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Any survey of how the word “format” has been applied to books must acknowledge that the particular concept we are concerned with here, dealing with book structure and the process that produced it, is not a part of the word's meaning to everyone in the book world. The book-dealer who in the early 1990s advertised a ruler that translated inches into format terms was a source of great hilarity to bibliographical scholars.[2] But that ruler was only one manifestation of the same approach to format that the bibliographer Falconer Madan had seriously advocated many decades earlier[3]—or that causes many librarians and dealers to have special shelves for “folios,” meaning simply large books, whether or not they were produced in the manner that would cause bibliographers to call them folios. This usage is the one supported by general dictionaries. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, defines “format” as “Shape and size of a book, e.g., octavo, quarto, etc.” (2nd ed., 1989). For the derivation of the word, the OED relies on Paul-Emile Littré's Dictionnaire de la langue française (1863-77), which traces it to liber formatus, meaning a book formed (shaped) in a particular fashion. The Latin “forma” had been used, at least by the fifteenth century, to mean “size” in connection with books, as in “forma magna.”[4]

The earliest English instance of “format” located by the OED is in a 25 February 1840 comment made by Thomas Moore and first published in the seventh volume (1856) of John Russell's edition of Memoirs, Journal, and Correspondence of Thomas Moore: “Found from Tom Longman that there is some chance of their being able to bring out the `History,' some time or other, in a better shape than that vile Lardnerian format” (p. 272). Presumably Moore was referring to the short stubby


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appearance of The Cabinet Cyclopaedia, edited by Dionysius Lardner and published by Longman in many volumes between 1831 and 1851. This is of course probably not the very first time that the word was written down in an English-language context; but its italicization may suggest that it was not yet regarded as an English word, or at least that it had not yet become a common expression in English. In any case, one should not be surprised, with the legacy of “forma” and “formatus” behind it, that “format” as an English word was first used in this sense and that it has been so employed extensively ever since.[5]

There is nothing wrong with this usage except when “shape and size” are thought to imply book structure, a danger that emerges in the OED's own definition. Anyone reading “Shape and size of a book, e.g., octavo, quarto, etc.” in the OED can be expected to turn to the entries for “octavo” and “quarto” for clarification. “Octavo” (with citations starting in 1582) is defined as “The size of a book, or of the page of a book, in which the sheets are so folded that each is one-eighth of a whole sheet”; “quarto” (with quotations beginning in 1589) is defined as “The size of paper obtained by folding a whole sheet twice.” The obvious trouble with linking these two examples of “format” to the basic definition is that a knowledge of paper-folding tells one nothing specific about shape and size unless one knows the shape and size of the paper to start with. And though the general shape (proportions) of sheets of paper, at least for much of the hand-press era, was fairly constant, the size was decidedly variable (the smallest standard paper in the sixteenth century, for instance, being twenty or twenty-five centimeters shorter in both dimensions than the largest paper).[6]

A folio can thus be smaller than a quarto if the folio is made from small paper and the quarto from large, and the book trade of the hand-press period recognized that size and shape had to be conveyed by a combination of two terms, one indicating paper size and the other the number of leaves produced by folding each sheet—as in “Crown quarto”


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or “Royal octavo.”[7] In this practice lies the source of the bibliographer's “format,” which requires the separation of these two elements. One of the interesting and complicating facts about the development of bibliographical terminology in English is that “format” came to refer, in bibliographers' hands, to process (imposition and folding) and the resulting structure rather than to dimensions. The progression could have gone the other way, but it did not; perhaps the reason is that the early New Bibliographers were drawing on what was (as we shall see below) a long-established continental tradition of using “format” in just this way. In any case, the result was that the specialist meaning of “format” for historians of the physical book diverged from the meaning of “format” in general usage in English.

Nevertheless, that specialist concept, based on the process/structure side of the dichotomy, obviously existed in English thought long before English bibliographers decided to call it “format.” Printers, after all, had to deal with process and structure in approaching every piece of printing, and they necessarily recognized the reciprocity of paper- folding and number of type-pages required. Understandably, however, nonprinters were likely to focus on paper-folding, since the folded paper is what survives to be seen in copies of books. In 1658, for example, Edward Phillips's The New World of English Words: or, a General Dictionary declared, “A book is said to be in Duodecimo, when it is of twelve leaves in a sheet.” This statement can be regarded as an early expression of the bibliographical approach because it refers only to process and does not include any mention of paper size; it also—and in my view less appily—foreshadows later bibliographical practice in its emphasis on paper-folding over the number of type-pages involved.

The phrase “in Duodecimo” here is worth noting because it reflects the early beginning of the tradition, among printers and nonprinters alike, of using “format” terms in such prepositional phrases: the OED cites occurrences of “in folio,” “in quarto,” and “in octavo” from the 1580s. (On the continent these expressions were, and still are, often hyphenated, as “in-folio,” and often treated grammatically as a single word, a noun.) But before the early twentieth century there was apparently no overall term in English for the concept that subsumes specific


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impositions, as designated by such phrases. Printers, of course, would have thought of “imposition” as the term, but it focuses on the arrangement of type-pages in a forme rather than on the relationship between the forme and the finished book (though that relationship is inevitably determined by imposition). The fact that we now idiomatically speak of a book being “in” a particular format but not “in” a particular imposition shows the extent to which the emphasis of “format” has gone the other way, toward the folded paper rather than the type- pages.

Joseph Moxon in his Mechanick Exercises of 1683 did use a term, distinct from “imposition,” to mean what we would call “format”: the word is “volumn,” but Moxon was seemingly alone in this practice. In his section “Of Imposing,” he wrote, “There are four Volumns in use that are differently Imposed, viz. Folio, Quarto, Octavo and Twelves.[8] More significantly, his imposition diagrams had headings like “Imposing a Folio Sheet,” and yet the arrangement shown was that of the type-pages in the forme, not their mirror-image in the sheet. That references to the sheet and to the forme could be blended this way would seem natural to a printer, who would see the process as a whole and understand that a planned book-structure entails a particular imposition. The printer would thus take for granted the artificiality of separating the two, though obviously convenience would be served by having the diagrams themselves show forme arrangements.

The long line of English printers' manuals in the two centuries after Moxon, often repeating each other verbatim, followed the same plan. John Smith's The Printer's Grammar (1755), Philip Luckombe's The History and Art of Printing (1771), Caleb Stower's The Printer's Grammar (1808), C. S. Van Winkle's The Printers' Guide (1818), John Johnson's Typographia (1824), T. C. Hansard's Typographia (1825), C. H. Timperley's The Printers' Manual (1838), William Savage's A Dictionary of the Art of Printing (1841)—all of these (and no doubt the others) are similar in that they do not use the word “format” and, under headings like “Of Imposing,” they present diagrams (or “schemes”) with such titles as “A Sheet of Folio.”[9] When a term on the order of “format” is needed, it tends to be “size,” as when Luckombe speaks of schemes “for imposing all the Sizes that regularly descend from Folio” (p. 434) or when Johnson says, “Schemes of various other irregular sizes might have been introduced” (p. 191). Nor does the word “format” seem to


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appear in such later standard manuals as John Southward's (his Practical Printing of 1882 had reached its sixth edition by 1911, and his Modern Printing of 1898-99 was in a fifth edition in 1921) or Theodore L. De Vinne's (his 1904 Modern Methods of Book Composition contains no entry for “format” in its thorough index).

On the continent, however, there was a very different tradition: the word “format” was being used in printers' manuals in the seventeenth century. A beginning of a shift in the meaning of Latin “forma” can perhaps be seen in the 1608 Latin manual by Hieronymus Hornschuch, the Orthotypographia, where the phrase “in quaque librorum forma” appears in the discussion preceding the presentation of imposition schemes and where the first prose after the imposition diagrams begins “In hisce formis” (pp. 10, 15). When Hornschuch's book was translated into German by T. Heidenreich (with editions in 1634 and 1739), the word was rendered as “Format” (1739, pp. 12, 18). By 1653, Johann Ludwig Vietor used “format” as an established term in his Formatbüchlein, which consisted almost entirely of imposition diagrams containing “Format” in the headings (as in “Von dem Format in Folio”). Two more German manuals containing imposition schemes appeared in the seventeenth century, both with “Format” in their titles—Georg Wolffger's Format- Büchlein (1673) and Daniel Michael Schmatz's Format-Buch (1684)—and Samuel Struck's Format-Buch came along three decades later (1715). Similarly, Johann H. G. Ernesti's Buchdruckerey (1721) used “Format” in its titles for imposition diagrams, as did Christian Friedrich Gessner's Buchdruckerkunst (1740) and Buchdruckerei (1743).[10] Johann Hildebrand's Handbuch für Buchdrucker-Lehrlinge (1835)—to cite one German manual from the nineteenth century—had a section entitled “Formatbildung” and used “Format” in the general heading to the section of diagrams (pp. 51, 52).

Although the first French manual (and the only one for sixty years after its publication), Martin Fertel's La science pratique de l'imprimerie (1723), did not use “format” in its section “Des Impositions... ” (pp. 139-178)—heading its diagrams instead with phrases like “L'Imposition d'un In-folio d'une feuille seulement” (p. 142)—French printers of the eighteenth century did employ “format,” explicitly linking it with paper-folding. Antoine-François Momoro's Traité élémentaire de l'imprimerie


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(1793), for instance, defined “format” as “Nom que l'on donne aux quantités de pages qui entrent dans une feuille. Ainsi on distingue les formats in-8°., des formats in-12., par la largeur des pages et par la différence des quantités de pages” (p. 178). And Bertrand- Quinquet's Traité de l'imprimerie (1799) said, “Chaque format prend son nom du nombre de feuillets que présente une feuille de papier” (p. 86). In the nineteenth century, Henri Fournier's Traité de la typographie (1825)— which, through four later editions, was the dominant French manual well into the twentieth century—used “format” routinely in the prose preceding and following the imposition diagrams (as in the reference to “les différents genres d'impositions désignés par les noms des formats,” p. 68), though not in the headings of the diagrams themselves (which followed the pattern of “In-Folio”). Thus on the continent “format” not only referred to type-page impositions but also was thought of in terms of the ultimate folded sheets.

If the authors of printers' manuals are like analytical bibliographers in their recognition of the fundamental connection between the imposed number of type-pages and the structure of books, they are different in that their approach to process is prospective: they offer instruction in how to bring a book into existence. Bibliographers, in contrast, like all historians, work in the other direction and try to reconstruct processes from the traces that those processes have left. Writings that show how one can start with a printed book and recover from it a firm knowledge of how many pages a printer decided to print on each side of the sheets that made it up began to appear in the nineteenth century, and they offer the most direct testimony as to how the structural concept of “format” (if not the term itself) evolved among bibliographers.

A first step in English is represented by Thomas Hartwell Horne's An Introduction to the Study of Bibliography (1814). His chapter “On the Forms and Sizes of Books” (pp. 288-292) began with the statement, “The form or size of a book depends upon the manner in which it is folded.” Although the reference to paper-folding may suggest that he was using “size” as the printers' manuals often did in their discussions of imposition, he more often used “form” for this purpose, and sometimes “size” referred only to dimensions. In any case, he proceeded to caution readers against confusing dimensions with manner of folding; such confusion, he said, would result in “very important bibliographical errors.” Rudimentary as his discussion was, it recognized that the determination of book structure is essential to bibliography. Furthermore, its exposition of the analytical use of the direction of “water-lines” (vertical in folio, horizontal in quarto, and so on) and the position of “water-marks” (based on their normally being centered in one half of the sheet) seems


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to reflect some understanding of the necessity for relating observed structure to the original sheets (and thus to the type-page arrangement required). One may also observe that the two words “form” and “size,” which Horne used inconsistently, are the same two words that later English bibliographers struggled with before they adopted “format,” sometimes distinguishing between them and sometimes using them interchangeably to mean what we now call “format.”

To move forty years ahead to Henry Bradshaw is to take a giant leap in bibliographical insight, for Bradshaw's thinking provided the foundation on which the most fruitful later work has been built. As Paul Needham has shown, by 1861 Bradshaw had devised a collational formula that employed superscript fractions to indicate (in the numerator) the number of leaves per gathering and (in the denominator) the number of leaves in each sheet. A clear explanation of his system appears in a letter of 18 February 1863 to J. Winter Jones:

I take the broadside sheet as it comes from the mill, as my standard or unit, and where the size of the page is that of half a sheet ½, we call it folio and I use the denominator 2; where one-fourth i.e. quarto I use 4, and so on, so that 10/2 means that the quire consists of 10 leaves or 5 sheets folded in folio, 8/4 would mean that the quire or signature contained 8 leaves (or two sheets) folded in quarto, and so on.[11]

The denominator of his fraction is of course what we now call format, and the fraction itself showed his recognition that book structure was not adequately accounted for simply by noting the number of leaves per gathering. One needed, in addition, to know how each gathering was physically constructed—in other words, how the leaves in it related to each other (which ones came from the same sheet of paper, which were still conjugate at the sewing-folds, and which were separate leaves that had been inserted). Bradshaw understood (and stated in print in 1868 in The Printing of the Historia S. Albani) that any useful notation for structure must distinguish regular pairs of conjugate leaves from inserted single leaves.

Thus before “format” was employed in English for bibliographical analysis, Bradshaw had developed the concept in the form that has underlain all later responsible work. And he was aware that “format” was the word used on the continent. When in October 1882 he published the presidential address he had delivered a month earlier before the Library Association, he appended to it “A Word on Size-Notation as


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Distinguished from Form-Notation,”[12] the main purpose of which was to criticize the thinking of the Association's Size-Notation Committee. He rightly deplored the use of terms like “folio” and “quarto” to denote approximate leaf size and asserted that they “represent strictly not sizenotation but form-notation” (p. 36 [406]). One may at first think that by using “form” in this way he was linking the concept not only with paper-folding but with type-page imposition as well, since “form” or “forme” was the name for the total quantity of type placed on the press.[13] But he mentioned explicitly only paper in defining (for example) “quarto” as “a term which means that a page or leaf of the book is, in size, one-fourth part of the whole sheet of hand-made paper on which the book is printed” (p. 38 [408]). After explaining such notations as “4°,” the superscript “representing the termination of the word,”[14] he added, “Every possible form of folded sheet (the French format),... could thus be represented by a perfectly uniform expression.” In contrast to the English, he went on, “Frenchmen seem to be generally taught these things as elementary facts” (p. 39 [409])—and one is tempted to add that the English confusion was abetted, if not caused, by the lack of a distinctive technical term and the resulting reliance on words like “size” and “form.”[15]

In both France and Germany bibliographical scholars did indeed follow printers' usage in their countries and employed “format” in the way Bradshaw indicated. Léopold Delisle, for example, in 1886 began his list of “conditions matérielles” to be noted in describing incunables as follows: “Le format, qui sera déterminé par l'examen des pontuseaux du papier (verticaux dans les in-folio et les in-octavo; horizontaux dans les in- quarto).”[16] Anton Einsle, in Incunabel-Bibliographie (1888), dis-


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cussed “Das Format” as the fourth element in a description and similarly mentioned the chainline-direction test (p. 10). Ernst Voulliéme, in Die Incunabeln der Königlichen Universitäts-Bibliothek zu Bonn (1894), said, “Das Format ist nach der Stellung der Drahtlinien des Papiers, nicht nach der Grösse der Bücher, bestimmt” (p. vi). And Karl Dziatzko's “Ueber Incunabelnkatalogisierung” (1896) made this the first point of description: “Zahl der Bände und Format, dieses nach der Richtung der Wasserstreifen im Papier bestimmt” (p. 113).[17] The difference between continental and English usage is epitomized by the fact that when Einsle's work was translated into English (for the second English edition—1890, under the title The Book—of Henri Bouchot's Le livre of 1886), the section originally entitled “Das Format” was called “The Size,” and it contained the statement that “a sure means of distinguishing between these several forms is afforded by the position of the wirelines of the paper” (p. 329).

Precisely how “format” moved into English bibliographers' vocabulary I have not yet discovered. Presumably the interchange between English and continental incunabulists brought it about. But in 1893 it was not yet established, for E. Gordon Duff found it necessary to use the awkward expression “form size” in his Early Printed Books. [18] After stating that confusion is caused by the “two opposing elements at work, size and form,” and after explaining why terms like “folio” and “quarto” (which “apply to the folding of the sheet”) are inappropriate for designating the measurement of nineteenth-century books, he said, “In describing old books, the old form size should be used”—as opposed, apparently, to “measurement size” (though he did not use this term). He then outlined the chainline-direction test as the way one can “very simply” determine the “size of an old book” (p. 206). In 1907 Cyril Davenport was still using “size” to refer to foldings, with some consequent confusion. He began one sentence, “The further foldings of 16°, 32°, and 64° are the same operations carried further, but although such


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sizes do exist....” Then on the next page he stated that the “sizes” (now meaning measurements) of folios vary considerably, adding, “The sizes of quartos and octavos are also very varied” (The Book: Its History and Development, pp. 75-76).

The likeliest link between the continental bibliographers and the New Bibliography in England would have been A. W. Pollard, who (in contrast to Greg and McKerrow) was a student of incunabula before turning his attention to books of the following two centuries. But, like Duff, he used both “size” and “form”: in his 1907 article on bibliographical description, he spoke of “the size (Folio, Quarto, etc.)”; in his preface, the same year, to his catalogue of J. P. Morgan's early books, he referred to a “book's technical size, i.e., as to whether it is folio, quarto, octavo, or any smaller size” (adding that these terms have to do with paper-folding, not measurements); in his 1908 introduction to the first volume of the British Museum incunable catalogue, he said, “The collation begins with the statement as to whether a book is printed in Folio, Quarto, Octavo, or any smaller form, these terms being used solely with reference to the number of times that the sheet of paper has been folded”; and in his 1910 article on “Bibliography and Bibliology” for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he stated, “The `size' of a book is a technical expression for the relation of the individual leaves to the sheet of paper of which they form a part.”[19]

Even if its exact route is not yet clear, the word “format” did show up four years later in one of the landmarks of the New Bibliography, McKerrow's “Notes on Bibliographical Evidence for Literary Students and Editors of English Works of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries” (in the Bibliographical Society's Transactions, 12 [for 1911-13; published 1914], 211-318). Regardless of where “format” first appeared in a scholarly bibliographical work in English (aside from Bradshaw's reference to it as a French word), one can at least say that McKerrow's was the most influential early use of it. The fact that “format” was at this time only beginning to come into bibliographical currency in English is illustrated by his fifth chapter. Entitled “The sizes of books. Folio, Quarto, etc.,” it referred at the outset to “the names given to the various sizes or rather `formats' of books” (p. 253). Since McKerrow's first task in the chapter was to explain why terms like “folio” do not refer to size, he obviously felt the need for a word other than “size” to designate this


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category of terms. But “format” was clearly not yet established for this purpose, since he used “size” in the chapter title and introduced the word “formats” (in quotation marks) with awkward indirectness—by saying “sizes or rather `formats' of books,” which seems (in contrast to the ensuing discussion) to imply that “format” is merely a preferred synonym for “size.” (“Format” appears only one other time in the seven-page chapter, in his statement that “the size alone will not tell us the format” [p. 255]; and in his concluding chapter “on folding in 12mo and 24mo,” he called these foldings “formats” [p. 316].) If “format” was not yet standard, however, the concept to which it referred had become “quite fixed,” he said, in bibliographers' practice: “the term[s] folio, quarto, octavo, etc., are used solely with reference to the number of times the original sheet of paper has been folded to form the leaves of the book” (p. 254).[20]

Thirteen years later, he retained most of this wording in his revised and expanded version of the “Notes” published as An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students (1927). But his substitution of “formats” for “sizes” in the title of the chapter shows how much more established “format” had become in English during the interval, as does his repeated use of the word in the body of the chapter, where the term seems to be taken for granted. The 1927 version of the chapter is considerably expanded, and it deals with more complications than the earlier version did, but it still essentially offers instruction in using chainline direction and watermark location as clues for determining format (vertical chain-lines, with watermark centered in the leaf, for folio; horizontal chainlines, with portions of the watermark centered at the gutters, for quarto; and so on). In a footnote, McKerrow acknowledged that he was approaching format through paper rather than type-formes: he referred to his fourth chapter, “where the question of the various foldings is discussed from the point of view of imposition of the type. We are here considering them from that of the finished and bound book” (p. 166). But in that


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chapter, although he did set up his imposition diagrams to reflect the type-forme rather than the printed sheet, he nevertheless described several impositions in words only in reference to the number of leaves into which a sheet would be folded.[21]

From McKerrow on, the concept of format, so named, was regularly explained in terms of paper-folding. Arundell Esdaile, in A Student's Manual of Bibliography (1931), for example, though he gave no formal definition of format, implicitly linked it with folding when he said in the third sentence of the section entitled “Format,” “The basis of the structure of the book is the folding of the sheets of paper to form the leaves” (p. 230).[22] J. D. Cowley, in another standard textbook, Bibliographical Description and Cataloguing (1949), stated succinctly (if awkwardly) that format is “the manner in which the sheets of which it [a book] is composed were folded” (p. 91). He went on to note that the Oxford Bibliographical Society, under the influence of Falconer Madan, recommended the use of format terms to refer to size,[23] and he observed


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that “otherwise it seems now to be generally recognized that the terms denoting folding or format are not to be used to indicate height or shape” (p. 93). The same year, Fredson Bowers, in his now classic Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949), never formally defined format, and his section entitled “Format” (pp. 193- 196) began by referring the reader to McKerrow's explanation of the methods for determining it. In a subordinate clause on the second page, however, he said that “format is based on the full sheet,” and his whole discussion presupposed a paper- based concept of format. And Allan Stevenson, in his comprehensive introduction to the second volume (1961) of the Hunt botanical catalogue, defined folio as “each sheet folded once,” quarto as “each sheet folded twice,” and so forth.[24]

E. W. Padwick, however, in Bibliographical Method: An Introductory Survey (1969), made a departure from this tradition when he said, “The format, besides showing how the sheets were folded, also suggests how the type-pages were imposed in the forme” (p. 65). But because this book has not had the distribution of the one Philip Gaskell published three years later (A New Introduction to Bibliography, 1972), Gaskell's formal definition of format (p. 80) is a more important instance of including type-formes in the conception of format:

In bibliographical usage the format of a book of the hand-press period means the arrangement of its formes and the subsequent folding of the printed sheets as indicated by the number and conjugacy of the leaves and the orientation of the paper in the gatherings.

This definition raises a number of questions, even when one limits it—as Gaskell does—to the hand-press period. For example, is the “arrangement” of the formes crucial, rather than simply the number of type-pages? In other words, do the impositions, say, for common and for inverted duodecimo result in two different formats? And to say that the folding is “indicated” by the number and conjugacy of the leaves and the chainline direction does not make clear how ambiguous and inconclusive those features can be. (Furthermore, does conjugacy


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refer only to leaves joined at the gutter fold? Different imposition schemes for what are usually regarded as the same format can result in different patterns of conjugacy at the other edges of the leaves.) I shall return to these questions later; at the moment my only point is that Gaskell's definition, despite its limitations, moves in a useful direction by explicitly linking format with formes of type as well as with paper.

Nevertheless, as far as its implications for his own book are concerned, Gaskell's definition might as well have been the usual paper-based one,[25] for his discussions of the analysis of format (as in the four steps he outlines under the heading of “The Identification of Format” on p. 84) focus on paper evidence. Since he does not show how typographic evidence also has a role to play in the consideration of format, his book in effect does not break from tradition and does not develop the promising hint incorporated into his definition. It is not necessary to multiply examples of the tradition beyond those I have mentioned. The unanimity of these influential introductory works shows that bibliographers have thought of format primarily in terms of paper-folding, even though they understood that the folding is dictated by the prior imposition of the type-pages. Codicologists have given far less attention to the conceptualization of format in manuscript books; but there has been an assumption—despite the fact that many manuscripts can be shown to have “impositions”—that the folding of paper or vellum provides the link with the concept of format in printed books.[26]