This copy of The Mill on the Floss, which cost me 2/9 (about 27 pence in today’s money, but worth a good bit more back in the sixties when I must have bought it second-hand in Cambridge) was originally published and printed by William Blackwood and Sons in Edinburgh at some time late in the 19th century. At that time publishers often didn’t bother to put any dates in their books, especially their cheaper editions; and this carries none. It promotes itself as “The Stereotype Edition” on its title page: I wonder what that said to the potential book buyer. Probably that it was an “affordable” edition. The series title page features a little drawing of Dorlecote Mill and has a totally spurious tissue overlay which looks like it’s there to protect said drawing. Spurious, because the illustration is in no need of protection, being as likely to be damaged as any of the rest of the type on that page, or any other, which was printed by letterpress from the advertised stereo plates. The tissue’s there to impress the potential buyer, who’s meant to think that that vignette of the mill was separately printed as a copperplate engraving, and is therefore delicate. The book also has six full page line illustrations (rather clunky ones) printed so as to look as if they were tipped in plates, i.e. with blank back, and not included in the book’s pagination.

The series list gives pricing for the pukka Cabinet Edition where each volume will cost you 5/-. (No discount if you bought all 24 volumes for £6 though.) I bet you got even more tissue overlays there. My book looks like it’s Crown Octavo too (it’s 5″ x 7⅜”) so they may have used the same paper on both editions. It’s stood the test of time pretty well.

A stereotype is a solid plate of type metal made from a mould of the original type. (It can also be referred to as a cliché.) One of the tell-tale signs of a stereo is its tendency to get damaged after repeated use. On the page shown below you can see along the left hand margin evidence of the plate’s having been slightly bashed, which has compressed the “h”, “w”, “c” and lower down the “d” and “a”.

You can see the hefty impression the stereo could be subjected to in the indentations on the back of the sheet. It’s called letterpress printing for a reason!

Stereotypes would be made for books which the publisher expected to print often and in longer runs. Standing type was an expense as well as being constantly at risk of pi-ing — dropping down into a heap of individual sorts. Until the development of lithography enabled publishers to print whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, the stereotype provided a means of evading resetting every time you ran out of stock.

See also Flong, a step on the way to making a stereotype.

It’s an odd book that Mill on the Floss. I remember the first time I read it wondering if I’d failed to notice that there was a second volume. It finishes so abruptly. It’s almost as if the author got fed up; maybe she’d missed her delivery deadline. Alternatively I image them shouting up “Hurry up, Mary Anne. Come on down to dinner.” and she saying to herself: “OK, OK. Let’s just drown ’em and get it done with. And then off downstairs for that mutton chop and tomato sauce”.

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