The Hand-Press Book Leaf Laboratory Detailed Instructions and Tips

        Each English 241 student will get access to a single leaf from an old, rare, early printed book from Special Collections.  The leaves were cut, by a former owner, from a copy whose binding probably had deteriorated.  The former owner realized that s/he could make more by selling it, page by page, on the rare book market, than by selling the entire edition.  Though we regret that decision because of the evidence of the past it irrevocably destroyed, it also made these materials available to us for training in archival research.  Individual leaves also pose one of the most difficult and instructive problems in identifying the edition from which the whole book came.  Unless we happen to have a title or colophon page that would record the city, printer, date, and other information about the edition, we must infer that from forensic evidence from the leaves we do have compared with bibliographic information available in online sources such as the English Short Title Catalogue.  The paper, type font, ink, text, and other evidence are typical of the hand-press era.  If you combine your page's evidence with that of the other students' pages, you will find that, together, you can begin to infer the structure of the whole book from which the leaves were taken.  Only the binding evidence will be lost, and we will take up bindings and whole-book structure later in the semester.  You will be able to use your page in the Special Collections Seminar Room any time the archives are open (usually 9 to 4, Monday through Friday during the regular semester).  Bring or share laptop computers to take advantage of Internet based resources to answer the following questions by closely examining your book leaf.  Periodically post revised drafts of your research notes to GoucherLearn, and take a moment to read other studentsí notes for clues about your own leaf.

        Before you start, make sure you have read these two web pages!

Links and Advice for Doing Descriptive Bibliography: an introduction to the tools available for solving the three main problems presented by an anonymous old text: identifying the text (content, author), identifying the edition, and analyzing the text using the techniques of descriptive bibliography.  The first two stages involve using some familiar kinds of Internet tools in unusual ways.  The third stage guides the user to a page containing extensive links to online images of old books to illustrate bindings, type fonts, paper, and provenance evidence. 

 Dictionary of National Biography: an indispensable tool for researching names found in books printed in England or owned by English readers/collectors.  Getting to know the DNB, and Who's Who, its American counterpart, will acquaint the researcher with the individuals who have inhabited the past in which their texts came to life and through which they passed on their way to our hands.

Specific Laboratory Instructions:

1)  Leaf Size.  How tall and wide is the leaf, in centimeters, at its tallest/widest?  Editions are printed on paper that starts with a known pair of dimensions shared by all books emerging from the press and bindery.  The first binding puts each book under the binder's "plough" to even the top, fore, and bottom edges, cutting off some millimeters of the original page size.  At this point, most copies from an edition are the same height and width.  Later rebinding subjects books to the binder's plough again, usually reducing the height more than the width, but gradually cutting away the margins toward the text block, sometimes slicing off page numbers, headers, and signature marks.

2)  Printer's and Binder's Paratext.  Does your leaf have page numbers on both sides, a sign of a later hand-press-era book, or does it have folio numbers only on the "recto" or right side of each leaf.  Folio numbering, often preceded by "F." or "Fol.," is a sign of an early hand-press-era book.  Foliation is replaced by page numbering in the sixteenth century, at around the same time that the printer's information in a colophon at the end of the book was duplicated and then replaced by the same information on a title page at the front.  Are the numbers Arabic (later) or Roman (earlier)?  Does your leaf have a signature at the bottom, and if the signature is numbered, is it in Arabic of Roman numerals (e.g., "Aii" vs. "A2")?  Does your page have a running "header" identifying the text or section of the text to which the page belongs?  Does your leaf have a catch-word or words at the bottom right of the "verso" or reverse side of the leaf that would link it to the first word in the upper left corner of the recto side of the following leaf?  If so, do we have that leaf, and do the catch-words match?

3)  Paper Construction.  Are there chainlines and tranchefilles in the paper when a light is held behind the page?  Is there a watermark and/or countermark visible when a light is held behind the page?  If so, where is it located on the page and what does it look like when complete?  Do you see other evidence of the paper's hand-made origins, like variations in thickness or "vatman's tears"?  Stephenson and the RBS movie about format will guide you in understanding the significance of these facts in determining whether the page comes from a folio (2o), quarto (4o), octavo (8vo), duodecimo (12mo) or more complex format.  For an online refresher about identifying format from chain lines and watermark positions, see this online guide from the Japanese Diet Library.

4)  Text Block.  How big is the text block (h x w in cm.), how many lines per page compose the block?  Does the page have a header and/or footer that identify the contents of the text block?

5) Type Fount.  What kind of type was used to print the text: gothic or roman?  If it is gothic type, does your page contain a capital "M" which might be compared with Haebler's table of "M" fonts?  How tall, in millimeters, are the miniscule letters?  Does the printer use italic type at any point?  Can you identify the type font as belonging to any of the known English or European printers of the hand-press era?

6)  What is the content of the text?  In what language is it written?  After you have completed the physical description of the leaf in steps 1 through 5 above, attempt to transcribe as much of the text as you can decipher, and post your description and transcription to the GoucherLearn Hand-Press Book Lab discussion forum.  Can you identify it as something you have read before, or by style as something by an author you previously have read?  Is there a digital version of the text available online?  What edition of the text are you reading?  Can you identify it, or at least narrow the field of possible editions?  See the first "guide" page above before attempting either of these.

7)  What is the relationship between your page and the pages of other students in class?  This laboratory is replicating an increasingly common experience of readers who encounter sheared-off leaves of old books (MS or print) and have few skills needed to identify the print edition from which their leaf/leaves originated.  Share what you have on the public folder before the next class, and be prepared to put together your findings.  Can you identify the printer and edition of the text your pages come from?  Remember that type faces, page layout (especially lines per page), pagination and signing, format (that watermark and chainline information), and page height (in centimeters) are key determiners in identifying which edition of a frequently printed text you are holding.  In all cases, be extremely careful to distinguish among what things you know for certain, what you think probably may be true, and what you suspect might be true, as well as those things you know you do not know.