Printing History Terminology 101

This week, I’ve been clearing out some of my laptop’s old files. My desktop folders are filled with old coursework that I’d forgotten about, as well as old photos of me with some very questionable hairstyles.

One of the documents I stumbled across was a glossary of printing history terms that I had made as a study aid for my SMC228 Bibliography & Print Culture course at the University of Toronto. You know, that course that got me interested in book history.

Looking through the glossary, I realized that I continue to use a lot of these terms in my current work. I take a lot of them for granted, but most of them were completely foreign to me when I first learned them. For that reason, I’m copying and pasting my homemade dictionary here, so others can learn the words that I have come to love so much.

Note: Very few edits have been made here, my friends. Because of this, some of these definitions are not nearly as comprehensive as I would like them to be (e.g. ‘codex’ – what was I thinking?!). Regardless, I hope you find some this glossary at least somewhat useful, even if just as a starting point.

Second note: Some of these definitions are lifted entirely, or heavily, from William Proctor Williams and Craig S. Abbott’s An Introduction to Bibliographical and Textual Studies (fourth edition). This was our course textbook. It’s a darn good book, too, and should be on every beginner and seasoned bibliographer’s bookshelf.

So, let’s get to it. 19-year-old Leah’s dictionary of printing history:

Accidentals: In textual criticism, such formal features of a text as capitalization, spelling, word division, punctuation, and italicization, as opposed to wording. See substantives.

Analytical Bibliography: The branch of bibliography devoted to determining the circumstances of books’ production through examining such physical evidence as ink, paper, typography, format, and arrangement of text.

Bed: The part of a press on which type is placed for printing.

Bibliography: The study of books, including their texts, materials, history, production, and distribution; also an account, list, or description of books or works.

Binding: The process or product of folding, gathering, and fastening together the printed sheets of a book, enclosing them in covers.

Binding Cloth: Cloth used in binding, especially since the 1820s, when publishers began issuing books in prefabricated casings rather than leaving binding to the bookseller or purchaser. The cloth may be embossed with a variety of patterns, or grains, that in descriptive bibliography may be designated diaper, rib, ripple, bead, sand, pansy, and beaded-line cloth.

Black Letter Type: A group of angular, scriptlike typefaces represented by textura, rotunda, and bastarda and no longer commonly used, although one bastarda type (Fraktur) was used in Germany until the mid-1900s. Gothic type is sometimes used as a synonym but confusingly also refers to recent sans-serif typefaces.

Boards: The wood, cardboard, or other material used as stiff covers or to stiffen the covers of a binding.

Cancel: A slip pasted to a page to replace what was originally printed, for correction or for insertion of a title page with another publisher’s or bookseller’s imprint. That which it replaces may be called the cancelland; that which replaces, the cancellans (or simple cancel). To cancel is to cut out printed or blank pages.

Case: A compartmented tray in which type is kept for composition; a type case. Also, a cover or binding; used especially to refer to bindings made up separately and subsequently affixed to books.

Casting Off: Estimating the space, including number of pages, to be occupied by copy when it has been set into type.

Catchword: The first word of a page appearing at the foot of the preceding page as a guide to assembling the pages in correct order. Catchwords were in common use in English printed books from the mid-sixteenth century until the late eighteenth century.

Chain Lines: Lines roughly twenty-five millimeters apart, created by the mold in which laid paper was made and running parallel to the shorter sides of the sheet. Chain lines may also be impressed into machine-made paper by a dandy roll. See wire lines.

Chase: A metal frame in which pages of type are arranged and locked up for printing or for making plates.

Codex: A book; in particular, a manuscript book.

Collate: In book production, to assemble sheets or gatherings for binding. In bibliography, to analyze and record (as in a collational formula) the number, order, and arrangement of leaves and gatherings in a book. In textual criticism, to compare one text with another to discover textual variation.

Collation Formula: An abbreviated form for recording the number, order, and arrangement of leaves and gatherings in a book, using signatures to represent gatherings and superscript figures to indicate the number of leaves in a gathering.

Colophon: Notes at the end of manuscripts and printed books giving information about production, usually including date, place, and producer (scribe or printer). The note may be accompanied by a printer’s device. Information in these notes is not always reliable.

Common Press: The wooden handpress in use throughout the Handpress Period (1450-1800), consisting of a wood frame in which a screw-driven platen impressed the paper onto an inked form of type.

Composing Stick: A handheld tray into which the compositor places the type from his cases according to his copy. In early printing, the length of the stick was fixed so a compositor would have to have several of various standard lengths. Later, composing sticks had an adjustable end that allowed one stick to serve for setting lines of varying lengths.

Composition: The process of setting type, spaces, rules, headings, and the like.

Compositor: A person who sets type.

Conjugate Leaves: Leaves that form a pair joined by an inner fold. Thus, in a sheet folded to form a quarto, leaf 1 is conjugate with leaf 4, leaf 2 with leaf 3. Leaves that are not conjugate are disjunct.

Copy-Text: In critical editing, the text (generally of a particular document) whose readings, because of the circumstances of its production, are presumed authoritative in the absence of contrary evidence. An editor follows its readings except when they are determined to be in error or when there is evidence for the superior authority of variant readings in another text.

Critical Edition: A scholarly edition that presents a text constructed by adopting readings from one document or more and by correcting readings determined to be errors. The critical text thus constructed is accompanied by an apparatus that explains the editorial principles and procedures, lists the textual emendations, and provides a historical collation of the text. Critical editing often resorts to an expedient known as copy-text.

Deckle(d) Edge: The untrimmed, uneven edge of a sheet of paper as it comes from the mold in papermaking by hand or from the web in papermaking by machine. The deckle is the frame around the mold used in making paper by hand; it is a rubber dam or strap in papermaking machines.

Definitive Edition: A scholarly edition that provides a thorough record of a text and its history and presents a critical text based on the evidence of that record. The term is no longer in favor, except as an object of derision.

Distribution: The process of removing pieces of type from the chase and returning them to the type case.

Documentary Edition: A scholarly edition that presents, without emendation, the text of a particular document. The text is accompanied by an apparatus that generally includes a description of the document transcribed, the basis for its selection, the principles of transcription employed, and lists of variant readings found in other documents. Also called diplomatic edition.

Duodecimo: A book format in which the sheets are printed so that each sheet, after being folded, produces twelve leaves (twenty-four pages). Also, a book printed with this format. Also called twelvemo.

Edition: In the strict bibliographical sense, all copies of a book printed from substantially the same setting of type or from plates made from that type or type image. Publishers use the term more loosely and variously, often to distinguish among copies identifiable by publishing format (such as paperback and hardback), change of publisher, textual revision, or some other feature, even if all the copies belong to the same edition in a bibliographical sense.

Edition Binding: The binding up of books before the publisher supplies them to booksellers. The practice became common in the early nineteenth century.

Endpaper: The leaf pasted to the inside of a cover (the paste-down endpaper) and the conjugate, unpasted leaf (the free endpaper, or flyleaf).

Facsimile Edition: An edition that reproduces an earlier edition’s text and its typographic appearance.

Folio: A book format in which sheets are printed for folding once, each sheet thus producing two leaves (four pages). Also, a leaf, especially one numbered on its front; the number on a leaf; the number on a page; and a book made up of folio sheets.

Format: In the most general sense, the design and layout of a book. More particularly, the scheme by which type pages have been arranged (imposed) within a forme so that when a printed sheet is folded, it produces a particular number and sequence of leaves. See duodecimo, folio, octavo, quarto, and sixteenmo. Also, a designation of book size, since the size depends on the number of times a sheet is folded (and the size of the full sheet).

Forme: The assemblage, or imposition, of type pages for the printing of one side of a sheet. The outer forme includes the two pages that will come first and last when the sheet is printed and folded correctly; the inner forme is the opposite side. Also, especially in American usage, form.

Foul Case: A compositor’s case in which some pieces of type have been distributed into the wrong compartments and wait for the opportunity to create a typographic error.

Frisket: A frame covered with parchment or paper in which holes have been cut to expose the areas to be printed and to mask the areas of the chase that are not to be printed.

Furniture: In printing, wood or metal spacing material placed around type pages within a chase.

Gathering (Signature): A book section consisting of a folded sheet, folded portions of a sheet, or quired sheets.

Handpress Period: In historical bibliography, the period 1500-1800, during which printing became well established although the technology remained relatively stable, employing the common handpress and movable type.

Hypertext: Electronic text or texts with links that allow nonlinear reading. When hypertext includes sounds, images, animation, and the like, it is sometimes called hypermedia.

Ideal Copy: In descriptive bibliography, the form of a book as published or as intended for publication, as that form has been deduced from examination of surviving copies.
Impression All copies of a book produced by one pressrun, or printing. Also, each operation, or cycle, of the press that prints an inked image, used in measuring the speed of a press, as in two thousand impressions an hour.

Illumination: The decoration by hand of a manuscript or book by adding illustrations, initials, and ornaments in gold or silver or, more generally, in any colours.

Imposition: The arrangement of pages in the chase to print one forme so that, when the sheets are properly folded, the pages run in the correct order.

Issue: In bibliographical taxonomy, all copies of an impression that bear some distinctive feature (such as a variant title page) marking them as a unit of sale distinct from that of other copies of the impression. Also, as a verb, ‘to release to the public’, ‘to publish’.

Laid Paper: Paper made by hand and showing the wire and chain lines of the paper mold. Also, machine-made paper showing these lines as made by a dandy roll. Compare wove paper.

Leaf: A piece of paper or parchment consisting of one page on its front (recto) and one on its back (verso).

Linotype: A typesetting machine, introduced in the 1890s, that cast not individual pieces of type but whole lines (called slugs). Operation of its keyboard assembled matrices in which molten metal was cast to make the slug. Other slug-casting machines were manufactured under the names Intertype and Typograph.

Machine-Press Period: In historical bibliography, the period 1800-1950, during which iron presses replaces wooden ones, machine-driven presses replaces hand-powered ones, printing increasingly employed plates rather than type, and typesetting and binding became mechanized. There is no generally accepted term for the period or periods since 1950, in which setting of metal type has given way to photocomposition and computer typesetting and in which photo-offset printing has been dominant.

Manuscript: A handwritten or typewritten document.

Monotype: A typesetting and casting machine developed in the 1890s and consisting of two units: a keyboard unit to code the typesetting by perforating a strip of paper and a casting unit to translate the codes into matrices in which the individual type characters were cast from molten metal.

Octavo: A book format in which the sheets are printed for folding three times, each sheet thus producing eight leaves (sixteen pages). Also, a book printed with this format.

Page: One side of a leaf of a book.

Parallel Text: In scholarly editing, two or more texts presented together, as in columns or on facing pages.

Paratext: The peritext, consisting of such items as titles, authors’ names, forewords, dedications, prefaces, epigraphs, notes, and afterwords, all of which frame a text, and the epitext, consisting of texts not physically appended to the text in question but associated with its public and private history, such as advertisements, reviews, author’s statements and correspondence about it, and records of its production and publication.

Parchment: Writing material made from the skin of a sheep or goat. Also, paper resembling such materials in its smoothness, translucence, and toughness.

Platen: On a printing press, the flat plate that presses paper against inked type. Not all presses have platens (e.g. cylinder and rotary presses).

Preliminaries: The material preceding the main text in a book, such as title pages, dedication, preface, and table of contents. Also caled prelims and front matter.

Presswork: In book production, the actual printing of the book, excluding the preceding composition and the subsequent binding.

Quasi-Facsimile: In bibliography, a descriptive transcription of printed matter (such as that on a title page), one that presents the text and describes or reproduces some features of its physical appearance, such as line endings, capitalization, decoration, and type style.

Recto: The front of a leaf; the right-hand page.

Reference Bibliography: The branch of bibliography concerned primarily with enumerating, describing, and providing access to works as opposed to books (or other documentary forms).

Scribe: A public official or functionary charged with the writing, copying, and keeping of documents; a copyist, especially of classical and medieval manuscripts.

Sheet: A rectangular piece of paper used in printing and then folded to produce the leaves of a book.

Signature: A letter, figure, or other symbol appearing in the direction line, usually on the first page of a sheet and often on additional pages, and used as an aid to the binder in arranging the gathering the sheets and as a system of reference to a book’s leaves. Also, a folded sheet, half sheet, or quarter sheet.

Standing Type: Type that has been set and printed from but not distributed, as when stored in anticipation of a subsequent impression.

Stereotype: A printing plate cast from a plaster or a paper (flong) mold of a forme of type.

Textual Criticism: The study of the transmission of texts and the application of this study to scholarly editing.

Tympan: In printing, the cloth or paper places between the platen of the press and the paper to be printed. In hand printing, the parchment- or paper-covered frame that presses the paper to be printed onto the type by the force of the platen. Also, the frame holding the cloth or paper.

Variant: A text or portion of a text that differs from another of the same work.

Variorum Edition: A scholarly edition in which a base text (not necessarily critically edited) is annotated with a record of critical and textual commentary on particular passages, of editors’ emendations, or of variant readings present in other texts. A critical variorum reports primarily critical commentary; a textual varioirum, primarily textual variation.

Vellum: Writing or binding material made from the skin of a calf, kid, or lamb. Also, a sturdy, smooth cream-coloured paper.

Verso: A left-hand page of a book; also, the side of a manuscript leaf to be read second.

Watermark: A lettering or design visible when paper is held up to light. In laid paper, the watermark is produced from wire sewn to the wire-and-chain paper mold; in machine-made paper, it may be impressed into the paper by a dandy roll.

Wove Paper: Paper, whether made by hand or machine, bearing not the wire and chain lines of laid paper but rather a fine regular pattern of woven or meshed wires, as in most book paper today. Compare laid paper.


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