.

The quality of the paper produced using this method was primarily determined by the quality of the rags used to make it. The best paper was produced from pure white linen; poorer quality paper from materials such as canvas, rope and wool. Linen rags were not readily available in England, where people wore wool rather than linen. This fact, combined with a lack of skilled workmen, meant that most paper used in the English book trade, up until around the middle of the 18th century, was imported from France or Holland.

By the 19th century, the demand for rags to make paper with was outstripping supply, and prices reflected this. This intensified the search for an alternative; which eventually resulted in the majority of paper being made using wood-pulp – and increasingly using machines, rather than by hand – from the middle of the century.

As it happens, a conference, ‘The Paper Trade in Early Modern Europe: Practices, Materials, Networks’ took place in Erlangen, Germany, on the 26th and 27th February. You can read about current research in paper, as presented at the conference, by searching for the Twitter handle #EMpapertrade.

References and further reading:

Gaskell, Philip. A new introduction to bibliography, 1972

Burke, James. From rags to paper, 2013

University of Ilowa. Paper through time: nondestructive analysis of 14th-through-19th century papers (project website).

Q is for quarter-bound

A binding which covers only the spine and the edge of the boards nearest the spine is described as ‘quarter binding.’ The amount of the board covered varies, but the binding may indeed cover one quarter, hence its name.

Quarter bindings, which use less material – leather, parchment, cloth, paper, depending on date and style – are cheaper than half bindings which cover the spine and back edge of the boards plus the outer corners of the boards. Half and quarter bindings may be described as quarter calf, half parchment, etc, naming the binding material used on the spine. Full calf, for example, describes a binding in which the full extent of the spine and boards is covered in the same material.

Common styles of binding can help to identify where and when an item was bound, or may be a recognisable ‘uniform’ such as the ‘Roxburghe style’ used for the publications of the Roxburghe Club. Their quarter bindings have a spine of brown or black leather, with the title tooled in gold, and the sides are dark-red paper-board. More recently, morocco and buckram have been used in the same colour scheme.

SPEC G.02.05: Roxburghe style binding

From the 17th century onwards, and notably in the 18th and 19th centuries, as it became usual to shelve books with the spines outward, the spines of quarter- or half-bound books lent themselves to decorative display.

SPEC Zaina C.10: leather spine decorated with gilt-tooling and colour onlay, and marbled paper boards on Paris, 1887 edition of Gautier.

The Literary Annuals – the Perfect Gifts for Christmas

For the last few months, I have been undertaking a SOTA300 work placement here at the Special Collections and Archives. The key focus of the placement has been to catalogue the literary annuals collection; we have around 200 literary annuals in the collections. The literary annuals were popular in Britain in the early-mid 19th Century; most of the annuals we have are dated from 1830-50 and span across many different titles. I have been cataloguing the binding details and inscriptions found in the collection. The annuals were typically targeted as gifts for the female audience with many even written by women. This is evident in the inscriptions as many of the annuals have been dedicated to women: family, friends, and sometimes prospective lovers. The annuals were often extravagantly designed with the content being made up of short poems and pictures. They ranged from tiny pocket-sized annuals to larger ‘scrapbooks’ and ‘drawing room’ books which were intended to be displayed in cabinets. Many prominent authors disparaged the literary worth of the annuals, but they nevertheless have proved important in literary history; the annuals influenced the publishing market and invoked changes due to their sheer popularity.

There are distinct differences between the older annuals; like the early Forget me Nots (the first of their kind in Britain) and the later annuals as seen in the pictures below. The annuals saw the introduction of new binding techniques.

The Forget me Not for 1824 was one of the first annuals introduced in Britain. The book is hardback and is kept in a cardboard slipcase; the pictures and designs are intricate, but it is clear this is an early prototype for what was to come

The Souvenirs pictured here are from 1848 and 1853. There is a clear shift towards lavish designs; the colours are unique, and the use of gold was commonplace across the annuals.

Silk was used on some of the earlier annuals, with leather or cloth covers increasingly used for durability. The use of bright colours and embossed designs were introduced in this period, and it became incredibly commonplace for gold to adorn the annuals; gilt-tooled/blocked designs and gilt edges became almost synonymous with the annuals. The literary annuals were innovative, for example by using steel plate engravings. The standard gradually increased as audiences desired the most attractive books to own.

The annuals were ideal Christmas and New year gifts. They were released late in the year and were dated for the following year, much like modern annuals. The Forget me not pictured above provides an example of an annual gifted at Christmas. This particular copy in our collection is inscribed ‘To M. A. Garle From Mr J Garle. December 25th 1823.’ This appears to be a gift from a husband to his wife; the presentation plates were provided in order to prompt buyers to dedicate their editions.

Some of the annuals were even published in Liverpool, and many of the copies in our collection have links to Liverpool as they have been gifted by prominent locals such as the Rathbones, the Holt family, Sir Henry Tate (1819-1899), and Sir. Charles Sydney Jones (1872-1947). Meanwhile, there are some other annuals in the collection from America and mainland Europe; the annuals proved popular worldwide. With their beauty and poetic contents making them ideal Christmas gifts, it is easy to see why they reigned for so long.

Some of the annuals will be presented in our upcoming exhibition. From the beginning of second semester, the display will show a selection of the bindings and the interesting inscriptions alongside further details and information. Visit the exhibition in the Sydney Jones Library from February 2019 to see more!

L is for Leaf

The smallest element in bibliographical descriptions of books: the piece of paper comprising two pages. The front side is called the recto and the back is the verso.

A leaf numbered on the recto may be referred to as a folio – foliation (numbering each leaf) is often seen on manuscript texts and became a common printing practice in the late 15th and 16th centuries. Books from 1600 onwards have more usually been printed with pagination (a separate number for each page, or side of the leaf).

Fraser 567: Nicolas Monardes, Ioyfull newes out of the new-found vvorld (1596) showing foliation

The physical description statement in catalogues gives the make-up of the book in sequences of leaves (if the printed text is foliated) or pages (if the text is paginated). Descriptions by number of pages always give an even total to account for both the recto and verso of the leaf, even if the verso if the final leaf is blank.

Description ix, [1], 533, [1] pages, [1] leaf of plates: illustrations; 20 cm

Illustrations such as woodcuts may be included as part of printing the text, and not separately numbered, but illustrations such as engraved plates printed by a separate process are numbered as leaves, since the illustration is on one side of the leaf only.

Leaf may also be used in terms describing parts of a book: endleaves (or endpapers) are the additional leaves before and after the printed text; flyleaf is sometimes used to refer to a leaf at the beginning of a volume. They are normally mentioned in catalogue descriptions as the location of bookplates, owner’s inscriptions, etc., or for their decorative qualities.

An interleaved copy of a book has additional blank leaves bound in for the owner’s notes, either as an integral part of the publication, or for an individual owner after publication:

2017.b.008 – Liverpool shipping register for 1835 interleaved for corrections and additions.

JUV A727.1 – The illuminated scripture text book with interleaved diary for memoranda and a coloured illustration for every day by Edmund Evans (1875)

K is for Kelmscott

The first of the private presses, and one of the most famous, was the Kelmscott Press, which was founded by a key figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris (1834-1896), in 1891.

The Arts and Crafts Movement aimed to preserve traditional craftsmanship against what its proponents saw as the insidious growth of new technologies and mass production during the 19th century. They considered the industrialisation of the arts and crafts to be responsible for a decline in design and quality, and thereby in working and living conditions, with damaging detrimental effects on moral and social health. In book production these ideas led to the founding of ‘private presses’ – usually defined as printing presses that aimed at craftsmanship and artistry rather than profit, advocating a return to the materials and techniques used in early book production. The Kelmscott books were produced in a “quasi-medieval” style, drawing on Morris’s admiration for the design and craftsmanship of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books – in particular the work of 15th century Italian printers. Care was taken over all aspects of the book’s production – with Morris designing his own types, sourcing ink from Germany and paper handmade (in a 15th century Italian style) in Kent, and paying meticulous attention to all aspects of design. For many, the results of this painstaking craftsmanship are amongst the most beautiful books ever created.

“The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer” (1896) is arguably the greatest accomplishment of the Kelmscott Press, with 87 woodcut illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones.

From “A note by William Morris on his aims in founding the Kelmscott Press…”, the last book to be printed at the press, in 1898.

Again replicating 15th century craftsmanship, many of the Kelmscott books are bound in stiff parchment, with silk fore-edge ties.

The Kelmscott Press, which closed in 1898, two years after Morris’s death, produced over 50 works, all in limited editions of on average around 300 copies. The University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives is very lucky to hold a complete set of the Kelmscott publications. They were bequeathed to the University by William Noble (1838-1912), who as well as being Treasurer of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, was an avid collector of illustrated, finely printed and limited editions of English books of the late 19th and early 20th century.

The colophon to Morris’s reprinting of William Caxton’s 1481 translation of “The History of Reynard the Foxe”. Morris’s edition had a print run of 300 copies.

Further reading: Peterson, William S. The Kelmscott Press: a history of William Morris’s typographical adventure (1991).

Morris, William. “A note by William Morris on his aims in founding the Kelmscott Press: together with a short description of the press by S.C. Cockerell, & an annotated list of the books printed thereat” (1898).


J is for Juvenile

Juvenile was a term used by publishers to distinguish books and magazines produced for children – now more usually called children’s books – from those marketed to adults. The extensive Children’s Books collection in Special Collections at Liverpool includes several titles which make their target market clear, for example: The Juvenile: a magazine for the young and Juvenile anecdotes, founded on fact: collected for the amusement of the young. Many such titles provided more instruction than amusement and look very little like  contemporary books for infants, children or the more recent publisher’s categories of teen and young adult.

Fisher’s juvenile (left) and drawing room scrapbooks (right)

The distinction between adult and juvenile markets was also made clear in the best-selling literary annuals of the 19th century. Fisher’s drawing-room scrapbook (1832-1852) sits next to the slightly smaller Fisher’s juvenile scrapbook (1836-1850), and the earliest and most enduring titles: Forget-me-not (1823-1847) and the Keepsake (1828-1857) are echoed in The juvenile forget-me-not (1828-1862) and The juvenile keepsake (1829-1850).

JUV 125: Juvenile forget-me-not (1830)

JUV 125: The juvenile keepsake (London & Liverpool, 1830)

Juvenile literature was a well-established category by 1888, when Edward Salmon published Juvenile Literature As It Is based on a survey of the reading habits of two thousand 11-19 year-olds.

Juvenilia is used specifically for ‘juvenile’ writings, as in the poet Leigh Hunt’s 1802  Juvenilia: or. a collection of poems. Written between the ages of twelve and sixteen (SPEC Fraser 293).

Resources and further reading: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature (2006)

G is for Gilt and Gold

Gilt and gold-tooled (or tooled in gold) are terms used to describe the techniques of applying gold decoration to a book’s page edges and its binding.

In gold-tooling, individual engraved metal hand tools are heated and applied through gold leaf to impress the design on the book’s spine and covers. Larger designs use an engraved metal block in a blocking or arming press, for example a centrepiece block or corner blocks.The design is then described as blocked in gold rather than tooled in gold.

If the binder’s tools or blocks are used straight onto the bookbinding material the decoration is described as blind-tooled (tooled in blind), or blocked in blind. A panel-stamp is a single large block used to impress a design onto the book cover; the term is used particularly of ‘blind-stamped’ 16th-century bindings, but the pretty cover designs of 19th-century literary annuals or gift books use essentially the same technique.

Fisher’s Drawing Room Scrapbook for 1852
SPEC Annuals 1c.F333

Whether the material is leather, vellum, or cloth, and the design is tooled or blocked, these techniques have produced some of the most stunning bookbindings from all periods.

Two 18th centiry religious works in a red morocco binding of ‘cottage’ design, inlaid with black, with the leather book-label of Ann Aingel, 1769.

SPEC H85.9 booklabel

Design blocked in gold on cover of Moore’s Irish melodies, 1851

W. B. Yeats, Poems 1895
SPEC J18.15











Gilding describes the process of applying gold leaf or gold powder to the trimmed edges of the pages of a book. As well as giving the volume a more luxurious appearance, the smooth shiny surface serves the practical function of resisting dust. Gilt edges may be made more ornate by tooling a design onto the gilded surface, to produce gauffered edges.

Bible ( 1831). In a very elaborate Victorian leather binding; all edges gilt and gauffered.

Resources and further reading:

The Language of Bindings glossary at Ligatus.

The British Library Database of Bookbindings

The British Armorial Bindings database at the University of Toronto

E is for Edition

Printing in the hand-press period was time-consuming, involving the setting-up or composition of sheets to be printed from individual pieces of type. As a printer’s stock of type and printing presses was limited, the type would be redistributed once the sheets had been printed. Watch a demonstration of the printing process on the website of the Victoria & Albert Museum (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

The copies of books printed at any time from substantially the same setting of type constitute a single edition; if more than half the type is reset, there is a new edition (citing Philip Gaskell  A New Introduction to Bibliography, Oak Knoll Press 2012).

Subsequent editions might follow in rapid succession in the case of popular works, such as Byron’s The Giaour (1813) which appeared in eight editions in its first year.

7th edition in 1813 of Byron’s The Giaour. SPEC J28.26(2)

A long run of editions over a long period indicates the enduring usefulness of a work, for example John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors (first edition 1952, eighth edition with corrections 2006), to which our ABC of Books pays homage. Successive editions may not be numbered second, third, etc but will often be described as new, improved, corrected, with additions or other inducements. From the later 19th century onwards, the title page may state how many thousands have been printed in place of or in addition to an edition statement:

Ninth thousand ‘edition’ statement
SPEC Y83.3.1442

Parts of an edition might be printed more cheaply, or more expensively, using different paper, to produce a subset for a particular market such as cheap copies for export or copies on higher quality paper (with a price to match) to appeal to collectors. Books produced in a limited edition will have a statement declaring how many copies have been printed and each copy will usually be numbered, often as part of a subset of greater of lesser rarity. The Ashendene Press edition of Thomas More’s Utopia (1906), for example, included 20 copies printed on vellum. Special Collection’s copy collected by William Noble (SPEC Noble A.20.1) is printed on vellum but unnumbered.

Editio princeps, the Latin for first edition (‘princeps’ also conveys the sense of a distinguished leader in the field) is often used to refer to the first printed edition (as opposed to manuscript) of a classical text, for example the edition of Cicero printed in Mainz in 1465.

Editio princeps (Mainz 1465) SPEC Inc.CSJ.F10