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The issues raised by early books bring to the fore a more basic question that underlies any attempt to conceptualize format: just how much of the production process should be entailed in the naming of formats? Clearly format is a property of books that is determined through analysis, not straightforward description. At least, that much is certain as long as we agree that format does not merely mean the leaf dimensions of a book. If format is taken to express a relation between book production and book structure, it relies on analysis, even in the simplest cases. A book that appears “obviously” to be a folio—because it seems to be like other books known to be folios—is not in fact obviously so until it has been subjected to careful examination. Such analysis may reveal, as we have seen, that chainline direction and watermark position are not always reliable guides. We may learn, among other things, that the paper was cut before printing or that the printing proceeded one page at a time or by “partial formes.” We may also learn which of the alternative imposition schemes for certain formats was used (including half-sheet imposition).


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All such discoveries are important facts about the printing history of a book, but how many of them are essential elements in designating the format of the book? Is the format of a book printed on full sheets from four-page formes to be stated differently from that of a book printed on half-sheets from two-page formes? Does format, in other words, encapsulate all that can be learned about the imposition, paper, and presswork for a given book, or does it have a more restricted meaning?

In thinking about such questions, people sometimes have a tendency to attempt to distinguish printers' concepts from bibliographers' concepts. Curt F. Bühler, for instance, in a rather unsuccessful study of what he called “mixed foldings” (gatherings with uniform leaf dimensions, constructed from sheets that were originally of different sizes) concluded that “any large-sized quarto could actually be a folio, when considered from the printer's point of view as opposed to the bibliographer's.”[80] He was referring to his point that “quarto sheets can be used for printing by `folio-imposition.'” There is no such thing as “quarto sheets,” of course, but rather sheets (of any size) that have four pages occupying each side (and his comment need not be limited to “large-sized” quartos); what he was trying to say is that such sheets can be produced by printing two pages at a time instead of four and that in such a case the result would be a folio to the printer but a quarto to the bibliographer.[81] At the end of his article, he reiterated that “`format' for the fifteenth-century printer occasionally represented something quite different from what it does to the twentieth-century bibliographer” (p. 145).

I do not think it profitable to make such a distinction. Format, to be sure, is a concept of bibliographical (that is, historical) analysis, but its whole point is to refer with clarity to something that actually happened in the past; and whether or not anyone in the past defined “format” as we may choose to do (or used the term at all) is not a significant matter. The aim is to understand what happened in the past and to convey that information clearly. A fifteenth-century printer knew how many pages he had on the press at one time and knew how many such pages it would take to fill one side of a whole sheet of the paper he was using. If he printed half-sheets from two-page formes, he obviously understood the difference between that and the use of those formes to print smaller whole sheets. Whether he thought of the one or the other—or neither—as “folio printing” is unimportant. He understood the situation in exactly the same way as the present-day bibliographer does, and it is utterly


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pointless to insist that the printer somehow saw things differently from the way the bibliographer now sees them. If that were indeed true, it would simply mean that the bibliographer had failed as a historian. The reason for constructing an analytical concept like format is to provide assistance in reporting what the printer did, and knew he was doing.

That said, the question still remains: how much of the historical situation do we find it convenient to include within the concept of format? Bühler, for example, cites with implicit approval Greg's formulation of “(2°-form) 4°” for a situation in which a two-page forme prints a half-sheet. (Greg was of course dealing with a situation that was only superficially the same as the one Bühler was confronting.) Is a “(2°- form) 4°” (in Bühler's usage) a different format from a “4°”? I think not: both are quartos and can be referred to as such with no loss of accuracy. The addition of “(2°-form)” tells one something more about the printing process, not about the format. And one could add still more: since a “(2°-form) 4°” need not have been printed on cut sheets, an indication of whether or not they were cut before printing (if that fact can be established) could be inserted into the expression. The result would simply pack more information into a compressed phrase, and whether to do it is therefore a rhetorical decision, not one that alters in any way the concept of format. Other terms, especially those designating paper sizes, have of course in the past regularly been added to format-indicators, as in phrases like “Crown 4°.” But “Crown” merely gives further information about what happened in the printing shop; it should not, I believe, be regarded as part of the format itself (a “Crown 4°” and an “Imperial 4°” are the same format). Another kind of information that has occasionally been attached to format terms is an indication of the precise imposition scheme: thus one could say “common 8°” and “inverted 8°,” “common 12°” and “long 12°,” or “ordinary 4°” and “4° imposed for half-sheet imposition by work-and-turn.” Again, I suggest, the first two are equally octavos, the next two equally duodecimos, and the last two equally quartos.[82]


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One implication of this point is worth noting here: if differing imposition schemes for the same number of type-pages do not produce different formats, then neither do differing patterns of conjugacies, which are a by-product of the imposition schemes. Conjugacies—the physical joinings of leaves at folds—can occur at any leaf-edge: there are the gutter conjugacies, which result from all impositions (except, obviously, those for broadsides and disjunct-leaf books) and which indeed must exist if gathered sheets are to be held together by sewing through folds; and there are the conjugacies of the other edges of leaves (conjugacies at fore-edges are sometimes called “bolts”), which join certain leaves in all folded gatherings except those in folio (and which are often obliterated by binders' trimming or readers' slitting). All conjugacies are aspects of book-structure, but only sewing-fold conjugacies—which are ultimately of greater structural function—have regularly been reported by bibliographers, in their collation formulas; those conjugacies of course do have a relationship to format in that the number of such conjugate pairs of leaves making up a full sheet is always half the number embedded in the format names (one for folio, two for quarto, four for octavo, and so on). One could also work out relationships between formats and outer-edge conjugacies, such as the fact that the number of upper-edge conjugacies resulting from ordinary quarto imposition is two per sheet.[83]


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The pattern of these conjugacies (how many pairs of leaves joined at the gutter-fold are combined by a single act of sewing, for example, or how many fore-edge conjugacies occur consecutively) is not, however, an attribute of format—a point already implicit in the idea that format terms do not in themselves indicate the number of leaves per gathering. A folio in sixes (in which the gatherings are quires of three sheets) entails a different imposition scheme—a different ordering of type-pages—from a folio in single-sheet gatherings, and it has a different pattern of sewing-fold conjugacies; and a duodecimo with gatherings of twelve leaves involves a different imposition scheme from a duodecimo in alternating gatherings of eight and four leaves, and it displays a different pattern not only of sewing-fold conjugacies but of outer-edge conjugacies as well. In other words, format—as I am defining it here—refers only to the number of page-units required for one side of a full sheet, not to their precise arrangement. One may properly use phrases that combine format names with the word “imposition,” such as “folio imposition,” but such phrases only identify the number of pages on each side of a sheet, not the particular pages. There is, for example, no one folio imposition but several different folio impositions—such as the second and third pages of a gathering (the imposition for the inner forme of a sheet designed for single-sheet gatherings) or the second and eleventh pages of a gathering (the imposition for the inner forme of a sheet designed to be the outer sheet of a folio-in-sixes gathering).[84] Restricting format to the number of pages, regardless of their arrangement, gives it a usefully discrete function in bibliographical analysis, one that it could not have if it were encumbered by other details of the printing process.

All these considerations lead me to propose the following formal definition:

Format is a designation of the number of page-units (whether of printing surface, handwritten text, or blank space) that the producers of a printed or


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manuscript item decided upon to fill each side of a sheet of paper or vellum of the selected size(s); if paper came to a printing press in rolls rather than sheets, format can only refer to the number of page-units placed on the press at one time for the purpose of printing one side of the paper.

For simplicity's sake, I have not included any explanations in this basic definition. But one might wish to append to it the following paragraphs of commentary:

The “designation” of the number of page-units determining each format generally takes the form of one of a series of traditional terms (most of which express the fraction of a whole sheet occupied by one leaf), such as full-sheet leaf, folio, quarto, octavo, duodecimo, sextodecimo, and so forth (or their abbreviations, such as 1°, 2° or F, 4° or 4to or Q, 8° or 8vo, 12° or 12mo, 16° or 16mo, etc.).[85]

The phrase “printing surface” is used instead of “type” in order to accommodate the possibility not only of other kinds of relief surfaces (such as woodblocks or stereotype plates) but also of intaglio and planographic surfaces (such as engraved plates and lithographic stones); the fact that the three basic kinds of surface cannot be printed together on one press, or that multiple page-units of the same kind of surface may not in some instances be on the press at the same time, does not affect the designation of format.

In the reference to sheets of a “selected” size, “selected” is meant to encompass the various situations that occur: the size selected may coincide with the dimensions of a particular stock of paper as it was manufactured or as it arrived at the printing shop or scriptorium from the manufacturer; or the size selected may be smaller and therefore require cutting by the printer or scribe before use; or it may be larger and require the pasting of papers together. Thus for the purpose of designating format, the relevant sheet size is not necessarily the manufactured size, as when extra-large paper was cut down to a more usual size, or when ordinary-sized paper was altered to another size and then treated as a full sheet. However, cutting before printing or writing was not always done to create a new size of sheet but rather as an expedient for using the original size, as when the earliest printers cut sheets only to simplify the process of printing from one- or two-page formes; in such cases, the original size remains the one “selected.” In other words, when cutting before printing or writing was the equivalent of folding afterward, the original size is relevant for format; but when such cutting was performed for the purpose of creating a new size of sheet (and thus was not the equivalent of later folding), it is the cut size that is relevant for format.

The possible plural of “size(s)” is meant to recognize that an item may


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have been printed or written on sheets of different sizes and that it therefore is of two or more formats. For printed items, this possibility is applicable primarily to books from the earliest decades of printing, when formes of the same size might print a small full sheet and half a larger sheet that could not easily be printed in any other way; but after that period, when formes normally contained the page-units for all of one side of a selected sheet (as defined above), the situation would seem to arise only if the size of the forme were altered or if two sheets were placed on the press simultaneously.

The final phrase “for the purpose of printing one side of the paper” is necessary because composite cylinder presses, with a forme on each of two cylinder-units, can print both sides of the paper at one time; but format refers only to the number of type-pages in one such forme, not to the total number of type-pages on the press.

Adoption of this definition would cause no disruption in the way most bibliographers treat format and no change in the way most printed books are already classified. What I hope it accomplishes is to state the concept in a fashion that makes it equally applicable to all situations, including those that in the past have been thought to challenge it and require special treatment. For clarity of analytical thinking, one must have concepts that can be applied uniformly to divergent circumstances.

Agreeing to this conception of format does not, of course, have anything to do with deciding how many other details of the presswork process should be reported. When I say that in a phrase like “inverted Crown octavo” the first two words do not refer to aspects of format, I am not downgrading the information they convey or suggesting that it need not be reported. In a full bibliographical description such details as the size of the sheet and of the leaf, the cutting of sheets before printing, and the precise manner of imposition should be commented on somewhere, probably in the paragraphs on paper and presswork.[86] Just where they are reported is a matter of writing or presentation, and one could certainly choose to include them in the format and collation paragraph; my point is that they are not logically required to be there, since they are not part of format. One might well decide, however, especially in brief descriptions, that such information ought indeed to be combined with format and signature collation to form a compact record of the most significant production details. Paul Needham, for example, has usefully recommended that entries in incunable catalogues should include state-


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ments on the pattern of “R4°(½-sh.),” meaning “Royal quarto printed on half-sheets.” Well aware of the fact that such expressions cover more than format, Needham describes his system as “combining paper size with format on the same description line.” It also, with the inclusion of “½-sh.,” gives one some information about presswork and outer-edge conjugacies as well.[87] Even in full descriptions, where such details are discussed in other paragraphs, a case can be made for the value of this kind of concise summary.

How one reports historical data is properly influenced both by the rigor of one's analytical procedures and by the depth of one's understanding of how the information can be used; but, as with every genre of writing, no one form of presentation will necessarily seem the most appropriate for every situation. What must be kept in mind above all is that procedural concepts should not be approached as puzzles that one struggles to fit evidence into, but rather as aids to clear thinking—for the goal finally is to set forth what happened at a past moment with as much clarity as possible.