The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Considering Collation: Decoding the Formula

In my last post I shared some of the lessons that I learned in July at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Now, as promised, I can explain what some of it means. If you remember, I provided a collation formula of a book from the print collection here at the MHS. Specifically, I gave a description of a book called “Pansebeia.” Published in the mid-17th century, this book purported to be a view of “all the world’s religions.” The formula that I gave read like this:

8°: A8 a8 B-I8 L-R8 T-2M8 2N4 3A8 3a4 3B-3F8 (K8 S8  3F8 missing; 2D6 missing, removed); [$4 (-3A2, 3a4) signed; missigning V4 as U4]; 345 leaves; [32] 1-544 [545-552]; 2[24] 1-78 [79] [misnumbering 68 as 63, 78 as 73, 206 as 106, 479 as 463, and 266 as 96].

So, what does this mean? Well, it might take a while to explain all of this, so let us start simply.

This opening piece of the formula designates the format of the book. This lets us know the relationship between sheets of paper on which the text is printed and the number of individual leaves created when the sheets are folded into gatherings.

In determining the format of a book it is not sufficient to simply count the number of leaves in a gathering. There must be some other physical evidence to base it on. This is where watermarks and chainlines come in handy. A watermark is a symbol created by the papermaker to show that the hand-made product is his. The marks always appear on the same part of the sheet since it was actually a part of the frame used to create the paper. So, when folding a sheet of paper a certain number of times, the watermark will always appear in the same orientation, whether it is in the center of the page in a folio, in the center of the gutter of a quarto, or in the top of the gutter for an octavo. The chainlines in the paper are created by wires used in the paper-making frame that are slightly thinner than the rest of the sheet and are clearly visible when backlit. These lines will either appear vertically or horizontally in a book depending on the folds of the paper. So, using these identifying marks and seeing how they are aligned, we can establish the format of the book.

Specifically, this symbol refers to an octavo format; it can also be written 8vo. This means that the printer, when impressing sheets of paper with the text for the work, laid eight pages of text on each side of a sheet of paper in a designated pattern. The sheet is then folded three times, each time it is folded on the long edge of the sheet. What results is a gathering of eight leaves and sixteen pages.

Stay tuned for my next blog when I provide a little bit of information relating to signatures.

And since we are nearing Halloween, I leave you with a bibliographic description of “The doctrine of devils,” another title from the MHS print collection. Can you decipher any of the formula?

8°: A4 B-O8; [$4 (-A3,4) signed; missigning I4 as I3]; 108 leaves; pp. [8] 1-205 [3].


permalink | Published: Friday, 11 October, 2013, 1:52 PM


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