Assignment #2: Blog Post for Thursday, January 26

For Thursday, we’d like you to spend some time examining an old book from your university’s collection—preferably a book from the “hand-press era” (i.e., before about 1820)—with an eye towards perceiving the kinds of details that can give us some insight into the book’s manufacture. You might revisit the oldest book in the collection that you identified last week, or turn to a different one that catches your fancy.

Reading some Gaskell and watching some YouTube videos won’t make you into an expert bibliographer, but it should give you a beginning sense of the kinds of things you’re looking for traces of when you look at a book and the beginnings of a technical vocabulary for talking about those traces. The point of this exercise isn’t so much to master bibliographical terminology as it is to concentrate on using your senses to examine the book carefully as a material object. (You’ll lean primarily on your sense of sight, but will also certainly use your sense of touch, possibly your sense of smell, and—in an attenuated way—your sense of hearing. Please don’t try tasting the books. Seriously.)

You should spend a fair amount of time examining and handling the book (make sure to wash your hands before and after!), making notes on what you observe. If your library’s policies permit it (and it sounds like everybody found this to be the case), consider taking photographs of the book to insert into your blog post. Your blog post should attempt to introduce your readers to the book you’ve found, drawing particular attention to any details—however small—that allow you to make inferences about how the book was made.

Here are some questions to consider as you examine your book. (But don’t let these limit you—you may find something interesting not covered here.)

What can you say about the binding?

Is the book bound at all?

If not:

Does it show evidence of having been disbound (can you see bits of leather, etc. stuck to the folded edge)?

Do you see evidence of stab stitching (i.e., holes stabbed through the face of the pages near the fold?)

Do you see evidence of prior sewing (i.e., thread sewn through holes in the fold itself)?

If so:

Describe the binding (materials, condition).

Does it appear to be the original binding, or has it been rebound (say, in a library binding)? If it’s been re-bound, how close to the text block are the pages trimmed (i.e., how tight are the margins)?

What can you tell about the paper that this book was printed on:

Is the paper laid or wove?

If the paper is laid, do you see chainlines? What direction are they running (vertically or horizontally)?

Are all the pages opened, or are there some pages that you can’t see because the folds have never been opened?

Are the pages trimmed or untrimmed?

If untrimmed, where do you think you see deckle edges? Where do you see evidence of opened bolts?

Do you see evidence of watermarks? If so, where? (Keep in mind that you will have to look at multiple pages before you can be sure there are or are not any watermarks).

Does the book have signatures (not inscriptions of people’s names, but the letter/number combinations at the bottom of selected pages)? If so, how is it signed?

Taking all the evidence together—paper evidence (chainlines/wirelines, deckle edges, watermarks, if present), signing patterns, sewing, anything else you can think of—what do you think is this book’s format (e.g., duodecimo, octavo, etc.) Refer to the imposition diagrams in Gaskell as you think about this one.

Based on your sense of the book’s format, calculate the number of sheets of paper that went into the manufacture of each copy of this book.

Are there any full-page illustrations in the book? Can you see how they were bound into the book?

Is there anything else that caught your eye about this book that these questions haven’t touched on, but that you think is interesting to note? (Feel free to put this in your own words if you’re not sure of what the technical terms might be.)



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