University of Virginia Library


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Title-Page Transcription and Signature Collation Reconsidered
G. Thomas Tanselle

When in 1974 John Bush Jones put together an anthology of Readings in Descriptive Bibliography, dealing with some of the developments since Fredson Bowers's Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949), he pointed out in his preface that there was nothing for him to include regarding the quasi-facsimile transcription of title pages and the formulaic recording of signature collation. It is true that less has been written on these subjects in recent decades than on other aspects of bibliographical description and classification. The reason, presumably, is that bibliographers have felt there was not much left to say.[1] These two features have been more frequently included in descriptions, and over a longer period of time, than the other elements that we now expect to find in a thorough description: many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century descriptions consisted of little else, and even in more recent years abbreviated entries have been likely to be limited largely to these two elements. There has thus been ample opportunity for the techniques in the two areas to be refined through practice and discussion, and most bibliographers probably regard the conventions that have emerged as more firmly established than those associated with any other part of a description. Nevertheless, a fresh look periodically at accepted conventions can be salutary; and in fact some further discussion of these matters seems called for at present.

The nature of what needs to be said is rather different in the two cases, however. In regard to title-page transcription, the question is not so much what methods or conventions should be used in transcribing as whether transcription should be attempted at all. One reviewer in 1981 echoed a not uncommon sentiment in discussing Sidney L. Gulick's Chesterfield bibliography: "Is the transcription of the title-page in quasi-facsimile


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any longer necessary or defensible? So much more information and relative accuracy would be gained by photo-reproduction of title-pages, even greatly reduced in size."[2] This reviewer chides the Bibliographical Society of America, the publisher of the volume, for not producing "something a little more advanced bibliographically"—as if a technological advance, allowing photographic reproductions to be inexpensively produced ("the cost advantage of minimizing compositor's work has steadily increased"), were necessarily a bibliographical advance. Whether or not photographic facsimiles should supplant transcriptions cannot be so simply settled as some have imagined: the question involves the essential nature of bibliographical description, and it must be thought about in the context of the full range of techniques of quotation.

What requires further discussion concerning signature collation, on the other hand, is the technique for recording certain kinds of detail, not the desirability of providing the collation in the first place. I am assuming that the importance of signature collation for books of all periods no longer needs to be argued. But perhaps I am wrong to assume so much, for bibliographies of twentieth-century books do still sometimes appear without collations, and one of our prominent bibliographers could say in 1970, "Collation by signatures is unnecessary for most contemporary books except in special cases."[3] It is perhaps in order, therefore, to say something further on this score; but the usefulness of signature collation as a bibliographical practice, at least under some circumstances, has not been called into question in the way that title-page transcription has. A few suggestions, however, have been made in recent years regarding the form of notation that should be used in certain situations, and a few more are worth considering. They do not add up to any major modification of the formulary of collation codified by Bowers in the Principles; but they do show the results of continuing to think critically about the matter.


The practice of title-page transcription in English bibliographical scholarship evolved principally during the first half of the twentieth century and was given its great exposition in Bowers's Principles. The modern tradition effectively began with Falconer Madan's work in the 1890s,[4]


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and it developed largely in the hands of A. W. Pollard, W. W. Greg, and R. B. McKerrow;[5] indeed, the conventions set forth by McKerrow in 1927 (in An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students, pp. 147-154)[6] are essentially those recommended, and described in much greater detail, by Bowers two decades later (Principles, pp. 135-184). This standard system—which has been outlined more briefly in various books since then, such as Philip Gaskell's A New Introduction to Bibliography (1972) —is very simple in its basic conventions: all lettering, with its capitalization and punctuation, is to be transcribed, and all other printed images (rules, devices, borders, etc.) are to be recorded or described; the ends of lines are to be indicated; and typography is to be represented by any roman, italic, and black letter designs of a single size, no attempt being made to reproduce the design or size of the type of the original (except that two sizes of capital in a single line are to be represented by large and small capitals). Because the product of these conventions goes only part way toward providing a facsimile of the original, this system is often called "quasi-facsimile transcription"—a negative-sounding name that anticipates some of the objections raised against the system. If one accepts the value of this approach, Bowers's splendid account provides all the guidance one needs in matters of detail, taking note, in the process, of certain debates that have occurred about particular conventions. And a great many bibliographers over the years have in fact accepted this method of transcription; it must by now be one of the most widely employed conventions of bibliography.

It has not gone unchallenged, however, and criticisms have been voiced nearly as long as the system, in its modern form, has existed. Those who have defended the system have, in many cases, actually invited the criticisms, for their arguments have not always been very convincing.


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The two principal reasons that have generally been advanced for using quasi-facsimile transcription are that it enables the reader to visualize the typographic layout of the title page and that it provides details useful for distinguishing different editions or printings of the same work. Another, more practical, reason has sometimes been mentioned as well: that transcription is less costly than photographic reproduction. The flaws in these arguments are transparent, and if there were nothing more to be said in favor of quasi-facsimile transcription it should be abandoned without further discussion. What seems curious is that neither the advocates nor the detractors view the subject in relation to the larger question of the function and methodology of quoting,[7] and indeed the nature of descriptive bibliography itself. As a result, the former group has not been able to mount a very strong defense, and the latter has felt that demolishing certain limited arguments was sufficient for discrediting the whole undertaking.

The argument that transcription costs less than reproduction is now largely outmoded, for inexpensive methods of printing illustrations of title pages exist.[8] Even before such methods were readily accessible, the financial argument was not always valid, as J. M. Osborn pointed out in one of the more impassioned attacks on quasi-facsimile transcription, in his review of Hugh Macdonald's Dryden bibliography: "if," he said, "a proper allowance is made for the time spent by the compiler in transcribing a title leaf, in checking and rechecking it until the final revised proof, the computation of cost would be very different from the mere expense of reproduction." He concluded that "the use of quasi-facsimile transcription in published bibliographies will soon be generally recognized as an anachronism."[9] The assumption underlying such arguments is that transcription


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is a makeshift substitute for photography, attempting to perform the same function but not succeeding very well. If that were true, then naturally the easy availability of photographs would render transcriptions obsolete. But to say no more is to take a superficial view of the matter. Yet the technical advances in the printing of illustrations have been more responsible than any other factor for the increasing criticism of quasi-facsimile transcription. The use by the Pall Mall Bibliographies (since the first volume in 1972)[10] and by the Pittsburgh Series in Bibliography (since the second volume, also in 1972) of title-page reproductions instead of transcriptions provides but two prominent examples of a growing trend.[11]

If there are reasons to retain transcriptions, they are surely not the ones usually cited. No one can defend the idea that transcription allows one to visualize the title page in any precise way: all one has to do is imagine some of the typographic variations that would be rendered identically in transcription to see the point.[12] Even Madan in 1893 asked, "who has ever yet, by his description, created, in the mind of a reader, an adequate impression of the appearance of successive title-pages throughout a bibliography?" (p. 92).[13] Similarly the notion that transcriptions enable users to identify editions or impressions is on the face of it doubtful: neither would photographs accomplish this purpose, without the supporting detail provided in the other parts of a full description, for identity of title page obviously does not establish identity of the whole book. The importance of title pages for identification has often been greatly exaggerated, and other evidence correspondingly undervalued.[14]


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In any case, identity (or difference) of title page cannot be determined with certainty by means of transcription.

In the most notable criticism of quasi-facsimile transcription, David Foxon makes similar points, leading up to them with a historical investigation (in his Howell and Zeitlin & VerBrugge Lecture for 1970, Thoughts on the History and Future of Bibliographical Description). He traces the origin of title-page transcription to Edward Capell's Prolusions (1760), in which the line-ends of a title page are marked with vertical strokes and its use of roman, italic, and black letter followed, except that large and small capitals are always used instead of full capitals. Foxon stresses Capell's eccentricity and crankiness and concludes that Capell's style of transcription "seems to have been born of his typograhical ingenuity, probably reinforced by an antiquarian interest in the appearance of the original title-pages" (p. 13). Because Capell's catalogue of Shakespeare quartos (1781) does not place editions of the same play together, Foxon asserts that Capell "did not think of his system as useful for distinguishing editions." He makes the same points when he turns to the work, a century later,[15] of Madan, Pollard, and Greg. "Madan's primary concern," he says, "was to enable the reader to visualize the appearance of a title-page," and Madan actually preferred photography for this purpose; when Madan talked about identifying different editions he referred to other techniques (noting the last words on certain pages and the positions of signatures in relation to the text above them), not to title-page transcription. Similarly, Pollard and Greg in their 1906 paper, as Foxon shows, were interested in providing a means to give the reader of a bibliography a mental picture of title pages; "there is no suggestion," he adds, "that the object of detailed title-page transcription is to bring to light concealed editions or variants which is the chief argument for its use today" (p. 17). At the end of his historical excursus Foxon wonders "whether quasi-facsimile description did not become popular with bibliographers just because xerox copies were not then available, and they felt the need of some equivalent for a title-page that they could take with


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them from library to library—whether or not it was effective in identifying variants" (p. 20).

The historical aspects of Foxon's discussion are of considerable interest: we have too few studies of the history of bibliographical conventions. But his historical account appears not to be disinterested, for it seems slanted to lead the reader to the conclusion that title-page transcription is both anachronistic and unhelpful. The origin of such transcription, he hints, is suspect: both Capell and Madan had "an addiction to the ingenious convention," and "it is to this addiction that we owe quasi-facsimile" (p. 18). Furthermore, anyone who now argues that transcriptions are useful for identifying editions is simply providing "another example of the rationalization of an existing practice" (p. 17). Whatever position one takes regarding the value of quasi-facsimile transcription, one is bound to be puzzled by this attempt to link its history with a questioning of its current utility. What the inventors and other distinguished practitioners of quasi-facsimile transcription believed it accomplished—though undeniably of interest—is irrelevant to the question whether it can now be sensibly defended. To find value in a practice of the past for reasons different from those previously used to justify it is not necessarily to "rationalize." (Besides, in the case of quasi-facsimile, what would be the motivation to rationalize? Does anyone really have a vested interest in it?) Foxon takes note of this point in a limited way: he asks, "even if quasi-facsimile was not originally intended as a means of distinguishing editions, is it valuable for that purpose?" (pp. 18-19). He then examines the entries in Greg's Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration, finds that "only in three cases out of about a thousand is quasi-facsimile transcription necessary to distinguish editions, and in three further cases it fails to do the job," and concludes that "the total score does not provide a very convincing argument for the practical utility of quasi-facsimile as a means of distinguishing editions." This result is hardly surprising; indeed, it is obvious, even without a laborious investigation. No doubt there is much truth in the idea that early bibliographers, at a time when photographs were costly and Xerox copies unavailable, "felt the need of some equivalent for a title-page"— despite the lack of logic of their carrying a transcription from one library to another "whether or not it was effective in identifying variants." But regardless of what the early bibliographers thought about the role of transcription as a substitute for photography, everyone today understands, without the need for argument, that good photographs or Xerox copies provide better representations of title-page layouts than transcriptions normally do. So Foxon's criticism of quasi-facsimile transcription—limiting itself to two interrelated questions, whether transcription enables


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one to visualize title pages and whether it permits one to distinguish editions—amounts only to stating the obvious. It is hard to see what he accomplishes by stopping at this point, having attacked arguments that no one could seriously defend. An effective consideration of transcription must take into account factors other than these.

At the outset, one must recognize, as Foxon does, the value of photographs. Any bibliographer would be foolish not to take advantage of available technology. Since good reproductions of typographic title pages[16] can now be included with relatively little trouble and expense in the printed sheets of a bibliography, there is every reason for doing so, and the resulting bibliographies will be the better for it. Xerographic copies are somewhat less desirable than photographs unless the slight alteration in size often inherent in the process is eliminated by an appropriate adjustment.[17] After all, a considerable part of the value of a title-page reproduction is lost if it is not presented in its actual size. One can (indeed, must) report the dimensions of the original, but a significantly reduced (or enlarged) reproduction is of questionable utility, because the qualities that a typographic layout has in one size may be altered when it is mechanically contracted (or expanded).[18] Leaving the matter of size aside, one still encounters, more often than seems possible, the naive belief that photographic and xerographic reproductions are necessarily truthful and accurate. This is not the place for a full discussion of the limitations of reproductions—a subject that has enormous implications for all scholars, indeed all readers. I shall simply say here that bibliographers, of all people, ought to be particularly aware of the problem. They should understand the many ways in which a reproduction may misrepresent the original, either because some blemish results from the reproductive process[19] or because some feature of the original (such as inking on the verso or the blind impression of a type that was not properly inked) shows up in a misleading way or does not show up at


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all.[20] Obviously any reproduction, whatever the process, should be carefully proofread, at the latest proof stage, against the original; and any problems it poses—if they are not correctable by making a new reproduction—should be pointed out in notes.[21] Reproductions of title pages handled in this way are certainly an asset to any bibliography.

But the decision to include title-page reproductions in a bibliography really has nothing to do with the question whether to provide transcriptions. The two represent fundamentally different approaches to the representation on paper of a physical object; these approaches are complementary, and one does not necessarily obviate the other. A reproduction offers a two-dimensional visual representation of a three-dimensional object, or certain parts of it, whereas a transcription gives a detailed account in words. The basic task of bibliographical description, as the word description suggests, is to provide a verbal account—a set of statements about a book, not a set of photographs or depictions of it. Clearly the two are complementary, for the verbal account may be clarified by supplementary illustrations, just as a set of photographs (of a title page, certain other pages, endpapers, binding, and so on) would leave much


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to be desired if it were not accompanied by annotation. The notion that a reproduction of a title page renders a transcription unnecessary implies that the real purpose of the "description" is to present pictures of the object under consideration; if so, all the other features of the book ought to be presented pictorially as well, even though comments in words might often be appended. Carrying this approach to its extreme would result in a facsimile of the entire volume, including photographs of the binding, endpapers, and the like. Such a facsimile would have its uses; and if it were accompanied by appropriate and thorough annotation, its contribution to historical scholarship could be substantial. But that contribution would be different from what a bibliographical description accomplishes, unless the annotation amounted to a full descriptive account, not limited to the one copy reproduced or to the one impression represented by the reproductions. Full facsimiles serve a function (despite the risks inherent in reproduction) in making conveniently accessible the texts of certain copies of books; but they leave untouched the job of description.[22] A scholarly study that describes and analyzes the physical form and the printing and publishing history of a group of related books—which is what a bibliography is—has a value that is not diminished by the availability of photographic means for reproducing the pages of particular copies of books. The job of descriptive bibliography —making certain kinds of statements about books—is simply not accomplished by presenting pictures instead of an account in words. A picture may supplement, illustrate, even clarify, the words but does not render them superfluous; anyone who thinks that it does fails to comprehend how a scholarly historical study—such as bibliography—works.

This point would be so even if copies of a single impression of a book could be produced as identical objects. But "identical" manufactured objects are in fact not identical. Every copy of a given impression of a book is different—however slight the differences may be—from every other copy. Some of the differences may normally be irrelevant to the bibliographer's concerns: irregularities in the weave of the binding cloth, for instance, or variations in the glue. Others, such as textual variants and cancels, are always relevant. A bibliographical description, like any other historical account, must—if it is to be a sound piece of scholarship—be based on a thorough examination of the evidence. The resulting product is not a description of a single copy but an account that encompasses, and arranges in a meaningful way, all the variations that appear relevant to the bibliographer. A picture of a title page, or any


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other part of a book, represents only a single copy and is therefore fundamentally different in scope from a verbal description. At best, the picture reproduces one piece of evidence on which the description is based. As such it is a useful adjunct to a description, but it cannot be the equivalent of a description—not only because verbal accounts are different from depictions but also because the verbal description is not an account of a single copy.[23] When one speaks of "the first edition" or "the first printing," one is using collective terms that refer to groups of individual items. Each of those items is a distinct piece of evidence, and no one of them can fully represent the group as a whole. Photographic reproductions can depict, with varying degrees of accuracy, title pages or other parts of an individual item; but a consolidated account of "the edition," or of "the title page of the edition," encompassing any variations among copies, must be made in words, for it is an abstraction and thus not photographable.[24]

Variations among copies come about in two ways. The kind just discussed emerges from the manufacturing process: such differences were therefore present in copies when they were released to the public and are the bibliographer's business to record, for they are part of production history. But variations among copies as they exist at present also result from the post-publication history of each copy, from the varying treatment to which each copy has been subjected. These differences— such as a custom binding on one copy or the stub of a ripped-out half-title in another—do not enter into the historical account that the bibliographer constructs. It is to emphasize this distinction that the term "ideal copy" is employed by bibliographers as an indication of the object of a bibliographical description. The bibliographer attempts to describe


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"ideal," rather than actual, copies in order to eliminate from the account features of the surviving copies that were not present in those copies at the time of their publication.[25] In his discussion of the importance of quasi-facsimile transcription, Bowers points out, "In the case of some rare books, it is only possible to reconstruct the title from a comparison of several mutilated copies" (p. 136). This is of course a special case, but it illustrates the way in which a description must rise above the peculiarities of individual copies. Whether a seeming defect in a title page in fact emerged after publication is not always immediately apparent, but the bibliographer must come to a conclusion about the matter. The surviving copies of a book constitute the body of evidence the bibliographer has to work with, and a central part of the assessment of that evidence must be to determine how it has been affected by post-publication events. The fact that copies of books—from all periods—do vary from one another (however the variations are to be explained) provides a practical argument for the inadequacy of photographic reproductions as substitutes for verbal descriptions. And this practical argument only reinforces the theoretical one: that the presentation of raw data—which the reproduction of a title page from a particular copy is—produces a fundamentally different kind of work from the one that a descriptive bibliography aims to be.[26] These arguments, I should repeat, do not lessen the value of reproductions as illustrative matter; they speak only to the point that reproductions cannot serve as substitutes for descriptive accounts in words.

Within those descriptive accounts, the function of title-page transcription has sometimes been misconceived, because it has often been linked with the identification of particular impressions or issues. But the question of how successfully quasi-facsimile transcription can be as an identifier is not the basic question. One should instead ask whether every element in a bibliographical description must justify its presence by its usefulness for identification. The whole history of the development


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of descriptive bibliography can be seen as a movement away from the limited notion of a bibliography as a statement of identifying points and toward the concept of bibliography as historical record.[27] In a scholarly historical description, one includes whatever details seem relevant to the particular description, given its defined scope, whether or not those details are necessary for identification: description is more inclusive than identification. Like any other historical account, a bibliographical description is made up of direct quotations and of statements by the writer of the account, the proportions of the two varying according to the judgment of the writer. Once we recognize that verbal description and photographic reproduction are distinct approaches, with different goals, and that quotation is an effective tool in description, it seems natural that quotation of a title page should be a standard element in a bibliographical description. Other quotations are likely to occur as well, however, and whatever one says about title-page transcription must apply to the whole body of quotation in a description, of which the quotation of the title page is only one part, though obviously a prominent one.[28] Some bibliographers wish to quote copyright notices, or printers' imprints, or sectional titles; others do not. But whatever is quoted, the quotations are part of the rhetoric of the description as a whole; and, like the other parts of the description, they are not tied to the defects or peculiarities of particular copies,[29] nor do they necessarily serve to identify particular impressions, issues, or states.

Prescribing explicitly just when quotations ought to be made is not feasible; as in other historical writing, that decision would vary with the material and with the spaciousness of exposition contemplated. But something more can be said about the standards to be followed in quoting, when one does decide that a quotation is called for. What "accuracy" in quotation means, after all, is not self-evident: one can be accurate at various levels of detail, and the crucial issue is to determine which details are relevant for one's purpose. The conventions even of ordinary quoting have not remained constant over the years. Prior to the twentieth century, quotation marks were often found enclosing indirect quotations, paraphrases, and approximate quotations. At present, we expect material


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within quotation marks (or otherwise identified as a quotation) to repeat accurately the wording, spelling, capitalization, italicization, and punctuation of the original; but we do not assume that it reproduces the type designs and sizes or the lineation of the original. Quasi-facsimile transcription is a more inclusive convention of quotation, in which more features of the original typography and layout are quoted than in "ordinary" quotation.[30] Some aspects of this convention are fairly well established, and others remain open to variation. There is widespread agreement, for example, that type designs and specific type sizes are not comprehended in the convention and that an indication of line endings does belong in it; but on a matter such as how precise to be in the reporting of typographic rules, practice varies (a rule may simply be noted, or its relative length may be stated, or its measured length, accurate within a specified tolerance, may be recorded). Each bibliographer will have to decide, and announce in a preface, what standards of transcription are being employed in a given instance.[31] Bowers has already gone a long way toward establishing appropriate standards; but anyone is free to modify them, or indeed to be more demanding in the details for inclusion, so long as the operative conventions are always made clear. The overriding point is that some form of quotation paying special attention to typographic matters is appropriate in a bibliographical description, which by definition is concerned with the physical presentation of texts. It is irrelevant to protest that quasi-facsimile transcription does not reveal certain characteristics of the original. Recourse to the original will always be required for some purposes; but quotation—with whatever limitations are entailed by the conventions adopted—serves a purpose in any historical account, and in a historical bibliographical account it makes sense to quote in a way that recognizes the concerns of bibliography.

Whether it is ever really defensible to quote without taking lineation and other physical points into account is a separate question, and a more important one. The ordinary approach to quotation assumes that intellectual content can be separated from physical form, and it proceeds to define some typographical features (e.g., italics) as textual, because by convention they suggest meaning, and others (e.g., type design and line endings) as nontextual, because presumably they play no role in meaning.


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But what bibliographers have been elucidating for a century is the way in which the physical aspects of textual transmission affect what is transmitted. One cannot seriously envision in any near future the mass conversion of the reading public to an understanding of this truth. For practical purposes, therefore, it will be necessary for some time to continue quoting in ordinary discourse as if this insight had not been achieved. The fact that it has, however, imposes certain obligations on those who understand it. For one thing, they cannot simply quote from one copy of one edition of a work, without checking other copies, and editions as well, to see whether there are variants in the passage; quoting is like preparing to undertake an edition, for one must be cognizant of textual problems in the text of what is being quoted. A second obligation is that, whenever one has the proper audience, one should quote in such a way as to report the physical evidence that one deems likely to be relevant to understanding the text or the history of the production of the book as a physical object. The pages of a descriptive bibliography are certainly one place where quasi-facsimile quoting is appropriate. Another is any article or book of analytical bibliography or textual criticism, or any essay attached to a scholarly edition.

Some scholars who understand this general point have decided to provide passages of text in photographic reproduction from the edition cited—a practice that has recently come to be known as "photoquoting." The term, like the practice, is useful, so long as it does not lead readers into thinking of photographic reproduction as one further step in the continuum of quoting. It cannot be placed in the same scale, since it is fundamentally different. Some bibliographers who have substituted photographic facsimiles of title pages for quasi-facsimile transcriptions have similarly reproduced portions of other pages, such as copyright notices, as a way of quoting them. But whether one is dealing with a copyright notice, a passage of text, or a title page, the distinction between quotation and reproduction remains the same.[32] A photographic reproduction—of


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a whole page or of a few lines—is often a valuable addition to a discussion—especially when certain physical characteristics are the subject of that discussion (as they no doubt ought to be more often than is commonly understood). But such a reproduction can only be an illustration supplementing the text, because the physical features of the original appearance of the cited passage, even if they are what is being discussed, cannot themselves determine the physical presentation of the new discussion or of quotations within it. The distinction between the visual evidence reflected (in whatever degree of accuracy) in a reproduced passage and the typographic design and layout of one's own writing and quotation is not a trivial one: it reinforces, and in no sense denies, the connection between physical presentation and intellectual content. A previous instance of such connection cannot be recreated except as an exhibit, which exists independently of whatever context it finds itself placed in. The practical consequence is that anyone who photoquotes should always identify the particular copy used, recognizing that such an illustration is limited to the representation of a single copy. And anyone who quotes in reset type, whether in quasi-facsimile style or in the ordinary way, should be reasonably satisfied that the quotation to be used does not vary among copies of the edition.[33]

Quotation (as distinct from reproduction) serves an irreplaceable function in historical discourse, and quasi-facsimile quotation (in some form) is more appropriate than ordinary quotation in those pieces of historical research that are particularly bibliographical in character. That is really the only point that needs to be made about quasi-facsimile transcription. The use of photographic reproductions in bibliography is certainly to be encouraged; but to imagine that the presence of such illustrations


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has any bearing on when to use, and when not to use, quasi-facsimile quoting is seriously to misunderstand the nature of historical writing, and therefore of descriptive bibliography.


If one of the purposes of bibliographical description is to provide an account of the physical makeup of books, a basic element in it must be an indication of the way in which the printed sheets were folded and in which the series of sheets (and partial sheets) constituting a book were gathered together. It is hard to see how any element in a description is more central than this report of the succession of gatherings, for it is the basic statement of the structure of a book. The nineteenth-century incunabulists came to recognize this point; but those persons who began in the 1880s to produce checklists of modern authors thought of their work simply as providing guides for the identification of first printings, and they saw no need to record details not known to vary and therefore presumably not necessary for identification.[34] Some bibliographers of modern books quickly outgrew this superficial approach. Thomas J. Wise, for example, was noting signatures in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books by 1901;[35] and in the 1920s Strickland Gibson recommended signature collations as a standard part of descriptions of post-1800 books, except for the most curtailed entries.[36] But traces of the old view have lingered on and are still with us. There are some bibliographers, sophisticated in other respects, who believe that certain details, notably signature collations, can be dispensed with for most modern books. In taking such a position, they are surely not claiming that modern books are simpler and more regular than early books, for their experience must have shown them otherwise; the explanation must be that, in some respects at least, they are harking back to the outmoded notion of a bibliography as a list of points for identification. They cannot have given adequate thought to the nature of descriptive bibliography as historical


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scholarship. Whether or not one has discovered a variation in a gathering that identifies a separate impression, one must recognize that a record of gatherings may enable someone else to discover such variation and in any case provides a historical description of how in fact a given book was constructed. Naturally there are times when the scope of a work—as in the case of some short-title catalogues—prevents the inclusion of signature collations; but in those cases other elements of a description are eliminated as well. The scale on which a bibliography is constructed obviously determines how much can be incorporated into the entries; but the period dealt with does not in itself determine the scale. There can be no question that a report or collation of gatherings is essential to bibliographical description on all levels except the most severely abbreviated.

Once the importance of accounting for the structure of the gathered sheets is understood, the next step is deciding how best to write that account. A statement in words is one possibility: Michael Sadleir, for example, in his Trollope bibliography (1928) used the form "A-N in sixteens." But when the situation to be described is more complex and irregular, the statement in words is likely to become correspondingly more cumbersome. The urge to devise a concise and formulaic way to report the matter is therefore an old one. Henry Bradshaw, for instance, in a letter of 1 March 1864 to J. W. Holtrop, says that he has "long had the habit of using a fraction to represent the number of leaves and form of a quire"—thus representing a quarto book of five gatherings in eights as "abcde8/4" (the fraction showing that each gathering is made up of two sheets).[37] By the end of the century a somewhat different basic formula —the one we still use—had become standard. (One finds it in the early volumes of the Bibliographical Society's Transactions, as in W. A. Copinger's "Incunabula Virgiliana" in the second volume, for 1893-94, pp. 123-226.) In this system a series of regular gatherings is noted inclusively, without specifying each one individually, and the number of leaves in each of those gatherings appears as a superscript figure (e.g., "A-E8");[38]


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the format (the number of leaves per sheet), which was the denominator of Bradshaw's fraction, is noted separately (either as a word, sometimes abbreviated, or as a number with a suffix or superscript "o," as in "quarto," "4to," and "4°").[39] It was this system that Pollard, McKerrow, and Greg gave prominence to over the ensuing decades,[40] adding a few useful conventions in the process, notably two Greek letters: thus McKerrow suggested π (for "preliminary") to designate an unsigned preliminary gathering preceding a gathering signed or inferred as "A"; and Greg added χ (for "extra") to designate an unsigned gathering in the body of a book for which no letter (or number) of the regular sequence is available to be inferred. The simplicity of the system and the ease of remembering it carried the day.

That the system is indeed simple should be emphasized, for unfortunately it is all too often regarded by those unfamiliar with it as complex and esoteric. The presence of two Greek letters, superscript figures, and plus and minus signs (for insertions and deletions) has led some people to think it is mathematical; and the fact that Bowers devotes more than fifty pages of the Principles (esp. pp. 196-254) to it has reinforced the view that it is a mystery requiring laborious study to comprehend. Bowers gives considerable space to the collation formula because his aim


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is to try to anticipate the various questions that might arise in practice as one uses it and to provide a standard point of reference where every detail is elaborated; but his own convenient appendix, "A Digest of the Formulary" (pp. 457-462), shows how uncomplicated the basic conventions are.[41] The value of a formulaic statement of signature collation is undeniable, for it makes an intricate or irregular book structure more readily apparent and easier to follow than an account in words would.[42] The fundamental rules of the system codified by Bowers—represented by a formula like "4°: π2 A-C8 χ8 D8(D7 + χ1) 2χ4 E8 [F]2"—emerged from the main line of development in descriptive bibliography. Some of those rules (such as indicating the number of leaves in a gathering with a superscript figure) have now been in use in the English-speaking world for a century or so, and all (including the assignment of π and χ to unsigned and uninferred gatherings) have had a life of more than half a century. With these essential conventions so well established and with Bowers's thorough exposition of them available, it would be unwise at this point to tamper with them. They are simple, clear, and widely recognized; we should accept them as the basic grammar of the language of descriptive bibliography and proceed from there.[43]

To accept these basic elements, however, is not to suggest that various extensions of the system should not be open to debate and further refinement. There is always the temptation to continue expanding a system of shorthand notation so that it covers ever more situations, and one cannot complain so long as the additional notation is compatible with the old, is kept as simple as possible, and fulfills a clear need. But one must always weigh the benefits of the new notation against the disadvantages of increasing the store of symbols and operations that must be learned. At some point what is gained may not counterbalance the loss in accessibility that results. The process of adding to the formulary after Bowers's codification of it has not been very fruitful, though some notable bibliographers have tried their hand at it—especially two bibliographers


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of botanical literature, Allan Stevenson in his introduction ("A Bibliographical Method for the Description of Botanical Books") to the second volume (1961) of the Catalogue of Botanical Books in the Collection of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt, and Willem D. Margadant in his introduction to Early Bryological Literature (1968). And Greg and Bowers themselves made some suggestions, particularly in regard to additions and deletions, that need to be reconsidered. Whatever symbols and devices one is finally persuaded to use in one's own practice, the process of evaluating proposed conventions can, as I hope to show, serve to clarify the basic rationale of the collational formula.

Insertions and deletions. Perhaps the principal element in the standard formulary that requires some rethinking is the method for indicating inserted and deleted leaves. This element is of course a significant one, for such irregularities in the structure of books occur with great frequency. The move from word to symbol for treating this matter lagged behind that for noting the regular conjugate leaves. Bradshaw used the form "g (3 wanting)" to show that the third leaf of the gathering signed "g" had been canceled; and McKerrow some sixty years later was still employing the same system, even though the basic formula and the method of referring to a single leaf had shifted—in the Introduction he cites "A-G6 (G5 and G6 wanting)" as "the usual description" (p. 157).[44] It remained for Greg to substitute plus and minus signs for words in this system,[45] as well as to make a start on the problem of how to refer to insertions (since some are unsigned and others have anomalous signatures of their own). Bowers built his discussion on Greg's suggestions but provided much more detailed guidance for handling the great variety of situations that could occur. His analysis (pp. 235-251) is the most fully developed statement we have on insertions and deletions, and any further thinking on the matter must begin with it.

The basic system is simple, and in its provision for cancellation it


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poses few problems. A minus sign preceding a reference to one or more leaves denotes cancellation, with periods used to join references to conjugate leaves and commas joining references to disjunct leaves:[46]
A-B4 C4(—C3) D4(—D2.3) E4 (—E3,4)
When a canceled leaf or leaves are replaced by leaves of identical conjugacy that are either unsigned or signed conventionally, a plus-minus sign can be used:
A-B4 C4(±C3) D4(±D2.3) E4(±E3,4)
If the conjugacy of the substitution is different, the deletion and substitution must of course be treated separately:
D4(—D1.4 + D1,4) E4(—E3,4 + E3.4)
This much is straightforward.[47] The trouble largely enters in connection with insertions that are not replacements for canceled leaves. But it is adumbrated even in these simple instances of cancellation and substitution if the substitution is anomalously signed. In the standard formulary (see Bowers, p. 248), the actual signature of the substitution is used in such cases, and it is placed in single quotation marks if it might otherwise prove confusing:
B4(—B2 + b2) C4(—C3 + '3') D4(—D3 + '* D2') E4(—E2 + 2E2)
In this example the replacements in B and E need no quotation marks because they clearly represent actual signing, whereas those in C and D are quoted to call attention to the fact that the cited signatures are not


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misprints.[48] The potential for ambiguity is present here in the fact that the references following the plus signs in this formula are actual signatures, whether they are enclosed in quotation marks or not, whereas those after the plus (and plus-minus) signs in the earlier examples above (as well as those after the minus signs in all examples) are only positional indicators, not necessarily actual signatures.[49] Before pursuing this point, we should see the full dimensions of the problem by examining the notation for insertions.

Even the simplest unsigned insertions can be handled two ways in the standard system:[50]

C4(C3 + 1) C4(C3 + χ1)
Of course the regular leaf preceding the insertion must always be named first in order to show the position of the inserted leaf.[51] In these two ways of indicating that gathering C contains five leaves, the use of "1" implies that (with the location of the insertion established) only the barest reference to the existence of one added leaf need be made, whereas the "χ1" treats the leaf as it would be treated if it fell between gatherings and no signature of the regular series were available to be assigned to it.[52] More complicated situations provide further alternatives, as illustrated by these two equivalent formulas derived from examples of Bowers (on pp. 239-240, 242-243):
A-B4 C4(C3 + 'C4',χ1) D4(D2 + χ1,2) E4(E3 + e3.1) F4(F1 + * F1.2)
A-B4 C4(C3 + 'C4' + 1) D4(D2 + 2) E4(E3 + e3.4) F4(F1 + * F2)


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In C, a second plus sign is needed if the second inserted disjunct leaf is to be referred to as "1" rather than "χ1"; in D, the two unsigned disjunct leaves can be noted simply as "2";[53] in E, it is permissible to infer as "e4" the unsigned second leaf of the inserted fold, since the lower-case signature, established by the signed first leaf ("e3"), eliminates any confusion with E4; in F, the conjugacy of the inserted leaves can be indicated by a superscript "2", rather than by a period between the leaf references, since the first leaf of the fold is signed as a first leaf in a gathering.[54]

That this standard formulary is analogous in some respects to a language, providing alternative ways of making the same statement, is not necessarily a defect. One can only agree with Bowers when he says, "Although a rigid system for marking inserted leaves can be devised, the most sensible practice is to permit a certain latitude according to the circumstances and the special problem involved, always with the emphasis on securing clarity and simplicity. However, certain basic principles should hold" (p. 237). One would certainly not wish to have a system so rigid that it could not be stretched to fit unusual situations; such rigidity is obviously self-defeating. On the other hand, a symbolic or formulaic statement must be unambiguous if it is to accomplish its purpose, and definite conventions must be followed. The difficulty is in drawing the line between productive and unproductive kinds of variation. For example, the fact that both "(C3 + 'C4',χ1)" and "(C3 + 'C4' + 1)" mean the same thing does not in itself produce any ambiguity, so long as one knows the rules and is consistent in one's own practice.[55] But since the two denote precisely the same situation, one may wonder whether the existence of these alternative forms offers any positive advantage to offset the slightly increased complexity of the system that undeniably results. In the case of the equivalence of "(E3 + e3.1)" and "(E3 + e3.4)", there is further doubt because of the greater complexity of the rules necessary to eliminate the potential ambiguity. The difficulty here springs from the fact that numbers attached to signatures (such as "E3" or "e3.4") generally make some reference to the position of the leaves so designated, whereas the "1" in "e3.1", though attached to the "e" in the notation, draws its meaning from a separate usage, that of unattached numbers to indicate the total of inserted disjunct leaves (such as the "1" in C and the


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"2" in D in the last formula above). Of course, one can explain that the "1" in "e3.1" simply means one unsigned leaf, rather than that the second leaf was signed "e1"—as a reader might otherwise think, since "1" is not the number the bibliographer would be expected to infer if no signature were present. And one can further explain the reason for this seemingly anomalous use of "1": if the first leaf of the inserted fold had been signed "E3" rather than "e3", one could not infer "E4" for the unsigned second leaf without producing confusion with the regular E4, and some other reference is needed. Whether "1" solves the problem most efficiently is a real question, since it involves a switch in usage that must be explained. As Bowers says, clarity and simplicity should be aimed for at all times; and one cannot help but wonder whether the standard treatment of insertions has not added an unwarranted complexity and a potential ambiguity into an admirably simple basic system.

This doubt is reinforced by a consideration of the use of single quotation marks in the formula. Their function seems easily enough stated: they are used, in Bowers's words, "to enclose the signature of an insert (a) to indicate that the signature is anomalous in the gathering; (b) to distinguish a signed insert from a following unsigned insert with inferred signature" (p. 459). Nevertheless, I think it is fair to say that determining in practice when to use them is the most problematical aspect of writing a collational formula for many bibliographers and that interpreting the absence of quotation marks is often the most puzzling part of reading a formula. Some of the potential difficulties can be observed in these examples drawn from two formulas in Bowers's digest of the formulary (pp. 459-460):

D4(D4 + D5) E4(E4 + * E5.6) G4(G4 + 'G5',G6) K4(K3 + 'K4') Q4(Q1 + * Q2) R4(R3 + 'R3'.'R4') S4(S1 + s2)
The inserts in D, K, and R are all signed, even though the one in D is not in quotation marks. In K and R, the quotation marks are necessary to distinguish these anomalously signed leaves from the regular K4, R3, and R4. In D, no quotation marks are needed to indicate signing, because if the leaf were not signed, it would presumably be noted as "χ1" or "1". But there might still be a doubt in a reader's mind, since no quotation marks are present and since "D5", not conflicting with any other leaf in the gathering, would be inferrable.[56] The principle of inferring when no


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conflict results is shown in E and G, where the sixth leaf in each case is unsigned; the treatment of G leaves no ambiguity, but that of E might again raise doubts about whether the final leaf is signed.[57] In commenting on Q and S, Bowers explains that after Q1 comes "a fold with the first leaf signed * Q1" and after S1 "a fold with the first leaf signed s1 and the second s2". The fact that one cannot tell from the formula whether or not the second leaves of the folds are signed shows that these folds are being treated like the regular gatherings: in the main sequence of signatures with their superscript figures, the signing of individual leaves is not made apparent in the formula itself (but only in the statement of signing that follows). Yet for other kinds of insertions, and even for some folds (as in R), the attempt is made to specify the signing of every leaf.[58]

The system is nonetheless workable as it stands, and I do not mean to suggest otherwise; I raise these points only in the hope that it can be made still simpler and clearer. What underlies these various complexities is the attempt to register within the collation formula the signatures of insertions and substitutions. That attempt introduces into the formula an approach that conflicts with one used elsewhere in the formula. The basic purpose of the formula, as ordinarily written, is to show the structure of a book and only incidentally to provide information about signing.[59] If the gatherings are signed, the clearest course is to use those signatures in the formula; but there is a limit to the amount of detail about signing that can be incorporated into the formula without making it unwieldy. Most bibliographers, following the standard system, do no more in treating the regular gatherings in the formula than to show which gatherings actually have signatures, reserving for an appended statement on signing a record of precisely which leaves are signed. Thus when one writes

A—B8 [C]4 D—E8 or A—B8 C 4 D—E8


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one is saying no more than that the third gathering has no printed signature on any of its leaves[60] and that each of the other gatherings has the designated signature on at least one of its leaves (not necessarily the first). When it is necessary to refer to one of the regular leaves of a gathering, the reference is positional only and carries no implication about signing: "B8(—B5)" says only that the fifth leaf has been canceled (if no copies are known, its signature, if any, is obviously unknown), and "B8(B5 + 1)" says only that the insertion follows the fifth leaf (which might in fact be unsigned or even missigned).[61] For inserted leaves, on the other hand, the actual signature (or lack of signing) of each of them is normally indicated by the notation.[62] The result is that references following plus signs usually represent a different system from those preceding plus signs.

This situation may invite misunderstanding; at the least it is awkward, reducing the elegance that one expects a formulaic statement to have. The issue is not whether certain information should be reported or concealed, but just how and where it should be reported. If the details of the signing of regular leaves are held for an appended record, should those of inserted leaves be similarly held? That bibliographers have not generally given this question an affirmative answer is a reflection of the extent to which they still think of the formula as a register of signatures.[63]


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If a gathering signed "B" contains an inserted leaf signed "b" or an inserted fold signed "†", those are in fact additional signatures, which a register of signatures would have to include. On the other hand, such insertions are subordinate to the gatherings of which they have become a part, and their signatures thus have a different standing from the signatures of the primary gatherings: they do not have a place in the main sequence of signatures except as they are attached to one of those main signatures. In order to show the structure of a book, of course, one must record insertions whether or not they are signed; choosing "χ" for an unsigned inserted leaf or fold, however, seems in some ways inappropriate, because it is treating an insertion in a gathering as if it were an independent gathering. Some such symbol as "χ" is obviously needed for an unsigned and uninferrable gathering, but for an unsigned insertion within a gathering no signature is required, since the leaf or leaves involved take their identity from the gathering itself; therefore assigning to such insertions a symbol that normally serves as a substitute for an actual signature implies a status for the insertions that they do not have.[64] Furthermore, when an insertion has an appropriate letter signature but is numbered anomalously—as when an inserted leaf between E2 and E3 is signed "E3"—quoting the anomalous signature in the formula is treating the inserted leaf differently from other leaves: the signature is not new (and thus does not call for mention even if one regards the formula as a register), and anomalous signing of regular leaves is not reported in the formula. Since the insertions have to be referred to in some fashion, however, one may ask why they should not be referred to by the signatures they actually bear, when they do bear them. Perhaps they should; but, if so, some other adjustments to the formulary ought to be made, so that a uniform approach would underlie all parenthetical elements in a formula. Not to distinguish in the formula (as now sometimes happens) between an inferred and a quoted signature reference betrays an indecision as to the function of the formula.

These considerations suggest two directions for revision of the notation to be employed within parentheses. One is to use actual signatures whenever possible and always to differentiate references to actual from those to inferred signatures. Such an approach could take one of two forms: either placing all actual signature references in quotation marks (all signature references not quoted would be inferred) or placing all inferred signature references in brackets (all signature references not bracketed would be actual):[65]


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A 4(A3 + '3 *') B4('B2' + 'b2'.b3) C4(C3 + 'C3',1)
A 4([A3] + 3 *) B4(B2 + b2.[b3]) C4([C3] + C3,[1])
Both these forms[66] are unambiguous, but they are also rather awkward (the first less so than the second).[67] The gain in clarity is important, but the price paid for it makes neither of these solutions a happy one. Furthermore, this approach, even though it achieves consistency within the parentheses by specifying the signing of regular as well as of inserted leaves, fails to eliminate the split between parenthetical notation (which entails specifying the signing of individual leaves) and notation outside parentheses (which does not attempt to indicate how leaves are signed).[68]


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The other direction one could go, and I think a more promising one, is not to attempt at all to report actual signatures of leaves within parentheses.[69] The information provided would then be purely structural, the details of signing to be reported separately:

A 4(A3 + 1) B4(B2 + 1.2) C4(C3 + 1,2) χ4(—χ3) D4(±D4)
This is indeed a simple system, and it could be made still simpler by eliminating the signature letters within parentheses:
A 4(3 + 1) B4(2 + 1.2) C4(3 + 1,2) χ4(—3) D4(±4)
Whichever of these forms one uses (the second may seem too stripped-down to some people, though the repetition of the letter is unnecessary),[70] this approach still follows the pattern of the standard system for showing


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structure;[71] the established formulary has not resulted in any ambiguity in the reporting of structure but only of the signing of leaves, and here the latter function is simply taken away from the formula. One would have to turn to the separate statement of signing to learn, for example, that in the book represented by this formula the insertion in A is unsigned, the fold in B has the first leaf signed "b", the second of the inserted leaves in C is signed "c5", and the substitution in D is signed "* D4". The length of the statement of signing would be increased, but the formula would be shortened and simplified. And each would be clearer and more efficient by focusing consistently on a single function. No one would be likely to have any indecision about how to write or how to read the formula or the accompanying statement of signing. This ease of use—by both bibliographer and reader—would reflect the logic of the underlying conception.

Reference notation. Any examination of the collational formula must give some attention to signature reference notation, for such notation is tied to, and takes its form from, the formula;[72] a revision in the system adopted in the formula may produce a change in the style of the reference notation. The function of signature reference notation is of course to provide a way of referring to a particular leaf or page in terms of the structure of the book; since references of this kind are widely employed in bibliographical discussion, the conventions governing their use are a matter of some importance. Most of the considerations involved in thinking about the formulaic notation of inserted leaves, as outlined above, are relevant here; the parenthetical parts of a formula, after all, make use of reference notation, since they refer to specific leaves. The standard system, set forth thoroughly by Bowers (pp. 255-268), begins


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with the printer's convention of identifying a leaf by attaching a leaf number to the signature of the gathering: the second leaf of gathering B, for example, becomes "B2". A superscript "r" or "v" can then be appended if reference is being made to the recto or verso page rather than the whole leaf.[73] This notation is taken to be positional only and does not indicate whether the leaf is actually signed (or missigned): "A4" means the fourth regular leaf of A even if that fourth leaf is unsigned or signed "A3". In assigning leaf numbers one must remember that only the leaves of the regular folded quires of a gathering (or substitutions for them) are counted: the last regular leaf in A4 is A4, even if two further leaves have been inserted in A, giving it a total of six leaves. Obviously one cannot simply number the leaves of a gathering in a single consecutive sequence, ignoring deletions and insertions, for the reference notation would not then accurately reflect the place of the leaf in the structure of the book nor would it be consistent with the usage of the formula. There can be little quarrel with these basic rules.

The treatment of inserted leaves, however, poses the same problems we have already noted in connection with the formulary. There is an additional consideration as well, for reference notation may be used at some distance from the formula (even in a separate discussion) and must provide for conveniently locating the cited leaf without constant recourse to the formula. In summarizing the standard approach, Bowers (p. 260) sets forth four ways of referring to an inserted leaf, illustrated by an insertion that would appear in a formula as "C4(C2 + * C2)":

C(* C2) C(C2 + * C2) C2 + * C2 C2 + 1(* C2)
The first of these does not make explicit the location of the leaf in the gathering and would necessitate reference to the formula for that information; the other three are therefore more appropriate for general use, especially if the formula is not at hand. Of course, since they are based on a formula that mixes positional notation with actual signatures, that mixture is present in these references. Leaving that matter aside, we are still likely to find their form rather cumbersome. Perhaps they could be simplified by observing two points: (1) since reference is being made to a leaf, not a whole gathering, and since a regular leaf of the gathering


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must be specified to locate the insertion, it is superfluous to state the signature of the gathering separately from the notation of the locating leaf, as in "C(C2 + * C2)" above, where the first C is merely repetitious; (2) the use of a plus sign that does not fall within parentheses (as in the last two examples above) awkwardly makes the notation look like a reference to two entities (an awkwardness that is compounded when a superscript "r" or "v" is appended to the second part of the reference). Applying these observations to this example gives us "C2(+* C2)" or, more simply, "C2(* C2)". Regardless of what system one decides to follow in the formula, these two principles should be considered in constructing references based on it.[74]

If one does decide to adopt the formulary system proposed above (with notation that consistently focuses on position, not signing), references to leaves and pages are correspondingly simple. References to the inserted leaves (and their pages) in the following formula would take the form illustrated below it:

A 4(A3 + 1) B4(B2 + 1.2) C4(C3 + 1,2) D4(±D4)
A3(1) B2(1) B2(2) C3(1) C3(2) D4(±) A3(1)r A3(1)v etc.
In the references, the figures in parentheses denote the first and second leaves following the leaves named just before the parentheses, and the plus-minus sign indicates that the leaf in question is a replacement for the one originally occupying that position. The identity of reference to the insertions in B and C shows that matters of conjugacy are not covered in references, their purpose being only to specify location in relation to the basic structure of gatherings.[75] This use of "2" to mean a second leaf in fact follows the standard system of reference; as Bowers points out (p. 260), the location of such a leaf should be stated as the second leaf


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after the preceding regular leaf (the position of which is obvious) rather than as the first leaf after the preceding inserted leaf (the position of which might not be evident without recourse to the formula).[76] References of the form suggested here are quite simple, requiring only single numbers in parentheses, and fully consistent with the formula, focusing on positions of leaves and not their signatures.

Statement of signing. Some statement, outside the formula itself, is required in the standard system for specifying the signing of the regular leaves (or at least peculiarities in such signing),[77] since only the signing of the inserted leaves is indicated in the formula in that system. In the revised system proposed as a possibility above, a statement of signing takes on the role of dealing with the signing of all leaves, regular ones and inserted ones alike.[78] In either case the statement can be made concisely using signature reference notation (for the standard treatment, see Bowers, pp. 269-271). One established convention of reference notation that is particularly useful in the statement of signing is the dollar sign, which (as a form of "s," for "signature," not likely to occur as an actual signature) is used to stand for every—or, in some contexts, any—signature (as McKerrow suggested in the Introduction, pp. 157-158).


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Thus "$3" signifies the third leaf of every (or any) gathering. In the standard statement of signing, however, at least for pre-nineteenth-century books, "$3 signed" is used to mean that the first three leaves of every gathering are signed, requiring the inference that the leaves in each gathering preceding the designated one are also signed. It seems to me that an explicit statement would be preferable, particularly since so little extra space is required: "$1-3 signed" is scarcely more cumbersome, and it involves no special convention, other than knowing that the dollar sign is a generic signature.[79] Although the standard statement uses plus and minus signs to show exceptions to the basic pattern of leaves signed with the correct signature and leaf number—as in "$3(—C2; +H4) signed"—it generally employs words for other irregularities, such as "K2 misprinted as 'K3'". Interpretive words like "misprinted," however, seem supererogatory: it is enough to state how each leaf is in fact signed, and I think an equals mark could be used for the purpose ("K2=K3").[80]

Combining these two modifications of the standard statement of signing with the approach to reference notation suggested above results in the kind of statement illustrated below. Because a statement of signing needs to be seen in the context of the formula to which it refers, I take this opportunity to summarize my argument by setting down a formula and statement of signing constructed according to the standard system alongside those constructed according to the system I have outlined here:

Standard system
π2(π1 + †1) A-B4 C4(C3 + 'C4', χ1) D4(—D2 + 2) E4(E3 + e3.4)
F4(F1 + * F2; —F3) χ4(—χ2 + '3') G4(—G3,4 + G3.4) H4(±H4) I 2
Signatures. $3(—B2,D1,F2,G2,3; + B4,H4) signed; C2 misprinted 'C3'; D3 misprinted 'D'


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Proposed system
π2(π1 + 1) A-B4C4(C3 + 1,2) D4(±D2 + 1) E4(E3 + 1.2)
F4(F1 + 1.2; —F3) χ4(±χ2) G4(—G3,4 + G3.4) H4(±H4) I 2
Signatures. $1-3(—B2,D1,2,F2,G2,3; + B4,H4); π1(1)=†, C2=C3, C3(1)=C4, D3=D, E3(1)=e3, F1(1)=* F, Fχ2(±)=3
In the second system, the single semicolon separates the account of the conventional signing of regular leaves (or substitutions for them) from the account of the irregular signing of such leaves and the signing of inserted leaves. Any leaves not mentioned in the statement of signing are unsigned.[81] Whether the statement should appear with the formula or as a separate paragraph later in the description (an option discussed by Bowers, p. 271) is not particularly important, although the statement would seem to fulfill its role most conveniently when it is adjacent to the formula.[82] What is important is that the functions of the formula and the statement be clearly differentiated, so that one can know without any hesitation what is located in each place. The proposed system may at times be less economical of space,[83] but it eliminates any ambiguity.

Anyone who suggests alterations in a widely accepted convention should be mindful of the dangers of introducing confusion rather than clarification, and changes should not be proposed lightly. I have attempted here to remain within the standard system as much as possible and not to mention potential changes when I thought the benefits of the change would not compensate for the efforts involved in altering a functioning system. The changes I do suggest are, I believe, conducive to ease of use because they emerge from a simple and consistent distinction of function between a formula that delineates how a book is constructed and a statement that records the location of printer's signatures in a


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book. Indeed, no one who understands the established system would have any difficulty, even without receiving an explanation, in reading a formula and a statement of signing that employs the proposed plan. But whether this plan is accepted is less significant than understanding the reasoning that brought it about and the necessity for continuing to think critically about what we do.

It takes many words to write about these matters, but the length of the discussions should not obscure the real simplicity of the collational formula, as it has developed over the past century. The aim of the formula, after all, is to facilitate communication between bibliographer and reader, not to place greater distance between them. There is nothing difficult or esoteric about collational formulas or their accompanying statements of signing; anyone who approaches them with an open mind and a basic knowledge of how books are constructed will understand them immediately. Nevertheless, one should not hesitate to attach explanations in words whenever one believes them necessary for clarity. The same point applies to the rules for quasi-facsimile transcription: guidelines serve their function only if they are employed thoughtfully, not mechanically. I hope that my comments in these two areas can serve in some degree to help clarify the essential purposes of quasi-facsimile quotations and collational formulas in bibliographical accounts. Intelligent use of conventions can follow only from a true understanding of the reasons for their existence.



This feeling is reflected in Jones's preface: after noting that the reader will find no essays on collational formulas, he adds, "There need be none" (p. 5).


Yvonne Noble in American Book Collector, n.s., 2, no. 6 (November-December 1981), 47.


Donald Gallup, On Contemporary Bibliography with Particular Reference to Ezra Pound (1970), p. 8.


See, for example, his "On Method in Bibliography," Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 1 (1892-93), 91-98, to which is appended a sample of his Oxford bibliography (pp. 99-102). The designation of line endings had not been uncommon in the nineteenth century, but it was not generally accompanied by attention to typography. Madan's use of lower case and two sizes of capitals was a direct antecedent of the practice of those who came to have greater influence. A later statement of his approach to transcription appears (p. 56) in Falconer Madan, E. Gordon Duff, and Strickland Gibson, "Standard Descriptions of Printed Books," Oxford Bibliographical Society Proceedings and Papers, 1 (1922-26), 55-64.


For Pollard and Greg, see their "Some Points in Bibliographical Descriptions," Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 9 (1906-8), 31-52; see also Pollard's practice in the first volume (1908) of the Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century Now in the British Museum and Greg's in A Descriptive Catalogue of the Early Editions of the Works of Shakespeare Preserved in the Library of Eton College (1909).


McKerrow's work was an expansion of his "Notes on Bibliographical Evidence for Literary Students and Editors of English Works of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 12 (1911-13), 213-318—which, however, did not take up the question of transcription.


The third Excursus (pp. cxxxi-cxlviii) of Greg's introduction (1959) to A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration (1939-59) is entitled "Transcription and Quotation"; but aside from the association between the two implied by linking them in this title, no attention is paid to the relationship. Greg is primarily interested in establishing rules for transcription of title pages and for what he calls "bibliographical quotation" (which ignores typography, even italics), to be used in recording the contents of a book. His view that it is "pedantic" to use quasi-facsimile transcription in the contents paragraph has surely now been superseded (see Bowers, p. 291); but when quasi-facsimile is not used, there is a question whether his "bibliographical quotation" is preferable to ordinary quotation.


Madan foresaw this situation in 1893 (see note 4 above) and thought it should mean the elimination of transcription: according to the report of discussion following his paper, "The daily cheapening of photography made him hopeful that, in due time, the chief objection to the use of absolute reproduction in fac-simile would disappear" (p. 105).


Modern Philology, 39 (1941-42), 313-319 (quotations from p. 317); Bowers quotes a long passage from this review in his discussion of quasi-facsimile transcription (p. 135). Gallup (see note 3 above) also seems to believe that cost is the principal factor involved: "if the publisher can be persuaded to pay for easily legible photographic reproductions as illustrations, title-page transcriptions themselves would seem seldom to be essential" (p. 8).


Later in the series, as in A. F. Allison's Robert Greene (1975) and M. R. Perkin's Abraham Cowley (1977), the reproductions are supplied in microfiche in a pocket attached to the inside back cover.


If any argument on grounds of cost were now to be made, it would focus on the cost of paper, not photography. Photographic reproductions take up considerable space and can greatly lengthen a descriptive bibliography; there is little point providing illustrations of typographic matter unless they are the same size as the original. Even the editors of the Pittsburgh Series have decided to forego reproductions of title pages for certain categories of material (such as books contributed to by an author).


The bibliographer should know when such situations exist and annotate the transcriptions accordingly; but a bibliography should enable readers to identify variants unknown to the bibliographer.


In 1939 J. D. Cowley went so far as to say that, with exceptions for "special purposes," "we may now abandon quasi-facsimile, and adopt the rule that roman lower case, with initial capitals when necessary, is to be used for transcription" (Bibliographical Description and Cataloguing, p. 56).


This point should be underscored, as it is in Bowers's "Purposes of Descriptive Bibliography, with Some Remarks on Methods," Library, 5th ser., 8 (1953), 1-22 (reprinted in his Essays in Bibliography, Text, and Editing [1975], pp. 111-134): "Please notice that what is in question is the whole book, and not just the title-page as the sole source of identification. . . . If we place such confidence in our ability to identify books by their title-pages that we fail to describe other matters in the more important body of the book, we are misleading a reader by providing him with insufficient information to identify an imperfect copy lacking the title, or by recording in a bibliography the presence of such and such an edition in a library when in fact it is a dangerous made-up bastard copy. If we are sincere in desiring to record the true details by which to identify books, let us deliberately describe books as if they had no title-leaves . . . there is more to description than identification, and more to identification than the title-page" (see esp. pp. 9-15 [119-126]).


According to Foxon, "After Capell's death, quasi-facsimile seems to have vanished from English scholarship for a century" (p. 13)—and Madan could therefore "put forward his system as novel" (p. 15). Foxon does, however, allude to Henry Harrisse's Bibliotheca Americana Vetustissima of 1866; and other instances could be cited. The question is whether these occurrences are isolated innovations or whether they reflect a continuous tradition.


Title pages with illustrations are another matter: they are usually more expensive to reproduce well.


They are often less desirable anyway, especially when the types involved are large and heavy, for areas of solid black do not reproduce well by xerography. (In making adjustments, one should note that reproduction ratios do not always remain constant on a single machine.)


For example, see some of the small reproductions (as on pp. 96-97) in R. A. Sayce and David Maskell's A Descriptive Bibliography of Montaigne's Essais, 1580-1700 (1983), a bibliography in which reproductions supplant transcriptions.


Any spot that is touched up, to conceal a perceived blemish, is itself a blemish. The problems produced by retouching (as well as the peculiarities of individual copies) are mentioned by James Hardin in his able restatement of the importance of transcription, in "Descriptive Bibliography and the Works of Johann Beer," Wolfenbütteler Barock-Nachrichten, 4 (1977), 2-6.


Bowers, in his discussion in the Principles pointing out some of the advantages quasi-facsimile transcription has over photographic reproduction (pp. 135-137), mentions poor inking, flyspecks, and imperfections in paper as some of the characteristics of originals that could be misleading in photographs, and he warns readers of the dangers of retouching. Philip Gaskell, objecting to this argument, wrote a letter published as "Photographic Reproduction versus Quasi-Facsimile Transcription," Library, 5th ser., 7 (1952), 135-137. Gaskell says that it is the responsibility of the bibliographer to find copies for reproduction that are without blemish (and he maintains, incidentally, that "reproductions can be greatly reduced without losing their value"). One must naturally agree that the bibliographer has the responsibility to find unblemished copies, when they exist and are locatable; but Gaskell's discussion shows no awareness of the problems that still exist after one has obtained "a good photographic reproduction." Bowers replied to Gaskell in "Purposes of Descriptive Bibliography, with Some Remarks on Methods" (see note 14 above), arguing that photographic reproductions are "no such cure-alls that we can set up their utilization as a necessary or even as a generally desirable principle." He examines "the curious fallacy that the title-page is the most important single feature of identification that exists for a book," shows that photofacsimiles of titles provide some help for identification only when a reader has a copy that "differs from any that the bibliographer has seen and reproduced," and concludes—after describing the scholarly standards for descriptive bibliography—that "no mechanical process can act as a substitute for such standards." In A New Introduction to Bibliography (1972) Gaskell sets forth the established rules for transcription but also asserts that "there is often a case for dispensing with the laborious process of quasi-facsimile for any but short extracts from title-pages, etc." (p. 323).


Some bibliographies print what appear to be defective reproductions without explanation. For example, Joel Myerson's Emily Dickinson (1984)—which, as one of the Pittsburgh Series, uses title-page and copyright-page reproductions in place of quasi-facsimile transcription—contains a reproduction of a title page in which (in the copies I have seen, at least) the date is not legible (see p. 38); the copyright page in the facing illustration is difficult to read because of defective inking, and one is not told whether this defect is in the original or only the reproduction.


The function of facsimiles and standards for their production and annotation are sensibly discussed by Franklin B. Williams, Jr., in "Photo-Facsimiles of STC Books: A Cautionary Check List," Studies in Bibliography, 21 (1968), 109-130.


Illustrations have a different status, of course, in a bibliographical catalogue of a collection, where each entry does describe a single copy. But even there the distinction between a scholarly verbal account and a depiction still holds. Philip J. Weimerskirch, in "The Use of Title-Page Photography in Cataloging," in Library Resources and Technical Services, 12 (1968), 37-46, surveys the history of the idea of using photographs of title pages and describes instances of library cataloguing (or temporary cataloguing) in which such photographs have been employed; it is not his purpose, however, to pursue the distinction between photographs and verbal statements, or between photographs of single copies and generalized descriptions.


The problem of producing a facsimile of an entire book is analogous: if one wishes to make available to scholars a "facsimile of the first edition," how does one go about selecting a copy to photograph? Charlton Hinman, in preparing his Norton facsimile (1968) of the Shakespeare First Folio, recognized that no single copy would serve the purpose and selected pages from many different copies so as to represent the "corrected" text at points of stop-press alteration. The individual pages are of course those of particular copies, but the resulting facsimile as a whole is not identical with any surviving copy. In attempting to represent "the First Folio"—that is, a whole edition—it could not be limited to the characteristics of any individual copy. See also Fredson Bowers, "The Problem of the Variant Forme in a Facsimile Edition," Library, 5th ser., 7 (1952), 262-272.


See Bowers, Principles, pp. 113-123; and G. T. Tanselle, "The Concept of Ideal Copy," SB, 33 (1980), 18-53.


David Vander Meulen, in one of the most judicious assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of quasi-facsimile transcription and photographic reproduction, makes the same point: quasi-facsimile transcription, he says, "by reducing a physical object to words as the rest of a bibliographical description does, provides a standard form of the title page that can be more easily re-used and transmitted. Moreover, by presenting an ideal copy rather than a specific one, a quasi-facsimile can better convey the bibliographer's interpretation of ambiguous portions." See A Descriptive Bibliography of Alexander Pope's Dunciad, 1728-1751 (diss., University of Wisconsin, 1981), p. 44. Vander Meulen provides several telling examples of the way in which photographs (as well as transcription that falls short of quasi-facsimile) can be misleading. (His own practice in transcription, by the way, includes an indication of the measurement, to the nearest ⅓ millimeter, of the type faces employed.)


For one view of this shift, see G. T. Tanselle, "Physical Bibliography in the Twentieth Century," in Books, Manuscripts, and the History of Medicine: Essays on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Osler Library, ed. Philip M. Teigen (1982), pp. 55-79. See also note 34 below.


This view of title-page quoting as part of a historical account reinforces Bowers's point that the evidence from a title page is only one element in the total body of evidence supplied by the book as a whole (see note 14 above).


Even if what is quoted is a variant known in only a single copy, for the point of the quotation is not to represent this copy but to report that some portion (however small) of the edition or impression in fact contained the variant in question.


Bowers uses single, rather than double, quotation marks to distinguish quasi-facsimile transcription; the device is less effective for British readers, however, because of the more common use of single quotation marks in Britain for ordinary quotation.


For further discussion, see G. T. Tanselle, "Tolerances in Bibliographical Description," Library, 5th ser., 23 (1968), 1-12. Foxon says that if reproduction is rejected for transcription, "we ought to aim at scientific precision and record the size of the type in each line and the amount of space between one line and the next" (p. 18)—a statement that implicitly recognizes various levels of quotation but regards only one as defensible.


The practice of reproducing passages of text photographically is not new; what seems to be increasing is a tendency to think of such reproductions not as illustrations but as part of the text itself. The former approach is suggested in Hinman's The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare (1963), for example, by the fact that the many reproductions of passages from the First Folio set into pages of Hinman's text are labeled as "figures," sequentially numbered and with captions. In contrast, some of the essays of Randall McLeod—to cite one scholar who has recently employed photoquotation extensively—incorporate reproduced passages, or even phrases, directly into the text in the way that reset quotations have always been used. There is no question about the appropriateness of the reproductions, for the typography of the original printing is in each case part of the subject under discussion. And one could say that it is only a stylistic matter whether one constructs sentences so that they can stand independently of illustrative quotation or whether one makes the quotations an integral part of the sentences. But a significant distinction is lost sight of if one believes that a reproduction—regardless of its importance for the discussion—can fit into a new text in the same way that a transcription can. The point is dramatized by the title of McLeod's essay in The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare's Two Versions of King Lear, ed. Gary Taylor and Michael Warren (1983), pp. 153-193. His title (which may be rendered here as "Gon. No more, the text is foolish.") is photoquoted at the head of his essay but is converted to the standard typography of the volume in the table of contents and in the running heads. If McLeod photoquotes the title because he believes the original typography to be essential to the meaning, he has at the same time guaranteed that the title will generally be misquoted, because references to his essay in checklists, footnotes, and other essays will not normally accommodate the reproduced typography. (Of course, resetting the title would not be misquoting, according to the usual conventions of quotation, if the presence of the reproduction did not suggest that the typography is an inseparable element of the title.) The fact that photoquotation, whatever its extent, is not appropriate for some contexts may seem only a practical difficulty, but it clearly reflects a deeper issue.


If it does, the problem posed by the variation is itself likely to enter into the discussion, and specific copies in which the different readings can be found should of course be specified.


The role of the incunabulists in establishing modern descriptive bibliography is touched on in G. T. Tanselle, "The Evolving Role of Bibliography, 1884-1984," forthcoming in the proceedings of the Grolier Club Centennial Convocation.


See "Michael Trevanion," "Thomas J. Wise's Descriptive Formula," Book Collector, 13 (1964), 355-356; and Simon Nowell-Smith, "T. J. Wise as Bibliographer," Library, 5th ser., 24 (1969), 129-141 (esp. p. 132).


In Madan, Duff, and Gibson, "Standard Descriptions of Printed Books" (see note 4 above). Gibson recommended that the collation of modern books be treated like that of books of the "middle period" (1558-1800), for which Madan specified signature collation in the case of "important" and "interesting" books; for "ordinary" books he felt that signatures need not be noted except "in case of any complication" (p. 58).


Henry Bradshaw's Correspondence on Incunabula with J. W. Holtrop and M. F. A. G. Campbell, ed. Wytze and Lotte Hellinga (1966-78), p. 30 (other examples on pp. 31, 43-44). Bradshaw's "long" use of this system went back more than a year, for on 18 February 1863 he had explained it to Winter Jones: see "Letters of Henry Bradshaw to Officials of the British Museum" (ed. A. W. Pollard), Library, 2nd ser., 5 (1904), 266-292, 431-442 (esp. pp. 277-278; it is also illustrated in a letter of 8 January 1866 on pp. 288-292).


In the long subsequent history of this convention, there has been repeated debate as to whether these superscript figures can ever be odd; but there scarcely can be any doubt today that the formula serves best its function of showing a book's structure if such figures refer only to the leaves (necessarily even in number) that make up (or originally made up) the folded quires, with insertions and deletions to be handled separately. Greg sums up this debate in "A Formulary of Collation" (see note 40 below), p. 372 (309); and Bowers discusses it thoroughly, pp. 225-235. Gaskell (New Introduction, p. 329) and Bowers (p. 434, speaking of nineteenth- and twentieth-century books only) would make an exception for 18° in 9s, since the format results in nine-leaf gatherings; but even here, one leaf must be disjunct, and writing "A9" does not show where that leaf is located. It would be preferable, I think, to write, for example, "A-M8($4 + 1)." There have also been suggestions for incorporating further information into the superscript figures. One of Pollard's is mentioned below in note 45; another is the use of formulas like "A-G8/4" or "A-G8.4" to show a regular alternation between eight-leaf and four-leaf gatherings (a device still often employed). Alistair Elliot has more recently built on this device—in "Duplicated Signatures," Library, 5th ser., 25 (1970), 354—to suggest superscript figures separated by commas ("A-K2,2") as a shorthand way of indicating regularly paired signatures in successive gatherings, as when A2 is followed by *A2, B2 by *B2, and so on. The difficulty with this practice is that, unlike Pollard's, the superscripts are here made to refer to a peculiarity of signing, not of gathering; yet information about gathering is the function of the superscripts, and a further note would be required to explain the situation. (A clearer device might conceivably be an ellipsis ["A2 * A2 . . . M2 * M2"], which would distinguish this situation from that where a dash is conventionally used.)


Bradshaw himself moved to this system (which he was already using for references to format that were separate from signature formulas): see Francis Jenkinson's note on p. 278 of Pollard's edition (note 37 above).


As in Pollard's "The Objects and Methods of Bibliographical Collations and Descriptions," Library, 2nd ser., 8 (1907), 193-217, and the British Museum catalogue of incunabula (see note 5 above); McKerrow's An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students (1927), pp. 155-161; and Greg's "A Formulary of Collation," Library, 4th ser., 14 (1933-34), 365-382 (reprinted in his Collected Papers, ed. J. C. Maxwell [1966], pp. 298-313), and the "Introduction" (drafted in 1942) to A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration (see note 7 above), esp. Excursus IV, "Formulas of Collation," pp. cxlviii-clviii.


Elementary digests of the system also conveniently appear in Gaskell's New Introduction, pp. 328-332, and in Terry Belanger's "Descriptive Bibliography," in Book Collecting: A Modern Guide, ed. Jean Peters (1977), pp. 107-113.


Bradshaw, describing his system of signature notation in 1863, said, "It looks rather appalling at first, but it is so much the most convenient way of collating books—as you can see directly where the defect is in your copy" (Pollard's edition, cited above in note 37, p. 277).


In 1949, the same year when Bowers's book appeared, James G. McManaway stated the need for standardization of the formulary of collation, in Curt F. Bühler et al., Standards of Bibliographical Description, pp. 73-74. He was overstating the case when he said that "many variants are now in use, with the result that the printed collation of a book may be intelligible only to the man who wrote it"; but there is no doubt that Bowers's book has played a crucial role in bringing about widespread acceptance of a single standard.


He takes for granted the practice of referring to leaves by attaching regular (non-superscript) figures to signatures. (He is naturally not concerned with later books—generally American—in which the signatures are numbers; in such cases leaf numbers must be subscript figures to avoid confusion. Greg notes [Bibliography, p. cxlviii] that some bibliographers find subscript leaf numbers, even with letter signatures, "more distinctive or more elegant"; but one must agree with him when he says, "I see no advantage in the practice"—though one could mention the insignificant advantage that leaf numbers would be treated the same way whether signatures were letters or numbers. See also "A Formulary of Collation" [note 40 above], p. 368 [300], where Greg says that using subscripts "suggests something recondite and obscures the plain meaning and origin of the notation.")


Pollard had earlier, in the British Museum catalogue of incunabula (see note 5 above), used plus signs attached to superscript fugures—as in "a-m10 n10+1" (p. 59)—but this approach does not specify the location of the insertion.


As the following formula suggests, an irregularity in a gathering necessitates separating the gathering from the regular sequence; in Bowers's formulary, such a gathering "must not be linked with another gathering by a dash. A-D4(D4 + D5) is completely incorrect" (p. 237). Some writers have since questioned this point. Stevenson sees no ambiguity in such linking and uses it in the Hunt catalogue (e.g., entries 409, 417, 548). The objection to it is one of logic, for the parenthesis applies only to the last-named gathering, not to the whole sequence. Margadant (p. 23) carries Stevenson's point a step further and gathers all irregularities together in a single parenthesis at the end of a sequence of gatherings, as in "A-K4(±D2,—E4,—K4)." If the purpose of the formula is to show the structure of a book, sequence is all-important; and I do not believe one can claim that, for this purpose, such an arrangement "can be read more easily."


Although even here there is an alternative: the replacement in E, if unsigned, could be rendered "χ2" (see Bowers, p. 247). (But rendering it as "E3.4" does not necessarily mean that it is signed. See note 49 below.)


This use of quotation marks in effect provides an equivalent for "[sic]." Emphasizing that quotations are accurate, however, may seem a superfluous task for the formula.


This situation in regard to "E4(—E3,4 + E3.4)" is explained by Bowers as follows: "when there is no possible conflict between an inferred signing of a complete cancellans and the signing or completed signing of the original quire, the inference can be freely made in the formula without the necessity to indicate (except in the note on the signing) whether the cancellans signing was inferential in whole or in part" (p. 247).


Both Stevenson (p. clix) and Margadant (p. 23) express a preference for "χ"; but Margadant unwisely prefers to designate a single leaf with a superscript "1" (p. 22).


Such notation is purely positional: Bowers says, "The leaf of the regular gathering preceding the plus sign is used only to establish the position of the succeeding insertion and is never quoted, nor is any indication ever given whether it is signed or unsigned [or missigned]" (p. 237).


The conservative treatment advocated by Bowers (pp. 235-239, 241-242) for leaves between gatherings is certainly to be recommended: they should be regarded as independent members of the sequence of gatherings and not associated with the gathering before or after except when the link is definitely established, as with the same signature.


This system of noting the total number of inserted leaves is used only when the leaves are disjunct. (See Bowers, p. 240, where he warns against confusing such totals with quoted leaf numbers.)


If it were signed as a later leaf reference, such as "*F2", the superscript could not be used, for one cannot have such a notation as "*F22", which seems to combine reference to a leaf and to a gathering.


Failing to be consistent might create ambiguity by implying that the two usages had different signification.


This doubt would be eliminated if the reader remembered, and had reason to think the bibliographer followed, Bowers's rule that signatures of inserts "are ordinarily inferred only when an unsigned leaf follows a signed leaf which is itself an insert and when the signature does not conflict with or duplicate the signatures or completed signatures of the original gathering" (p. 459).


The fact that "* E5" is an actual signature should be evident even without quotation marks.


Writing "* Q1.2" and "s1.2" instead would make the signing of the second leaves no clearer. On the analogy of "e3.1" above, presumably one could write "* Q1.1", with the same attendant problems.


Bowers's discussion at various points makes this clear. On p. 246, for example, he speaks of the "essentially positional nature of formulary construction": in "C4(C3 + 'C4')", he points out, "the main feature of the construction is the indication of position"; thus the "identification by printer's signature is not essential but only a convenience for helping the reader to understand that the signed insert must not be mistaken for true [C4]." The same point can be made about inferential signing, which "is not of crucial importance in the collational formula" and which is usually adopted only if it provides "superior convenience for reference." He concludes, "The general trend of formulary notation towards reliance on positional notation makes for conservatism of inference." One might add that this trend carried to its logical conclusion would result in no inference at all (and no quotations of actual leaf signatures either). (See also p. 495.)


Square brackets and italics (suggested by Greg in "A Formulary of Collation" [see note 40 above], p. 369 [306]) are equivalent ways of designating inferred signatures. (See also note 66 below.)


The silent correction of missignings in reference to regular leaves in collational formulas is discussed by Bowers on pp. 222-225.


Except that, in Bowers's view, "it would seem to be unnecessary in [inserted] folds to indicate signing of later leaves, . . . although no positive objection could ordinarily be made" (p. 242).


Greg, at the beginning of "A Formulary of Collation" (note 40 above), comments on the printer's "register" in early books, which listed the signatures and the units in each, and he suggests that "there might be a good deal to be said for applying the term to our formulas of collation." In his Bibliography he does often refer to the formula as a "register," but he is aware that his practice is sometimes at odds with what the term implies: "Neither in reference nor in the register should the signatures given be regarded as in any strict sense quotations from the original, though it is true that the registrum may be said to have consisted of such in the first instance" (p. clii). Many of the complications that he analyzes in fact arise from a consideration of whether the bibliographer is best served by actual quotation and from attempts to accommodate such quotation—as when he writes "χC('Cc')", which perfectly epitomizes the urge to rewrite signatures for bibliographical use and the simultaneous reluctance to eliminate the actual form of a signature from the formula (p. cliv). The history of the development of the collational formula is dominated by discussions that have at their root either an indecisiveness as to the primary bibliographical function of the formula or a curious hesitation to push the formula fully and logically in the direction of a structural statement. The modern formula can no doubt be legitimately regarded as a descendant of the printer's register; but to do so seems to constrict thinking about the formula. (Even the standard term "signature collation" illustrates the point, for the bibliographer collates gatherings, and only incidentally their signatures.)


However, a distinction can be made between a single leaf and a fold, and there are times when it may not seem inappropriate to assign "χ" to a fold. See note 71 below.


Bowers glances at these possibilities (p. 238) and says, "No real objection can be raised to this theory, perhaps, except to point out that the method cannot be consistent itself, since in certain circumstances quoting proves impracticable, as for the shorthand notation of simultaneous cancellation and substitution" (see also pp. 244, 248). One can of course use an expanded treatment of cancellation and substitution instead of the plus-minus sign; but the undeniable problem is that it would be not merely impracticable but in fact impossible to quote the signature of the cancelled leaf if no copy of it had been located. (One convention might be to place the plus-minus sign after the quoted signature of the substitution—as "C4('C3'±)"—to show that the named leaf replaces whatever leaf was previously in that position, without directly citing that previous leaf.) Bowers proceeds, "Moreover, since the ordinary formula takes no notice of the signing of individual leaves in a gathering so long as the signature of the gathering is established as noninferential, it need not necessarily do so for the signing of inserted leaves where the position is in no doubt. Quotes, therefore, may be reserved the more simply for the occasions when it is definitely desirable to indicate signings." One may certainly declare that the signatures of inserted leaves are not to be quoted, but the discussion at this point is how to handle them if they are quoted, and some form of consistent quoting is recommended: "inferentially signed [inserted] leaves must ordinarily be differentiated from signed inserted leaves" (p. 237). If, on the other hand, one decides that the signatures of inserted leaves are not to be noted, then by definition there are no situations in which it is desirable to note them.


In these formulas, the notation for the second inserted leaf in C would more conventionally be preceded by a plus sign (a comma would be used if the second leaf were cited as "χ1"). But the comma seems preferable because it recalls the parallelism with the convention of the period for conjugate leaves and because it allows the plus sign to be reserved exclusively to locate the link between the regular leaf and the inserted leaf or leaves. One should also note here the distinction, emphasized by Bowers (e.g., pp. 238, 257), between italics and brackets. Italic type denotes an inferred signature for a whole gathering (as in A here) and cannot be used to refer to an unsigned leaf of a gathering signed on some other leaf (as in C), whereas brackets can serve both functions. Italic leaf references are permissible, therefore, only when the signature involved has been inferred for the gathering as a whole (as in A).


There is of course a third possibility: using quotation marks and brackets in the same formula. The result would be still clearer and considerably more awkward.


Of course, there is a fundamental difference between references to leaves and those to whole gatherings; but the fact remains that to complicate the parenthetical references with indication of the signing of leaves suggests that such indication is an appropriate function of the formula—a function not then carried through with regard to the other leaves, those not associated with insertions. Before passing on to an approach that in my opinion is more attractive, one further point is worth noting. A system that aims to be uniform and explicit in its references to leaves should also use numbers in a consistent way to refer to leaves; and since numbers regularly specify individual leaves, they should probably not be used at the same time for totals. If, in C above, both inserted leaves had been unsigned, the conventional notation "(C3 + 2)" would seem less appropriate in the context than "(C3 + 1,2)"—or, in the second formula, "([C3] + [1],[2])"—in which the "1" and "2" denote the first and second of the inserted leaves (just as "C1" and "C2" denote the first and second regular leaves of the gathering). Whether this reasoning suggests that in the formulas above the second inserted leaf in C should be called "2" rather than "1" (or whether "1" can be thought of as suggesting the first unsigned inserted leaf in the gathering) need not detain us, since the approach illustrated by those formulas cannot be strongly recommended anyway. This question calls attention again to the problems associated with quoting in formulas, illustrated here also by the possibility of inferring a second leaf in some instances (as in B) but not in others (as in C, where an inferred "C4" would conflict in notation with the regular fourth leaf of the gathering). Such complications, though not serious perhaps, provide further reason for thinking that this approach does not achieve the desired combination of clarity with simplicity.


Bowers alludes briefly (pp. 240-241) to a system that goes part way in this direction: eliminating from the formula the signing of inserted leaves except when "the signing is related to the signing of the gathering"—thus the "1" in "K4(K3 + 1)" would be appropriate if the inserted leaf were signed with an asterisk or a paragraph sign but not if its signature included "K", which would necessitate, for example, "K4(K3 + 'K4')." He understandably finds this system inconsistent and sees "no really positive virtue in it."


There is a case for retaining the signatures: their presence would emphasize the distinction between regular leaves (or replacements for them), which would be noted by signature and number, and inserted leaves, which would be noted by number alone. Signatures would be especially welcome when the conjugacy of canceled leaves is not the same as that of the substitutions for them: if "G4(—G3,4 + G3.4)" were written without the signatures—as "G4(—3,4 + 3.4)"—the numbers following the plus sign might seem at odds with the "1.2" one would normally expect in this system; but the addition of "G" would made instantly clear that the leaves are replacements, rather than insertions that increase the total number of leaves in the gathering. Greg, in "A Formulary of Collation" (see note 40 above), rejects the idea of eliminating signature letters within parentheses because "it would lead to ambiguity in some of the more complicated cases"—though the case he cites could be handled by replacing a comma with a semicolon (pp. 379, 381 [310, 311]).


An argument could be made that in this system conjugate inserted leaves should be represented by the other standard notation for folds, the superscript "2", which would in turn necessitate the use of a signature (actual or assigned). Even though an inserted fold takes its identity from the gathering into which it is inserted, an inserted fold is analogous to a separate gathering in that a signature can apply to both its leaves without conveying any information about the specific signing of either leaf. The system would remain consistent, therefore, if one wrote, for instance, "B4(B2 + b2)" instead of "B4(B2 + 1.2)", because no information about the signing of individual leaves is being reported in either case; the difference turns solely on the question of whether the reporting of inserted folds is to follow the model for gatherings or that for inserted leaves, and a defense of either approach can be made. The whole issue might not seem worth bringing up if all insertions were as simple as the ones in this example. But when two or more successive folds, or even quired folds, are inserted at the same point, a far simpler formula would result if one regarded those insertions as in effect a subseries of gatherings, treating them as separate gatherings would be treated: e.g., "A4(A2 + a2 * B4 b2 2b4) B-E4."


An excellent demonstration of this point is provided by Bowers's discussion of the application of the formulary to incunabula (pp. 487-499).


There has been a tradition of omitting the "r" when the context makes clear that the recto page is meant rather than the whole leaf. But the practice of allowing the same reference to mean one side of the leaf and both sides of the leaf is illogical and potentially confusing; it obviously has no place in precise notation, as Foxon argues with some vehemence (pp. 8-9). There is also a tradition, especially among incunabulists, of using superscript "a" and "b" for the two sides of a leaf; but there is no justification for regarding this usage as the only defensible one, as Gaskell does on pp. 329-330 of the New Introduction.


Another possibility may be mentioned, building on Greg's suggestion for citing gatherings whose location is not obvious. If one wished, for example, to cite χ3 in "A-G4 χ4 H4", Greg would write "Gχ3", using the signature of the preceding gathering as a superscript index for the purpose of revealing immediately where the unsigned gathering is located. Similarly, one might indicate the location of an inserted leaf by using the notation for the preceding regular leaf as a superscript index—e.g., "B2†" or "E3e3". (Stevenson, in the Hunt catalogue, p. clix, suggests "Rχ" for an inserted leaf in R, but this notation does not show the exact location in R.)


In some respects, of course, the notation does indicate structure by distinguishing an inserted leaf from a regular leaf, and if one wished to show the conjugacy of insertions one could use periods, following the practice in the formula: "B2(1.)" and "B2(.2)" would refer to inserted leaves that belong to a fold, whereas "C3(1)" and "C3(2)", lacking periods, would refer to disjunct inserted leaves.


Bowers gives as an example the second inserted leaf in K4(K3 + 'K4',χ1), noting that a reference to it as "K('K4' + 1)" would require "prior analysis of the precise position of leaf 'K4'", whereas "K(K3 + 2)" states its position in relation to the regular leaf K3. In the standard formulary, however, "+2" would refer to two inserted disjunct leaves, not to a single leaf in a second position. Bowers comments on this difference in usage: "This method differs from the manner in which these leaves would be noted in a collational formula; but there is no anomaly since only positional reference is being made in the absence of a formula to which formulary reference could be constructed" (pp. 260-261). Nevertheless, it would be advantageous from a practical point of view if the practice in reference notation coincided with that in the collational formula and if this divergence in usage could be avoided.


Bowers points out (p. 269) that some bibliographers regard only irregularities as worth noting, allowing customary practices of signing for the period to be taken for granted. But it requires little additional space to be explicit, and that space would seem to be well used.


Except, of course, regular leaves in those gatherings having no signature at all, because the inferred signature in the formula constitutes a statement that no regular leaf in the gathering is signed. One might argue that, if the formula deals only with structure and not signing, there is no point italicizing an inferred signature. (Even then, assigned signatures such as "π" and "χ" would still indicate lack of signing.) But as long as one bases the formula on the system of signing present in the book (and it would be foolish to do otherwise), it seems reasonable to show which signatures employed in the formula actually appear in the book and which do not. The formula, in this view of it, would not be concerned with the signing of particular leaves but would incidentally, in the course of reporting the structure of a book, reveal which gatherings are entirely unsigned; the statement of signing would then be exclusively devoted to the signing of leaves (as opposed to gatherings as a whole).


Bowers explains that the explicit approach is essential for dealing with nineteenth-and twentieth-century books (p. 434); some possible confusion might be eliminated, therefore, by employing it for all books. Margadant also takes this position, pointing out (p. 25) the awkwardness in saying both "$3 signed" (meaning the first three leaves) and "$3 signed $ *" (meaning the third leaf). He goes on, however, to propose what seems to me an unnecessary elaboration: the Greek letter gamma to stand for the (variable) total number of leaves in a gathering, so that one can say "$½ γ signed", meaning that half the total number of leaves in each gathering is signed, regardless of how the bulk of the gatherings varies. When a book has, for example, a regular alternation of eight-leaf and four-leaf gatherings, I see no objection to the slightly longer statement "$1-4 in $8 and $1-2 in $4 signed."


The use of the equals sign in the formula to show the identity of a cancellandum at one point with an insertion or cancellans at another (see Bowers, pp. 250-251) would not, I think, conflict with this use of the equals sign in the statement of signing. (Some bibliographers prefer to use square brackets in the formula to enclose a statement involving the equals sign.) However, if one wishes to avoid the equals sign in the statement of signing, the word "as" (scarcely longer than the equals sign) could be used from the second instance onward, as in "C2 signed as C3, D3 as D, E2 as e2" and so on.


Bowers notes that "signing statements record only variations from normal" and that an unsigned title page, if it falls on a normally signed leaf in a gathering, need not be specifically exempted from the generalization about signing since "few title-pages are signed" (p. 270). However, the small amount of space required to say, for example, "—A1" is probably worth using in order to eliminate any possible doubt in a reader's mind (as Gaskell suggests in the New Introduction, p. 332).


It can be important, as Bowers explains (p. 271), to record details about the typography of signatures (size and style of type) and their placement (in relation to footnotes, for instance); and he suggests that this information, in a full description, might go in a separate paragraph on signatures. One could also justify placing in the statement of signing only deviations (such as italic signatures when most are roman), leaving the principal facts about the typography of signatures for the paragraph on typography, where information about other aspects of typography in the book is drawn together.


One should remember that books with the number of irregularities and insertions recorded in the hypothetical formula above are not common. Some real books are indeed quite complicated, but many are quite regular, and one can expect collational formulas generally to have a much simpler appearance than the one shown here.