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Many other dealers (in both printed books and manuscripts), without the misplaced precision of such a ruler, have used format terms to refer to size; and my exasperation with this practice caused me, some thirty-three years ago, to publish a brief article in AB Bookman's Weekly, a journal often read by dealers, many of whom used it to list books wanted and for sale (“The Sizes of Books,” 39 [5-12 June 1967], 2330, 2332). The protest was of course futile.


As in his contribution to “Standard Description of Printed Books,” Oxford Bibliographical Society Proceedings and Papers, 1 (1922-26), 55-64. (For further discussion of his approach, see note 23 below.)


As Paul Needham points out in “A Note on the History of Format Names,” which is Appendix III (pp. 141-145) of his “Res papirea: Sizes and Formats of the Late Medieval Book,” in Rationalisierung der Buchherstellung im Mittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit, ed. Peter Rück and Martin Boghardt (1994), pp. 123-145. In this appendix Needham assembles quotations illustrating format terms from twenty-nine Italian documents, 1415-1501, and on the basis of those quotations offers some thoughts on the history of the development of format designations.


In 1895 it was still being italicized (and employed in this general sense by a person involved in book production) when an interview with William Morris was published in the Christmas number of Bookselling (pp. 2-14). Morris, speaking about the Kelmscott Press edition of The Earthly Paradise, then under way, is quoted as having said, “I am rather exercised as to its format, but Cockerell is in favour of this new size—a sort of mild quarto, and yet looking like an octavo.” See “The Kelmscott Press: An Illustrated Interview with Mr. William Morris” (signed “I. H. I.”), reprinted in Morris's The Ideal Book: Essays and Lectures on the Arts of the Book, ed. William S. Peterson (1982), Appendix B (quotation from p. 112). (I am grateful to Paul Needham for calling this reference to my attention.)


On paper sizes in incunables, see Needham's “Res papirea” (see note 4 above), pp. 125-135, and his “Aldus Manutius's Paper Stocks: The Evidence of Two Uncut Books,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, 55 (1993-94), 287-307. Philip Gaskell provides a historical table of paper sizes in A New Introduction to Bibliography (1972), pp. 72-75.


In the case of folio, the term reflects not the number of leaves but the fact of the fold itself. The word “folio” is obviously not parallel to the other format terms, since it does not incorporate a numeral reflecting the number of leaves in a sheet (or, to put it another way, the fraction of a whole sheet represented by each leaf). Needham (see note 4 above) has suggested that “folio” as a format term may have resulted from the fact that sheets of paper were folded once at the paper mills before shipping and that printers would have visualized paper in terms of the leaf, or “folium,” produced by folding sheets once; they may then have applied the same word to the format that results when printed sheets were folded once.


See Herbert Davis and Harry Carter's edition (1958; rev. 1962) of Moxon, p. 223. In a footnote, they conclude (after checking the OED) that “the use of `volume' [sic] to mean `format' is peculiar to Moxon.”


For fuller references to these manuals (and to the continental ones mentioned below), see Philip Gaskell, Giles Barber, and Georgina Warrilow, “An Annotated List of Printers' Manuals to 1850,” Journal of the Printing Historical Society, 4 (1968), 11-31.


I have abbreviated these titles to their essential words; full titles can be found in Gaskell (see the preceding note). The prominence of the word “Format” on the title pages can be illustrated by Schmatz's book: its full title begins Neu-vorgestelltes auf der lüblichen Kunst Buchdruckerey gebräuchliches Format-Buch, but the words “Format- Buch” occupy a line by themselves, in the largest type used on the page. For eighteenth-century Dutch printers' use of “formaat,” see David Wardenaar, Beschrijving der Boekdrukkunst (1801; pp. 200-204 of Frans A. Janssen's 1982 edition, Zetten en Drukken in de achttiende Eeuw).


“Letters of Henry Bradshaw to Officials of the British Museum,” ed. A. W. Pollard, Library, n.s., 5 (1904), 266-292, 431-432 (quotation from pp. 277-278). The best analysis of Bradshaw's contribution to modern bibliography is Paul Needham's The Bradshaw Method (1988).


Appendix III (pp. 36-39) of his Memoranda No. 7, Address at the Opening of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Library Association of the United Kingdom, Cambridge, Sept. 5, 1882 (1882). This pamphlet was reprinted in his Collected Papers, ed. Francis Jenkinson (1889), pp. 371-409 (this appendix on pp. 406-409).


The spelling “form,” often employed by the earlier English printers, has continued to be the spelling used by American printers; bibliographical scholars, however, have preferred “forme.” This difference is illustrated on one page (p. 340) of Davis and Carter's edition of Moxon (see note 8 above): in Moxon's text the spelling is “form,” and in the commentary at the foot of the page the editors use “forme.”


He noted that “the French use the formula `in-4', the German use `4.', while the English use indifferently `4to.' or `4°'”; and he registered his preference for the last.


Bradshaw's contemporary William Blades, for example, certainly understood the difference between leaf dimensions and what we now call “format,” but he encouraged confusion by using “size” to mean both. On a single page of his landmark work he first spoke of the binder “folding all his sheets into quarto, octavo, &c., according to the size of the book” (thus using “size” as some of the English printers' manuals did), and then he commented on the half-sheet printing of “the quarto sizes” (The Life and Typography of William Caxton, 2 [1863], xlviii).


Instructions pour la rédaction d'un inventaire des incunables conservés dans les bibliothèques publiques de France (1886; extract from Bulletin des bibliothèques, 3), p. 3. (My thanks to Vincent Giroud for checking the Yale copy of this pamphlet.) The 1910 edition (with a title beginning with the added words Instructions pour la rédaction d'un catalogue des manuscrits et pour ...) retains the text quoted here (p. 52).


Dziatzko's essay is in Sammlung bibliothekswissenschaftlicher Arbeiten, 10 [“Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Schrift- , Buch-, und Bibliothekswesens,” 3] (1886), 94-133. For this reference and the three previous ones in this paragraph, I am indebted to Paul Needham, who generously spent time locating them in response to a query of mine. As he pointed out, Dziatzko's footnote to the words quoted here, in its criticism of Arnim Graesel's 1890 Grundzüge des Bibliothekslehre, indicates that Dziatzko was thinking of “Format” as the leaf-sheet ratio (whereas the example of Graesel shows that not every German use of “Format” took the word in this sense).


In the chapter entitled “The Collecting and Describing of Early Printed Books” (pp. 201-212). This book was part of a series (“Books about Books”) edited by A. W. Pollard.


“The Objects and Methods of Bibliographical Collations and Descriptions,” Library, 2nd ser., 8 (1907), 193-217 (quotation from p. 210); Catalogue of Manuscripts and Early Printed Books... Now Forming Portion of the Library of J. Pierpont Morgan (1907), p. x; Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century Now in the British Museum. Part I (1908), p. xviii; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., 3 (1910), 908-911 (quotation from p. 909).


A further indication of the growing use at this time of “format” to refer to paper-folding is offered by Harry G. Aldis's The Printed Book (1916): in the chapter on “The Construction of a Book” Aldis spoke of “format (shape and size)” and then said, “The common designation of the size of a book as folio, quarto, octavo, or duodecimo... is not an indication of actual measurement, but of the number of times the full sheet of paper is folded after it is printed off” (p. 73). (It is worth noting that when John Carter and E. A. Crutchley came to revise this book in 1941, they eliminated the equation of “format” with “shape and size,” which they recognized as outmoded, and they thought of dimensions as the result of paper-folding: “measurements reached by folding them [sheets] once, twice... ” [pp. 63-64].) On the other hand, in the same year (1916) Henry R. Plomer used “form” rather than “format”: “Wynkyn de Worde printed some five-and-twenty in quarto, eschewing as a rule smaller forms” (A Short History of English Printing, 1476-1900—another book in Pollard's “Books about Books” series—pp. 29-30).


Here he used “size” (sometimes held over from the 1914 version) instead of “format” and introduced the latter in quotation marks only to postpone discussion of it (pp. 34, 36). In Appendix 5, “On Folding in 12mo and 24mo” (pp. 325-328), repeated from chapter 20 of the “Notes” (pp. 315-318), he not only used the word “formats” (p. 325) but also spoke of determining “the arrangement of the pages in the formes” by discovering “the manner of folding” (p. 328). (The difficulties McKerrow had with imposition—including his erroneous quarto diagram in both the “Notes” [pp. 228-229] and the Introduction [pp. 16-17] and his erroneous octavo diagram in the 1928 and later printings of the Introduction [p. 35]—are discussed by David L. Vander Meulen in “Revision in Bibliographical Classics: `McKerrow' and `Bowers,'” SB, 52 (1999), 215-245 [see pp. 225-229].)


Roy Stokes, when in 1967 he revised Esdaile's book for the second time, added a formal definition: “The format of a book is the term used to describe it in accordance with the number of times and manner in which the original sheet was folded” (p. 237).


Madan—from the time of his work on Oxford Books in the 1880s—was the perennial champion of this thoroughly illogical system (essentially like the one advocated earlier by the Library Association and criticized by Bradshaw). In his “Degressive Bibliography,” Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 9 (1906-8), 53-65, Madan said that in “short” and “minimum” descriptions, terms like “folio” and “quarto” “may be used to indicate simply linear size,” and he provided a table converting inches to such terms (p. 63). A decade and a half later he, E. Gordon Duff, and Strickland Gibson joined together to produce “Standard Descriptions of Printed Books” for the Oxford Bibliographical Society (see note 3 above). Each author was responsible for a different period, and each recommended differing treatments for “important,” “interesting,” and “ordinary” books (obviously a nonbibliographical classification). Madan's recommendation for the “middle period” (1558-1800) included, as before, a “table of linear measurements” giving the heights that supposedly corresponded with such designations as “4°,” “sm. 4°,” “obl. 4°,” etc. (see the section on “Size,” p. 57). The last page of this article consisted of an “Additional Note on Size Notation” by R. W. Chapman, who offered an admirably cogent criticism of Madan's approach. “When Bibliography is analytical as well as descriptive,” he said, “and its object is not merely to indicate what the bound book is like and what it contains, but also to show how it was put together, then it is important to indicate not only the gathering which constitutes a `signature' (often inaccurately called a sheet) but also, if it can be determined, the constitution of the sheet as printed.” Therefore, he went on, “bibliographers dealing with what is here called the Middle Period will find it necessary to use the old terms in the old way”; Madan's scheme “is likely to lead to further confusion in a subject already involved in some perplexity.” (For Paul Needham's comments on Madan, see The Bradshaw Method [1988], p. 28.)


Catalogue of Botanical Books in the Collection of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt, 2 (1961), ccxxix. Two widely used glossaries of the time also emphasized paper-folding but associated it with size. John Carter, in his ABC for Book-Collectors (1952), stated that “format” was sometimes used “to mean the general shape, style or appearance” of a book but that “its proper meaning is the size, as expressed by the number of times each sheet has been folded” (p. 89). Geoffrey Ashall Glaister, in his Glossary of the Book (1960), defined format as “a loose indication of the size of a book, being based on the number of times the printed sheets have been folded” (p. 144).


The same could be said of Padwick, who asserted—a hundred pages after the comment quoted above—“The format is a statement of how the sheets of paper were folded to form gatherings” (p. 165).


The most thoughtful introduction to the subject of format in manuscripts is a three-paragraph passage in Paul Needham's “Res papirea” (see note 4 above), pp. 127-128—which includes some commentary on Carla Bozzolo and Ezio Ornato's pioneering treatment in Pour une historie du livre manuscrit au moyen âge: trois essais de codicologie quantitative (1983). On the “impositions” of manuscripts, see, for example, G. I. Lieftinck, “Medieval Manuscripts with `Imposed' Sheets,” Het Boek, 34 (1960-61), 210-220, and the papers by Charles Samaran (beginning in the 1920s) cited there.