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2 occurrences of "roots of mechanical collation"
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2 occurrences of "roots of mechanical collation"
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If the complications in defining format were limited to those so far discussed—primarily created by double, quad, rolled, and cut-down paper, by paper from two-sheet moulds, and by broadsides and disjunct-leaf books—there would be little more to say beyond recognizing that type-formes must be given a greater role in the definition than they traditionally have been. But there is another situation that has to be accommodated, one that to some extent throws the emphasis back on the paper: when the type placed on the press is less than the amount required for one side of a sheet of paper of the size selected for a particular job. Although a printer of any period could naturally choose to operate this way on certain occasions, bibliographers are not likely to encounter the practice very often except when they are dealing with books from the earliest years of printing. Before the early 1470s printers regularly printed one page at a time, and only one type-page was on the press at a time.[63] The fact that printers in the 1450s and 1460s printed one page at a time has been recognized by incunabulists since the days of Bradshaw and Blades;[64] and McKerrow in his 1927 Introduction discussed the matter as a well-known, if not always clearly analyzed, phenomenon (pp. 57-61), regarding it as “certain” that “some at least of the earliest books were printed one page at a time” (p. 60). By the late twen-


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tieth century, Paul Needham was able to say, “One of our surest items of knowledge with regard to the earliest European printing is that in the first two decades all printing was done one page at a time, and not in imposed formes” (“Res papirea” [see note 4 above], p. 128). Under these circumstances, format for printed books of this period obviously cannot be defined in terms of the number of type-pages on the press. When four type-pages were required to fill one side of a sheet, the format has to be called quarto, even though no forme of four type-pages was ever placed on the press.

The difficulty for bibliographers arises from an associated practice of the early printers: cutting sheets for quartos and octavos before printing. Thus a quarto would be printed one page at a time on half-sheets, each accommodating two pages per side. The type-pages that were printed on each half-sheet were often chosen (one cannot say “imposed”) so as to allow for the quiring of four or five half-sheets, producing gatherings made up of two or two and a half whole sheets.[65] This result does not in itself pose any greater problems for bibliographers who wish to designate format than the common later situation in which two or more sheets printed from imposed formes were quired together. But it does reinforce a principle suggested above in connection with the turned chainlines in sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century books: that, when paper is cut before printing, the original size is relevant to format only in those instances where the cutting is equivalent to folding after printing. In the case of unusually large sheets, for example, the fact that what went on the press was only part of the sheet as manufactured does not affect the designation of format because the function of the cutting was to create a new size of sheet; the format is therefore indicated by the number of pages needed to fill each side of those new sheets, or in other words by the number of imposed type-pages.[66] Or when sheets of a normal size were altered to create a supply of the smaller paper needed for a given job, the cutting was not the equivalent of folding after printing, and again here it is the number of pages required to fill one side of the cut sheets that determines format.

In the case of half-sheet pieces of paper placed on the press in early


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printing, on the other hand, the decisive factor is not how many type-pages it would take to print one side of each half-sheet, since here the cutting of the sheets before printing was the equivalent of folding after printing. The sheets were cut only to simplify the process of printing from formes that contained fewer type-pages than the number needed for one side of a sheet of the selected size (or, to speak casually, “partial formes”); and the end result was the same as if uncut sheets had been printed from fully imposed formes, and then cut. (The result was the same, that is, except for some tell-tale clues, such as the distribution of watermarks and of mould and felt sides: when half-sheets are used, some copies are likely to display more or fewer watermarks per gathering than would be possible if the sheets had not been slit until after folding, or patterns of mould and felt sides that could not occur if whole sheets had been placed on the press.) In this situation, there was neither a full sheet (as defined for the job) nor a full forme (the amount of printing surface that would fill one side of such a sheet) on the press; but there was nevertheless a key to format in the fact that the cutting of the sheet was the equivalent of folding, and therefore the number of pages that would fit on one side of a full sheet is the relevant figure.

This principle applies even if the number of type-pages on the press, instead of being only one, were the number required to fill one side of the part-sheet placed on the press—if, for example, a quarto were printed on half-sheets with two type-pages on the press at a time. A few bibliographers have postulated that such two-page formes were standard in the early decades of printing,[67] but that contention can readily be disproved by studying the type-indentations in the printed paper (noting, that is, that the same side of the piece of paper displays both first-side and secondside printing).[68] Nevertheless, printing by two-page formes was possible as long as the coffin of the press would accommodate them, and for some printers this practice[69] may well have characterized a transition phase between single- page printing and the full-forme printing that was to


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become the norm. (The term “full-forme,” as I suggested above, is short-hand for “full-sheet-forme,” meaning a forme that would fully print one side of a sheet of the chosen size.)

The size of the platen relative to the size of the coffin (that is, to the type-area that the coffin would hold) is not in itself relevant to this question, though confusion on this point has weakened some analyses. Lotte Hellinga, for instance, in her study of the origins of full-forme printing, remarks on “the distinction between half-sheets and full sheets, and therefore the use of the one-pull and the two-pull press.”[70] But the size of the paper laid on the press is not limited by the number of type-pages in the coffin, for the paper could be large enough to accommodate more type-pages than those on the press at one time—or than the total that the coffin would hold, in cases where the frisket was not affixed to the tympan, or the tympan to the coffin.[71] And the number of type-pages placed on the press at one time need not be enough to fill the coffin. If one wishes to use the phrases “one-pull press” and “two-pull press,” all they can mean is that in the first the coffin is the same size as the platen, and in the second the coffin is double the size of the platen. But in either case one could lay on the press fewer type-pages than the number required to fill the coffin, just as the pieces of paper employed would not have to match the area of printing surface on the press. Whether in a given instance, therefore, it took one or two pulls to print one side of a piece of paper (a sheet or a part-sheet) does not necessarily correlate with whether the press itself was a “one- pull press” or a “two-pull press.”[72]


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The design of the press is of course an interesting historical matter; but the size of the platen relative to that of the coffin is not often a fact that can enter very helpfully into bibliographical analysis, unlike the determination of which pages were on the press at one time.

The important point for a discussion of format is that if four type-pages (and the spaces surrounding them) fill the area on one side of a sheet of paper of a chosen size, the format is quarto even if only one or two type-pages were on the press at one time and even if the paper was cut in half before printing. It would be wrong to regard a book produced in this fashion as a folio simply because two type-pages were on the press and they were sufficient to fill one side of each of the pieces of paper placed on the press: clearly those production techniques were only expedients for creating as the end- product a group of books with the same shape, size, and structure as would have obtained if the full sheets had been printed from four-page formes. The resulting chainline direction and watermark position will be those that ordinarily characterize quartos, if the paper was made in the usual way; but that fact cannot be the primary reason for defining this format as quarto, since as we have seen these features are not infallible guides.

The various theoretical possibilities for imposition and for papercutting that one may imagine have probably been actually employed at one time or another. For example, Dennis E. Rhodes once concluded (on the basis of the distribution of textual variants and watermarks) that the 1479 Oxford edition of Aristotle's Ethics—a “small quarto”— was printed in formes of two pages but that some sheets were cut in half before printing and others were not (the latter would therefore have been placed on the press twice for the printing of each side).[73] I have not examined Rhodes's evidence because the question at present is not whether his conclusions were correct but what implications the situation would have for the concept of format. If one accepts the treatment of single-page printing and of two-page formes suggested above, then the use of both cut and uncut sheets would have no effect on the designation of format. In the instances discussed above, the printing of half-sheets


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one or two pages at a time[74] produced quarto format not because the sheets were cut but because the total number of pages planned for each side of the full sheets was four. Thus whether or not the sheets were cut before printing (like the question of how many type-pages were on the press at one time) is unrelated to the fact that the area contained on each side of a full sheet held four pages—and that fact is what determines format. If Rhodes is right about the Aristotle, then the entire book is a quarto; the book is not made up of two formats even though the pieces of paper placed on the press to print it were of two different sizes.

This observation leads naturally to the question whether it is ever appropriate to regard a single book as made up of sheets in more than one format. The answer was easy with the Aristotle since the paper was all the same (the original sheets were all the same size, that is; whether the paper was all of the same stock is not relevant for this particular point). And whether it was cut before printing or after binding did not affect the number of pages printed on each side of the whole sheet. But what about books printed on papers that were originally of different sizes but were cut into appropriately sized pieces for placement on the press? If, for instance, half-sheets of one size contained about the same area as whole sheets of a smaller size, the two could readily be (and commonly were) mixed in the printing of a single book.[75] And if both the whole sheets and the half-sheets were printed two pages to a side, would the book as a whole have to be considered a mixture of folio and quarto? The question has nothing to do with how many type-pages were on the press at one time[76] or whether the larger paper was cut before printing; the sole consideration is that it takes two type-pages (of the uniform size established for the book in question) to fill one side of a sheet of the smaller paper and four to fill one side of a sheet of the larger


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paper. Situations of this kind usually reveal themselves by a mixture of chainline directions and of watermark positions, and incunabulists have regularly described such books as “2° and 4°” (or, obviously, as “4° and 8°” when the number of type-pages per side is doubled).[77]

Such paired format designations are in line with the approach to format I have been outlining, in which the essential fact is the number of type-pages (and/or blank pages, of course) that are needed to fill one side of a standard sheet. Some people, however, may feel that it is awkward to have to refer to a single book, with all its leaves of uniform size, as comprising two formats. Their argument might be that the mixture of papers is simply a detail of production history that need not be reflected in the term we use for the finished product. They could say that their approach is not inconsistent with what I have argued: if cut halves are treated as whole sheets when determining the format of some sixteenth- and seventeenth-century plays, or of those seventeenth- and eighteenth-century items printed on paper cut from extra-large sheets, why cannot one say, in the situation postulated here, that sheets were cut in half only to create pieces of paper that were compatible with smallersized whole sheets—and thus call the book simply a folio?

There are several objections to this reasoning. First, the larger sheets need not be cut before printing even if only half (or fewer) of the type-pages for one side of each sheet are on the press at one time. To make the timing of the cutting a determinant of format in these cases would be to give two names to the same result. Second, the extra-large sheets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were made with the understanding that each would form two normal full-sized sheets, just as much as when the papermaker created the division with a deckle; but when ordinary sheets were cut before printing, the cut pieces can be treated as full sheets only when the cuts do not serve as the equivalent of folds after printing.[78] There is a distinction to be made, for example, between (1) cutting sheets in order to make them the proper size for printing plays in standard fashion from four-page formes and (2) cutting sheets as an expedient for printing four-page sides from formes of one or two pages. The former creates a new size of sheet; the latter only produces half-sheets. Third, if one does not make this distinction in the case of early books printed from “partial formes,” those examples containing paper stocks that were originally of two sizes would have to take their format


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name from the full sheets, since one would be assuming that the larger paper was cut in half only to make it the size of the smaller full sheets. The full sheets might, however, be the minority paper in the book, and one could equally well argue that they were used as a convenient supplement to the dominant paper, since they were the same size as half-sheets of it. Or, of course, the two papers could be fairly evenly mixed, in which case it would seem still more arbitrary to choose one as the determinant of format. Fourth, the whole idea that a single book must be called by a single format name is reminiscent of the vague use of “format” to refer to shape and size.

If format designations are to signify something precise about the relation of process and product, I see no alternative to classifying certain books as being of two formats.[79] The routines of the earliest printers can be consistently and systematically accommodated to the same concept of format appropriate for later books, as long as one focuses strictly on the number of type-pages (and/or blank pages) used to fill one side of a full sheet, recognizing that any cutting before printing was only the equivalent of folding after printing.