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From about the early 17th century until the end of the 19th century, format was used in the trade to indicate a book’s size and shape. In a bibliographical context it indicates a book’s structure, i.e., the relationship between the sheets of paper on which it was printed and the individual leaves created when the sheets were folded into gatherings. For example, in a folio (20) each sheet was folded once, in a quarto (40) twice, in an octavo (80) three times, the resulting size being respectively a half, a quarter, and an eighth that of the original sheet.

The sheet is the printer’s unit; the gathering (the group of leaves formed after the printed sheet has been folded to the size of the book) is the bibliographer’s unit—it has come to us bound up with other gatherings into a book. In determining format, one is thus engaged in a mental “reverse engineering” of the book back to its constituent printed sheets. We must “unfold” the gatherings in our mind’s eye. Now it should be noted that gatherings may be made-up of multiple sheets, or half-sheets, but here I am concerned only with straightforward gatherings made-up from single full sheets.

Pictured here is our “cheat sheet” (a training tool from Rare Book School) depicting a printed sheet imposed in common 120 format:

Duodecimo format: inner forme


The sheet is depicted schematically to show the direction of its chain lines, its watermark, and its deckle edges—three distinguishing features of paper made by hand in a paper mould during the hand-press period—and the imposition of the pages. To make a duodecimo gathering, the sheet is cut or folded across its long side into thirds, and then folded twice the other way. Common duodecimos were folded by removing an off-cut (one of the outer thirds) which was folded separately and then quired or “tucked” inside the remainder of the folded sheet. This will result in a gathering of 12 leaves/24 pages. The chain lines will be horizontal, and the position of the watermark (if present) will typically be found in the upper fore-edge of leaves 7 and 8, or of leaves 11 and 12.

Why present an example of duodecimo format? When training students, I begin with the simpler examples of folio, quarto and octavo. Here I’ve gone straight to duodecimo because we have a book from the James Wilson Bright collection with wear and tear to the original binding that allowed us to easily remove and “unfold” the first gathering, and to reconstruct its six pairs of conjugate leaves (without causing further damage!) back to its original state as a full sheet after it went through the press.

Pictured here is that first 12-leaf gathering unfolded, taken from Bright’s 1772 edition of Plays written by Mr John Gay. London: W. Strahan, T. Lowndes—(ESTC no. T13746):

Plays written by Mr John Gay (1772): the first gathering

Although the actual size of this book (with an uncut height of 17.5 cm) is closer to octavo format (duodecimos are typically smaller), the imposition of the twelve pages shown here exactly matches the RBS facsimile. Both examples depict the inner forme, beginning with pages 2 and 23 on the first pair of conjugate leaves (A1 and A12) in the upper left corner of the sheet. This first thing to notice about this pair of leaves is the frontispiece depicting John Gay (printed on the second page of the first leaf—i.e., leaf A1 verso. The first page on the other side is blank). This is a copper-plate engraving. With the sheet unfolded like this, it is easy to verify that leaves A1 and A12, separated along the gutter, are indeed conjugate.

This answers the bibliographer’s first question: Was the frontispiece printed on a separate sheet of paper from a copper plate on a rolling press and inserted (which was the typical practice at this time), or was it printed on a leaf integral to the letterpress gathering? Although it is not usual for a single full sheet with 23 pages imposed for letterpress printing (a relief process) to be sent through a rolling press (an intaglio process) just to print one copper plate engraving—it is not unusual. What is unusual about this particular frontispiece is this:

Conjugate leaves A1 and A12 (pp.2/23) in normal light

Conjugate leaves A1 and A12 (pp.2/23) in direct light

Who is that peering out from behind Mr Gay? Held up to direct light one can see that the horizontal chain lines of both leaves match across the gutter. One can also see and feel that the leaf with the frontispiece actually consists of two identical leaves of paper fused together, but it is impossible to see how the one was overlain atop the other. What is going on here?

When viewed normally the engraving behind Mr Gay is discernable only as a faint shadow embedded within the paper. At first glance I thought it had been offset from another sheet. Held up to direct light this shadow engraving can easily be identified as “Peter the Great / Czar of Moscovy”—a copper plate line engraving by John Hall (1739-1797).

I suspect that the full sheet was first printed letterpress; that the wrong copperplate engraving was used when the sheet went through the rolling press, and that a leaf with the correct engraving—“the Cancellans”, was pasted over “the Cancellandum.” Or was it intentional, this juxtaposition of John Gay with Peter the Great? After all, both men were contemporaries, and Peter the Great was, in fact, gay, but I did not find any historical evidence of a direct link between them.

What is the bibliographical significance of this, if any? Is this copy-specific attribute unique? Can anyone explain how the leaves were so expertly pasted together? Not only are the chain lines seamlessly matched, so too are the laid lines! Because the fusion is perfect, the effect is magical. Peter the Great appears like a ghost embedded in the grain, like the image of Jesus in the Shroud of Turin.


Part 1: the country

The technique of using a graver very much like a copper engraver’s burin to engrave across the end grain of a wood block rather than cutting with a knife along the softer plank side was perfected by Thomas Bewick in the late eighteenth century.  Whereas before illustrations of a high quality of precision and refinement had to be engraved on copper plates—which was expensive because the plates had to be printed separately from the text—wood engraved blocks were cut in relief, and thus could be fully integrated with the letter press text. The close grain of a very hard wood like box allows the engraver to cut very fine lines, and to create the optical illusion of light and dark tones.

Bright’s 1802 edition of Robert Bloomfield’s The Farmer’s Boy; a rural poem, provides a good example of the romantic style in wood engravings by Charlton Nesbit and John Anderson after illustrations by John Thurston:

Nesbit and Anderson were both accomplished apprentices to Thomas Bewick. This frontispiece shows how Thurston’s design, very likely drawn directly on the block, was reproduced by Nesbit in both black and white lines. Nesbit reproduced the black lines of Thurston’s drawing of the boy by carving away the white space in and out between every sketched stroke, while much of the design of the landscape and foliage is carried by “negative” or “white lines” incised into the block that do not take ink. This can be seen more clearly in Anderson’s headpiece to Spring (printed in landscape on a separate sheet of paper in the manner of a copper plate engraving—it is not!) and the vignette printed with the letterpress:

The Farmer’s Boy is also noteworthy as an example of what went into the making of a best seller for a new, rapidly growing reading public. Robert Bloomfield’s manuscript was “discovered” by the radical Whig Capel Lofft. Lofft’s editing of the text, copious notes, and influence on the design of the book through numerous editions was calculated to support his reformist agenda, and the publishers Vernor and Hood were determined to cash in on the current vogue for the picturesque and the “peasant poet.” First published in 1800, The Farmer’s Boy was an immediate success, far outselling the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Part 2: the city: 

A completely different feeling is found in Bright’s 1833 edition of Horatio Smith’s Rejected Addresses: or, The New Theatrum Poetarum, with wood engravings by Thos. Williams after George Cruikshank. Here is Mr. Higginbottom waving his whizzing waterpipe for the salvation of Drury:

There is not a single incised white line in this virtuoso wood engraving. It looks like an etching made by Cruikshank himself. Thos. Williams has reproduced Cruikshank’s every suggestive pencil stroke in relief, in wood. The work, a popular parody of the leading poets of the day, was first published in 1812. This edition was the first to be illustrated. “Of Cruikshank,” one reviewer wrote, “we shall only say that George is himself again in the exquisite woodcuts, which are by themselves worth the price of the volume.”

It’s official! Special Collections and Archives at Goucher formally acquired the Chrystelle Trump Bond Dance and Sheet Music Collection (1820-1960). The collection includes over one thousand pieces of American and European dance sheet music, and hundreds of dance programs, dance instruction manuals, rare books, and various portfolios of prints and periodical literature documenting social and theatrical dance in America since the early 19th century. It also includes the papers of ballerina Lillian Moore (1911-1967), whose dance research files are held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Dr. Bond, Professor of Dance at Goucher since 1963, developed the collection to be used as teaching tool documenting the reconstruction of historical dances. She purchased scores that feature instructions accompanied by engraved or lithographed illustrations of steps and formations, and instruction manuals by dancing masters that more fully describe the various dance genres. Many of the illustrated lithographic covers were designed and printed by the leading artists and printmakers of the day, such as John Henry Bufford and Nathaniel Currier in America, and John Brandard in England.

As this is the second largest collection named in the CLIR grant, processing has commenced in earnest.

Once upon a time, published books were issued in sheets – essentially, in stacks of paper that the buyer would have bound in a way that suited their tastes and needs. These personalized bindings, usually in leather, were expensive and time consuming to produce. As literacy spread in the early 19th century, a new method of binding was required to meet the demands of a growing mass market of readers. Binders began experimenting with heavily starched cloth as a durable material for covering books. It worked! But some consumers and critics were not convinced of the aesthetics of having dress fabric in their library. The years that followed the invention of book-cloth saw rapid changes in designs and techniques applied to the material to suit changing fashions and expectations. By following publishers’ cloth bindings from 1830-1930, we can gain a sense of consumerism and the decorative arts during the century of industrialization.

The James Wilson Bright Collection was purchased by Goucher College shortly before Bright’s death in 1926. Having amassed contemporary publications throughout his life, Bright’s books serve as an excellent showcase of the development of publishers’ cloth bindings throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

As the cataloging project progresses, you’ll be able to search for decoration on and treatment of the various cloth bindings in the collection.  Use the index terms found here to assist.

Silver Stamped Binding Our Special Collections staff all agree that this is a gorgeous binding:  with its   embossed purple-brown cloth, and the colors in the dye stamp that gradually change from a reddish-bronze to gold and play delicately with the light.  The whole effect is a stunning use of hue and iridescence.

Would it surprise you to know that this is completely by accident?  What the binder originally conceived of was a clean, even gold design.  But gold is expensive, especially if one is thinking of mass producing a book.  So, what was actually stamped on this book is an alloy of 80% copper and 20% zinc — fake gold, sometimes referred to as “Dutch metal.”  It has been slowly degrading over time into the reddish, orange and bronze tones that we now see.

We’re very grateful for the binder’s economy!

Finding aids for the following research collections are now available on the Goucher College Special Collections & Archives website.

Alberta H. and Henry G. Burke papers and Jane Austen research collection, 1811-1996

The Collection consists of personal correspondence and non-published research materials related to the Burke’s book collection documenting Jane Austen.

Hans and Frances Mitchell Froelicher papers, 1790-1994

A variety of records documenting the personal and professional lives of Hans and Frances Mitchell Froelicher, including German language letters and manuscripts relating to the Froelicher family, certificates and memorabilia, especially of Goucher College, published works and related notes, diaries, photographs, and scrapbooks, especially of the laying of Froelicher Hall at Goucher College.

Goucher College Class of 1903 round robin letters, 1907-1938

The Round Robin Letters cover a wide variety of topics, including family life, war and war efforts, suffrage, and travel.

H.L. and Sara Haardt Mencken collection, 1886-1951

The bulk of the H.L. and Sara Haardt Mencken Collection materials includes correspondence between Sara Haardt and Mencken on their relationship and Mencken’s opinions on writing, the film industry, Baltimore, and national and international events of the 1920s and 1930s. The Collection also includes all of Sara’s published and unpublished works, other materials related to her career, and correspondence with other prominent writers.

Florence B. Seibert papers, 1897-1991

The Papers include biographical material, scrapbooks, personal correspondence, writings and publications, and awards related to the life of Florence B. Seibert, a researcher whose work focused on the identification and treatment of tuberculosis.

Dorothy Stimson papers, 1890-1988

The Papers include biographical information, correspondence, publications and writings, awards and degrees, diaries, scrapbooks, and photographs relating to the life and work of Dorothy Stimson, an historian in the field of the history of science, and president of the History of Science Society from 1953-1957.

Lilian Welsh papers, 1894-1954

The Papers include biographical materials, professional papers, photographs, and memorabilia relating to the life and work of Lilian Welsh, professor of anatomy, physiology, hygeine, and physical training at Goucher College, 1894-1924.

(Index of Finding Aids)

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