Glossary of book history terms

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The glossary below aims to help both novices and more advanced researchers of the history of the book and its many variants understand some of the common terms employed in the many different disciplines that contribute to this field of study. For other research resources of this kind, please consult the Research guides article.

two conjugate (connected) leaves, prepared as a surface for writing.
an undivided sheet of paper printed on one side only.
a word positioned below the final word on a given page which duplicates the first word on the following page, in order to guide the printer or reader.
chain lines
lines visible in laid paper, caused by the vertical wires of the paper mould displacing fibers during the paper making process.
a rectangular frame (of wood first, later of iron), which enclosed the forms in hand-press printing. Made in pairs, they were used with wooden furniture and quoins to lock up the type.
the common form of a book in the Western world after ca. 350 AD, with leaves of papyrus, then paper or parchment bound along one edge.
the process of comparing the book in hand to one or multiple other witnesses in order to reveal differences and establish completeness. Collation can also refer to the bibliographical description of the book, given in a formula which articulates its physical composition (format, signatures, and number of leaves).
a note at the end of a book or work giving all or some of the following information: the title of the work, its author, its scribe or printer, the place of production, and date.
composing stick
a hand-held tray, made of wood or metal, in which pieces of type from the case were assembled into a line of type.
the workman who sets type, imposes the pages into the forme, sometimes makes corrections, and finally cleans and distributes the type.
a workman in the printing shop who checks proof for errors.
the papermaker who turned the mould over the felt and depostied the newly made piece of paper and returned the mould to the vatman.
a removable wooden rim which can be fitted to the papermaking mould to make it into a tray-like sieve with a raised edge.
deckle edge
the uneven edge of handmade paper created by the fibers that seeped under the deckle.
The English Short Title Catalogue, A catalogue of works published between 1473 and 1800, mainly, but not exclusively in English, and mainly, but not exclusively in the British Isles and North America, with bibliographic information and holding libraries.
fly, or printer's devil
an apprentice or boy whose duties included inking type, cleaning, and hauling.
1. a leaf of paper or parchment
2. a format of book created when a sheet of paper or parchment is folded once.
3. in book-collecting terms, a size based on definition 2.
font (or fount)
a complete set of types of letters, numerals, and other symbols, cut and cast in the same style and size.
the size and shape of a book, as determined by the number of times the original sheet of paper or parchment has been folded to form its constituent leaves.
folio (fol. or 2°) = folded once
quarto (4to or 4°) = folded twice
octavo (8vo or 8°) = folded thee times
duodecimo (12mo or 12°) = folded four times
the full composed text block for each page, set in the chase and inked before pressing. A "skeleton forme" includes the parts of the form that may be left set-up while the content of pages are changed, such as running heads and the location of page numbers and catchwords. These repeated elements are known as "forme work."
foul case
a type case that has pieces of type in the wrong boxes.
general title page
a title page for a collection. cf. internal title page.
internal title page
a specific title page for a single work that appears as part of a collection. cf. general title page
from the Latin for "cradle," a work printed before 1501.
the opening words of a text, from the Latin verb incipere meaning "to begin."
a sheet of paper or parchment where each side is a page; a folio.
the wrong sort, or individual type element, selected by a compositor, either from a foul case or by mistake.
or mold: in papermaking, the wire mesh supported by a wooden frame through which paper pulp is drained to form a sheet of paper. Typically designed and employed in pairs.
any text that surrounds the main text of a work. Paratexts may include the title page, prefaces, indices, running heads, cover blurbs, etc. These texts may be supplied by the author, editor, translator, publisher, printer, or other invested parties and affect the interpretation of the main text.This term is taken from Gérard Genette's seminal work, Seuils (1987), translated into English as Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation.
the front of a leaf, the right hand side of an opening of a bound volume. cf. verso.
a library, archive, or museum.
running head
sometimes also called a headline or running-title, the line of type at the top of the page of text which contains the title of a book or section.
the identification number which identifies a book by its place within the library. Now generalized to be equivalent to "call number." Shelfmarks can be combinations of letters and numbers, or can be more exotic and idiosyncratic. The library of Sir Robert Cotton, for example, was arranged in presses (bookcases) that were each topped with a bust of one of the Twelve Caesars or two Imperial Ladies; thus the Cotton Collection at the British Library still retains the names of Roman emperors as part of its shelfmarks, e.g. Cotton Nero D II would be the second book on the fourth shelf of the bookcase topped with Nero.
letters printed in the lower margin of the page as a guide to binding. These typically appear on at least the initial leaf of a gathering; the preliminary leaves may not be signed at all, or may be signed with a symbol such as an asterisk.
When capitalized, a member of the Stationers' Company of London.
A. W. Pollard, G. R. Redgrave, W. A. Jackson, F. S. Ferguson, and Katharine F. Pantzer, eds., A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640 (STC), 2nd edition, 3 vols. (London: Bibliographical Society, 1976-91).
also known as a gathering, a certain number of folded bifolia placed one inside another, or a folded sheet of parchment or paper. In printing and some manuscript production, marked by signatures to aid proper folding and ordering.
uncorrected sheet
a sheet printed and often bound before corrections made to forme in later impressions
the back or reverse of a leaf, the left hand side of a bound volume. cf. recto.
a design, pictoral or alphabetical, in hand-made paper made by the presence of a raised wire design stitched to the mould. The design appears as a thinner pattern in the paper, most visible when backlit. In later usage, the pictoral or alphabetical design may be accompanied by a counter-mark, indicating the date of the mould's manufacture.
Donald Wing, ed., Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English Books Printed in Other Countries, 1641-1700 (Wing), 2nd edition, 4 vols. (New York: MLA, 1972-98).
a single material instance of a given text.

See Also

Michelle P. Brown, "Glossary for Illuminated Manuscripts," British Library

John Carter, ABC for Book Collectors. Eds. Nicolas Barker & Simran Thadani. 9th ed. Oak Knoll Press, 2016. Downloadable PDF available here:

Richard W. Clement, "Glossary of Terms for Pre-Industrial Book History" (2009). Library Faculty & Staff Publications. Paper 11.

Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2009.

Don Etherington and Matt T. Roberts, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology.