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Running-Title Evidence for Determining Half-Sheet Imposition
Fredson Bowers

Bibliographers generally have assumed that preliminaries or cancellanda of a book would be printed economically as part of the final text gathering (or vice versa) when space permitted. Under ordinary circumstances this may surely be taken as a reasonable hypothesis, but—it should be noticed—only when the two sections are of an unequal number of leaves. In a duodecimo collating i 4 A-N12 O8, as in all the later duodecimos of Sandys's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses except for the 1690 edition, gathering i 4 would surely be printed as the cut-off of the sheet with gathering O. Correspondingly, such formulas as 40, A4(—A4) B-G4 H4(H4+1[=A4?]) for Dryden's Wild Gallant (1684), and A1[=O4?] B-N4 O4(—O4) for the anonymous Feign'd Astrologer (1668) probably represent the actual facts of printing. Often the physical evidence of a wrap-around in an unrebound copy,


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or else aberrant binding, will demonstrate the fact for single leaves. Thus, interestingly, the precise formula for Pordage's Herod and Mariamne (1673) as A 4(-A1) B-H4 I4(I4+1[=A1]) is proved by the aberrant Library of Congress copy of the 1674 re-issue in which the prologue leaf A4 is found bound at the end and conjugate with the epilogue leaf I4+1, the two obviously having been printed as A1.4 but the binder in this copy transferring the outer fold in error instead of only the initial leaf.

However, such printing was not invariable, and there are some dangers in assuming it unless positive evidence is found. For instance, if one hunts long enough, one will find the blank initial leaf, as in the Harvard copy, of Behn's Forc'd Marriage (1671), which demonstrates that the actual formula for the book is 40, A 4 B-L4 M4(M4+1), with sig. A1 blank and genuine and therefore not used to print sig. M4+1. Correspondingly, in the 1615 folio of Sandys's Relation of a Journey, the final blank in the last gathering 2D6 is sometimes preserved to indicate that the single-leaf dedication A1 was not printed there as one might otherwise have expected. Nevertheless, when careful search in a large number of copies fails to turn up such blanks, the natural inference in certain conditions is that the blanks never existed for the simple reason that they were used to print other leaves in the book.[1]

The cases mentioned above have concerned the major probability that two sections of a book—one major and one minor—would ordinarily be printed together for economy on one sheet. It is also generally assumed that when a preliminary and the final text gathering each consists of only half a sheet, the two would be printed together. For example, in a quarto collating A2 B-L4 M2, the usual assumption is that A(i) and M(i) would be imposed together for printing as one forme, and—after being perfected by A(o) and M(o) imposed together as another forme—the two halves of the sheet would be cut apart to form a single copy of each gathering. In my opinion this is a dubious assumption, and I suspect that as often as not each was separately imposed and printed by half-sheet imposition, the four type-pages of A in one forme and the four of M in another. The evidence of watermarks has frequently been taken as bearing on this question: if in such a book A2, for instance, contained a watermark and M2 none, the case was considered demonstrated that the two were printed together. Again in my opinion, for reasons too complex for inquiry here, this watermark evidence is frequently untrustworthy.


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It is my purpose in this note to suggest a form of truly bibliographical evidence which can be utilized with confidence under certain conditions to determine precisely whether two half-sheets were printed together or separately. (This question is not altogether one of idle curiosity: textual considerations may enter in such a connection.) Since evidence is drawn from the running-titles, one must have a book in which running-titles are present on at least one page each of the outer and inner formes of the half-sheet text gathering under examination.

Given this common condition, the evidence is very simple. If the running-titles from only one forme used to print a preceding full sheet of the text are found in both formes of the text half-sheet, then this half-sheet was printed by itself by half-sheet imposition. (The order of the titles is important, as will be seen: for a readily determined exception to this generalization, see footnote 2 below.) To demonstrate this fact, all one needs to do is mentally to transfer the quarters (as in a quarto) from a skeleton forme and impose them in the same relative positions about the four type-pages imposed for half-sheet printing. For instance, if the skeleton of inner L is being transferred to half-sheet M, the running-title of L1v should go to M1v, L2 to M1, L4 to M2, and L3v to M2v. If, in such a book, A (without running-titles) and M were imposed together, inner with inner in one forme and outer with outer in another, the running-titles from certain of the quarters of inner L would be found in the same order as above (depending on the position in the (AM) sheet of the two halves): L1v to M1v and L4 to M2, or the corresponding quarters of the other half of the skeleton. But, when the skeleton of the outer forme of L was transferred to the outer (AM) forme, L4v would go probably to M2v and L1 to M1, or the corresponding quarters. Thus running-titles from both inner and outer L would necessarily be found in half-sheet M in a manner impossible if M had been printed by half-sheet imposition and the full sheet cut apart to make two copies of the same gathering.[2]

As a practical demonstration, we may take the second edition of Caryll's Sir Salomon, which appeared in 1691 with the collation 40, A2 B-I4 K2. Here the skeleton of inner H was used to impose the four type-pages of K2, and hence one may prove that K2 was printed alone by half-sheet imposition. In


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this case the forme of H(i) was turned on the bench before re-imposition (a fairly frequent occurrence of no significance), so that the running-title of H4 appears on K1, that of H3v on K1v, and that of H2 on K2 (K2v has no title). A more conventional case is the anonymous Knavery in All Trades (1664), with the collation 40, A 2 B-E4 F2. When we find the running-title of E1v going to F1v, E2 to F1, E3v to F2v, and E4 to F2, we can demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that—as with Sir Salomon—the final half-sheet was printed by itself and not imposed together with the preliminary half-sheet to the book.

Why one method would be adopted instead of another is rather puzzling. In books like the Sandys Relation of a Journey and the Behn Forc'd Marriage where blanks were not utilized to print a necessary single leaf, we may perhaps infer that in each case there was a delay between the printing of the final text and the composition of the preliminaries, so that the printer decided to go ahead without waiting to determine whether the material could be imposed together. This hypothesis will not hold with the second edition of Sir Salomon, printed twenty years after the first. So far as I can see, there is no difference in efficiency in presswork in printing A and M together or else separately by half-sheet imposition (except possibly for more offset of wet ink on the tympan cloth in the latter case), and my observation in the later seventeenth-century quartos has been that, if anything, the separate half-sheet imposition method was perhaps more common. For this reason, bibliographers should, I think, make a running-title analysis whenever conditions permit before assuming that two half-sheets of text and preliminaries were in fact printed together on one sheet and then cut apart.


Even after a prolonged search, such printing can remain only inferential, however, unless an aberrant copy discloses the actual fact of imposition and printing. For instance, in attempting to establish the true formula for the first gathering of Sandys's 1632 folio Ovid, I examined or had reported over 25 copies before a unique copy turned up containing the initial blank leaf.


A complication would ensue if A2 and M2 were imposed inner with inner, and then the same skeleton were used to impose the outer formes of each half-sheet for perfecting. But this could easily be detected and the fact demonstrated by the appearance of the identical running-title of M1v on M2v and of M2 on M1, an impossibility if the four type-pages of M had been imposed together in one forme. (The possibility is too remote to consider that the running-titles originally removed from the skeleton in the half used to print the inner forme of A would be substituted for those already present for M in the skeleton of inner (AM) when the outer forme was imposed for perfecting.)