Archives for category: Book manufacturing

An accessible book is one which should be capable of being read by people with vision, hearing, cognitive, or physical impairments. But making books accessible to people with disabilities that impair their ability to read sounds like a overwhelming problem for publishers. 

Bill Kasdorf, a long-time innovator, tells us in a recent Publishers Weekly article that making books accessible is neither as expensive nor as time consuming as we might assume. In fact he implies publishers already pretty much do it without realizing it. The coding we add to a book file in order to facilitate its output either as type or as a database item contains most of the tools needed for accessibility.

At bottom the difficulty in supplying books which are accessible to the disabled is the usual one with specialized markets. Publishers tend to be humane, even liberal, and would certainly like to “do the right thing”, but have to worry about making enough money to sustain their businesses. You can’t afford to print small runs of all your books directed at various small audiences. If you think of supplying books in physical form, the problem seems almost insurmountable, but digital publication appears to make the problem vanish. Want a large type version with blue type on a pale yellow background: you’ve (potentially) got it. Want it in 14pt Palatino? There you are. Want to have the text read out aloud? Again, theoretically, this can be available.

The potential market for accessible books is actually quite sizable. There are apparently 253 million people around the world with a vision impairment and 375 million with severe dyslexia. One eighth of the population of the USA can only read conventional print with difficulty. As the Book Industry Study Group’s Guide to Accessible Publishing (of which Mr Kasdorf’s article is basically a review) points out “There are more people with print disabilities globally than the total print sales for the Twilight and Harry Potter series combined”. Nor is the problem likely to go away soon: we all know how the population of the planet is aging, and the report asserts that about a quarter of people over 60 will have reading impairments.

Publishing digitally for people with print disabilities necessitates markup in the EPUB file to tag headings, footnotes, sidebars, or other text elements, as well as the imposition of a structure to enable proper navigation so that readers can move efficiently through the content. These features are basically what publishers already provide in order to make their files ready for output. Further requirements include enabling TTS (text-to-speech) so that assistive technology (AT) can be used. For blind users, a book’s images need to be described or they will remain invisible. Dyslexic readers will benefit from word-by-word highlighting synchronized with synthetic or narrated speech. For people with mobility impairments who may not be able to hold a book or turn a page, highly structured content enables efficient navigation through a text using special AT devices.

Preparing files to facilitate accessibility, going forward, is relatively simple, and presents the publisher with few additional costs — though additional costs there will be. “Born accessible”, like “born digital” requires relatively straightforward changes to work flows. However just as we experienced with the ebook revolution, dealing with legacy content — old books — is a serious cost sinkhole.

There may be a legal threat lurking over the horizon. The Americans with Disabilities Act, for instance, might be brought to bear on the provision of accessible texts. These are still early days in the digital preparation of text (twenty-five or thirty years is but the blinking of an eye) and as more and more new texts become “born accessible” the law may wake up to the fact that all of them might be.

Link to the PW article via Kathy Sandler’s Publishing · Technology · Innovation.

In the antiquarian and restoration world there are a variety of custom-made boxes to hold books or loose papers or a mixture of the two. One common type is the solander, a hinged-lid, clamshell box made of heavy board or even wood covered in a stout cloth, leather, or some other material. This one is embellished by a little pocket in the lid, to hold smaller bits of paper. The solander is named after Daniel Solander, a Swedish botanist who allegedly came up with the idea while working at the British Museum.

Daniel Carlsson Solander (1733-82) studied under Carl Linnaeus, whose classification system he promoted throughout his life. He went to England June 1760 and in February 1763, began cataloguing the natural history collections of the British Museum. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1764, and in 1768 sailed with James Cook’s Endeavour on its expedition to the Pacific. Wikipedia tells us that he holds the quaint distinction of being the first university-educated scientist to set foot on Australian ground.

It would be unusual for a book publisher to go to the extent of creating an archival box like this for one of their publications, but in the limited editions, deluxe end of the business one might find such a thing containing a book plus perhaps some loose engravings or facsimile documents.

See also Slipcase



Hardly exhaustive, but maybe of interest to some, Merriam-Webster sends us (via Shelf Awareness) a Glossary of Different Parts of a Book and their Meanings (and derivations).

There are entries in this blog about many such terms, and at one of the tabs at the top of the page you can find links to several glossaries of book and printing vocabulary.

Finch, Pruyn & Company was formed in 1865 when Jeremiah and Daniel Finch, together with Samuel Pruyn, purchased the Glens Falls Company. Shortly thereafter they bought the Wing Mill, on which site they are still located. In 2007 the company was renamed Finch Paper LLC.

Still there — the 1911 office building

They started out with various lines of business including lumber, and it was only in 1905 that they started making paper. In the early years they made newsprint and hanging paper, the basis for wallpapers. Only in the 1950s did book-paper-making get going. Finch Opaque, the sheet best known to the publishing community, was only introduced in 1963, around the time when the company installed an odor-free pulping process and moved from coal power to oil. The mill is quite close to the middle of town — three or four blocks — so you can imagine the highly scented life in the town back then.

As is usually the case the mill is built next to a constant source of water, the Hudson River. In the early days this water would provide power. The falls are just upstream from the Finch Mill. In this old postcard view the mill is just to the left at the northern end of the bridge across the river. A mill lade leads off from the upper river and flows into the mill site. Not, I’m sure, that it had any influence on the founders decision-making, but the literary-minded may be interested  to know that just under that bridge one can find the cave  in which Hawkeye and his companions hid in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. Part of the mill can be seen in the background of this photo of the cave.

Photo Kent Myers, Finch Paper

Doubtless in the olden days the lade would also serve as a delivery method for their raw material. Logs, as we all sort of know, used not to be hauled around on trucks: they were thrown into the river and dramatically floated downstream to civilization. The last river drive carrying logs from the Adirondack Mountains down the Hudson River took place in 1950. This video, from Finch, shows a drive from the thirties. A more exciting job than driving a truck for sure.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

You’ve probably come across this. You turn the page and it resists near the gutter. You peer at it and find a little gobbet of slightly stretchy translucent rubber-cement-like stuff sitting along the top edge of the page. You can see it in this picture which I took after ripping off the bit I came upon first.

This dried glue comes from the bond between the endpaper and the case. If the glue’s a bit thick near the middle of the endpaper it’ll just show as a little bump if it doesn’t end up being squashed into even dispersal. But if it’s near the edge the pressure applied in building in will make it squirt out and dribble down the book’s trimmed edge. Because it starts life pretty transparent it’s unlikely to be noticed in production. When it dries it goes about its life’s work of holding bits of paper together.

The glue, as you can see, is however no longer attached to the case. This is because, before the glue has dried, the jacket is applied, which involves opening the case and folding in the jacket flap. If there was no jacket you might find the last few pages still attached lightly to the case.

This is so obvious to anyone in the publishing business that we are liable to forget that the word stet may be opaque to some other. It’s Latin for “let it stand” and is used whenever, in checking proof or marking up a manuscript, you change your mind after deleting something before second thoughts tell you it should really remain. Write Stet in the margin and the typesetter knows that they should ignore the deletion and let it stand as previously written. To avoid any ambiguity about exactly what the stet refers to we usually put a series of dots under the words involved. We also tend to put marginal proof marks in a little circle to divide them off from any neighboring clutter.

Illustration from The Chicago Manual of Style. Stet is 7 lines down on right.

Quite what the stet means in this photo of a tattoo from BuzzFeed is a bit opaque to me: sort of like Noli me tangere perhaps. Maybe the nails suggest it’s a message about a decision to stick in a poker hand.

There’s no real way round this: from the point of view of the production department slipcases are a pain in the neck. You have to remember to get the thing designed and made in time for it to catch up with the books as they slide off the end of the binding line. The decision to do a slipcase often comes late and a rush becomes a panic. And as they are relatively unusual your colleagues all make heavy weather out of the approval process. (As I’ve often complained, if you ask any publishing person for approval they’ll find something to change. After all, if they didn’t, how would anyone else know they’d really considered the issue?) Slipcases also tend to play havoc with your budget.

Slipcases are made by the same sorts of companies that make boxes, and employ a process not utterly dissimilar to that used for casemaking: bits of board cut to size and glued to a covering material. The covering material can be any material used for binding a book, or more often perhaps, a paper covering specially printed for the slipcase. See the Peter Taylor slipcase below for an example. A cheaper compromise is to make a plain paper slipcase and stick the front of the jacket onto it. The History of Greek Art shown at this post has the front of the jacket for Volume 1 stuck to one face of the slipcase, and the front of the jacket for Volume 2 on the other.

Getting the slipcase made to the correct size is an important issue. Paper bulks are never 100% consistent so your books may turn out a little bit thicker or thinner than anticipated. Making up a dummy of each volume is essential. Since the books ship in the slipcase, you can’t have them rattling around inside, ‘cos they’ll get rubbed and bent. On occasion I’ve resorted to a thin polystyrene insert to hold the books in place for shipping — a lot better than remaking the whole damn thing. On the other hand if your book’s too fat your customers may never be able to get it out of the slipcase. You end up having to tip up the slipcase and hit it on the back to persuade the book/s to vacate. The slipcase for The Oxford Companion to the Book is so tight that getting the two large and heavy volumes in and out has lead to the beginning of a tear along the top edge of the slipcase which will fall apart before too long I fear.

Here’s one where they’ve tried to make it a bit easier to get the book out by putting a thumb-cut on both sides. Unfortunately though, the slipcase has been made a bit too deep anyway, so there’s no way you can get a grip on the book lurking in there without resorting to the tip-it-up-and-bang-it method. Also, the thumb-cut leaves the raw edge of the interior board on view, which rather works against the prestige look the publisher was obviously seeking with this leather-bound edition.

At The Folio Society they make a better fist of this with a gently bowed profile to the front of the slip case, so you can really get ahold of the book and pull it out. This works, but increases the difficulty (thus cost) of making the slip case, as getting the covering material (a stout paper in this instance) to glue around that gentle curve is tricky. I can’t actually work out how they do it: there are no cuts on the inner turnover. It almost looks like they do it with wet paper.

Here’s a compromise from Cambridge University Press using a shallow V-cut with a single cut to the turnover on the inside. This book, On Anniversaries by David Crystal was published in 2009 to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the printing of the first book in Cambridge. A royal charter had been granted fifty years earlier to print “all manner of books”. Cynics have suggested, slightly unfairly, that it takes us almost as long to bring out a book nowadays — especially if there’s a slipcase involved. This is a limited edition: limited to 4,000 copies though. Mine is number 2537.

Now in theory a slipcased edition of a multi-volume set of books is meant to have its own ISBN, while the books inside have their own ISBNs. This can be seen here on the bottom of the slipcase for Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries. The reason for this, apart from logic, and ISBN Central’s instructions, is the practical one of returns. Oftentimes there’s an incentive price on the set, so that if you bought the set and returned the individual volumes separately you’d make a profit on the deal. As it happens individual volumes of Anniversaries are not available for sale separately, so without the slipcase returns will be rejected. When/if the books become available separately they’ll show their own ISBNs and be processed as individual volumes on the way in and out of the warehouse.

I’ve occasionally wondered which way round you are meant to put some slipcased sets onto the shelves. (One used to face the same problem with CD sets, where it never seemed important to make a standard policy decision.) Because lots of book slipcases are just plain, I always shelve them with the book spines outward, but this Library of America set of Peter Taylor’s Complete Stories shows that many of them would look more impressive the other way round. Still I’m not switching.

The Library of America supplies its books two ways: in a jacketed edition supplied through the trade, and as unjacketed books available though their subscription service in a standard unembellished slipcase. I imagine the slipcase costs a bit more than the jacket which it replaces (their jacketed volumes don’t have slipcases unless they are multi-volume sets). But no doubt the difference is made up by the lack of trade discount on their book club sales. The books arrive with a little 4-page essay on the book in question slipped into the slipcase.

The weight (thickness) of the boards used in the slipcase will depend on the size of the books to be contained. For this old Penguin set of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy a thin board, about what you’d expect in a packet of spaghetti, was sufficient. You can see it’s taken a bit of a knock on the corner. On the right this tiny one from the Folio Society, a premium edition of The Lady of Shalott, has been made just like the box for a pack of cards, with one edge chopped off. Keep the flap shut and it behaves like an economical slipcase.

Below you can see an older offering from The Heritage Club (1958) which goes the whole hog. This is a fairly large book: the slipcase measures 8½” x 12″ and comes with a separate chocolate-box-type insert with a cloth tab for easy access. Both are covered in a gold-printed paper, and are made with lighter boards than the dimensions of the book might lead one to expect. The separate box contains loose facsimiles of the programmes from the first nights of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Who really needs a box-full of facsimiles of Victorian playbills? Still, given that the whole Heritage series consisted of facsimiles of Limited Editions Club books (interiors at least), perhaps there’s a world out there to whom facsimiles are just the bee’s knees. I bet the Limited Editions Club version of this book didn’t include a box of original programmes though.

Why a slipcase anyway? A multi-volume set can just be shrink-wrapped together after all. It’s all marketing of course. A slipcase has come to mean prestige. Originally they were just used as protection in shipping and were usually thrown away. For all I know there may be people today who chuck ’em, after the presentation value has dissipated. But they should bear in mind that an ancient slipcase enhances the value of an antiquarian item. In the case of a single volume there’s no practical set-identification reason, so appeal in the marketplace becomes the sole reason.


Here’s an example of a gilt top only, from The Cornhill Edition of The Works of Thackeray published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1911. The gilt top is evident in the light: the fore-edge is untrimmed, which makes any gilding impossible as it requires a super-smooth surface. The bottom edge is bare too. The book has a portrait frontispiece guarded by that sheet of tissue paper. This is exactly the kind of book which would get such an embellishment: a sort of prestige sale. Feel good about yourself for buying such a “handsome” set of volumes (no doubt offered at an attractive set price too).

The poor man’s equivalent of top edge gilding is a sprayed-on color stain such as one finds on the top edges of the old Modern Library books. A variant of the spray-on is a splatter-pattern spray, often for some reason to be found on dictionaries. Here’s an example from the Cassell’s Compact Latin Dictionary I bought at Titus Wilson’s bookshop as a 13-year-old schoolboy.

Sprayed-on color was applied to a lift of unbound sewn book blocks. A dozen or so copies would be held by boards at each end and clamped very tight so that the top edge of the books could be sanded very smooth. Then the color would be applied with a spray gun and the book blocks left aside for a while to dry off, before resuming their progress through the binding process.

Apart from Bibles though you rarely come across gilt edges. Sometimes a dictionary and the odd de luxe series. It is therefore a bit surprising to find in The Bookman’s Glossary a entry for t.e.g. which apparently meant “top edges gilt”, and was allegedly used as an abbreviation on orders to the bindery. Can’t have been too many people using that term, surely. If I’d been ordering a book with a gilt top I wouldn’t have been trusting enough to assume the guy at the other end would recognize the abbreviation. Heck I even learned not to order a set of “f & gs” from the printer: you really need to say “trimmed f & gs” if you don’t want to have to get loose with your paper knife once in a while because some junior didn’t realize what you really wanted. You may have worked in the job for years but it’s not safe to assume that the person at the other end of your communication knows all the jargon.

The Bookman’s Glossary “Fourth Edition, Revised and Enlarged” was published in 1961 by R. R. Bowker Company. Mary C. Turner, the editor, informs us in the preface “In the summer of 1924 THE BOOKMAN’S GLOSSARY made its first appearance, in serial form in the pages of Publishers’ Weekly.” At that time Bowker owned Publishers Weekly which still had its inverted comma in those less daring days. They collected the columns into a book in 1925. Even in 1924/5 I suspect you’d have been a bit rash to assume that a bald “t.e.g.” would get your top edges gilded. The preface does allow that “Abbreviations that are perfectly clear to the seasoned veteran are often obscure to the novice” — precisely the reason to be cautious in throwing them around. It may be hard for today’s novice to believe, but back when I started out if there were a query about the specs on a job this would have been handled by a leisurely exchange of letters. After a few years the telephone did grow in acceptability as a medium of communication between publisher and printer, but the urgency provided by e-mail etc. was well beyond our expectation.

The book contains a fascinating section of Foreign Book Trade Terms where you can discover that Goldschnitt is the German for gilt edges. Danes would call them güldsnit. We aren’t told what the other languages represented, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish would say. Maybe they all said t.e.g.! The section is obviously directed at a not altogether uncommon problem back then: when you’d get a letter from abroad and have to figure out what the translation might be. I’ve participated in quite a few of these efforts: this glossary would have been a big help.

See also Gold leaf, where you can find a video of a gilding machine in action.

Touch this page is an exhibition currently taking place in Boston.

Here’s notification from the organizers, received via the SHARP listserv.

We are thrilled to announce the opening of our new exhibition “Touch This Page! Making Sense of the Ways We Read,” launching simultaneously this week at Harvard University, Northeastern University, the Perkins School for the Blind, the Boston Public Library (Copley Square), and online at

“Touch This Page! Making Sense of the Ways We Read” is a pop-up-style exhibition about multisensory experiences of reading. Its central objects are 3D printed replicas from historical books for blind and low-vision readers printed between 1830 and 1910. Most of these archival materials live at the Samuel P. Hayes Research Library at the Perkins School for the Blind. We hope that, by experiencing these 3D-printed objects, you will reflect on how touch, sight, and sound contribute to experiences of reading—historically and today. Simultaneously, the story of these tactile pages guides you through a particular slice of disability history and current barriers to access understood through the principles of universal design.

Physical Locations

A pop-up style version of the exhibition is being hosted simultaneously at four locations: the Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library (at Copley Square – open now), the Perkins School for the Blind (open now), Harvard University’s Lamont Library (starting tomorrow afternoon – January 29), and Northeastern University’s Snell Library (starting the afternoon of Feb 1). Note: it may be more difficult to get into private institutions, but the BPL exhibition at Copley Square is easily accessible and open to all. The exhibition will run from the week of January 28, 2019 through mid-April 2019.

In conjunction with “Touch This Page!” we have also curated a small exhibition of original books in Boston Line Type at Houghton Library. This exhibition—“Tactile Books: Making Sense of the Ways We Read”—will be on view until 15 April 2019.

Web Exhibition

The web-version of this exhibition hosts all content from the physical exhibition including the files of the pages from the Perkins archive at so that anyone with access to a 3D printer can reproduce the exhibition and its objects at


The artifacts for the exhibition were created in partnership with Enabling Engineering at Northeastern University, the Harvard Library, and the Perkins School for the Blind. The Digital History team of Harvard’s History Department lent us equipment that helped us produce these models.


The exhibition and symposium are sponsored by the Perkins School for the Blind, Northeastern University (the provost’s office, Enabling Engineering, the Northeastern Library, and the Humanities Center), and Harvard University (the Harvard Library and the History of the Book at Harvard University).

Previously, we announced the related event “Touch This Page! A Symposium on Ability, Access, and the Archive” taking place at Northeastern and Harvard on April 4-5, 2019. For more information and to join us, register for free at https://touchthispage.eventbrite.comWe have already received a robust registration response and are currently at about half capacity for these events, so if you are thinking of joining us, please register soon!

We hope to see you there!


Sari Altschuler, co-director of Touch This Page!, Northeastern University

David Weimer, co-director of Touch This Page!, Harvard University

Here is page 346 of the New York Review Books edition of Volume 1 of Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries, a massive work of fiction excellently translated from the German by Damion Searls.

See the little foldy-over bit at the bottom, trapped in the binding. (You can click on the picture to enlarge it.) The grey and black boxes (which are really off the edge of page 345) are the data the printer uses to check the ink density while the job is running, adjusting it as necessary to keep the ink balance uniform throughout the run. You can see the torn edge at the left edge of the box: follow it down and you can see where it continues to the edge of the book. The white area you see below that diagonal line near the bottom is in fact a bit of page 344. The diagonal is a fold. Because a bit of the sheet got folded in, the extraneous color bars didn’t get trimmed off as they normally would be.

Attentive readers of this blog will immediately recognize that given the way the fold dives into the spine, we should expect to see some more action 4, 8, 12 or 16 pages further on. And this indeed we do: here’s a picture of page 359 where the rest of this little folded-in quirk turns up.

The little flap secured in the middle by the binding must have suffered this tear sometime between the impression cylinder and the end of the folding line. The book was printed by Sheridan Press: whether by sheet-fed or web press I don’t know. If it was sheet-fed one might imagine a pressman picking up the top few sheets on a skid to riffle through for evenness of color and catching a finger nail on the next sheet, not noticing that the motion of his hand pulled the flap over, causing it to be folded down tight when the sheets above were dropped back. Once the fold is in there there’s really no reason why anyone would detect it till the reader, me, finds the last couple of words on page 346 obscured. I chose not to tear it back to read the words: manufacturing mini-flaws like this are fascinating. It’s really amazing how rarely something like this goes wrong: when we find an example we need to hold onto it as a reminder of the potential fallibility of all human endeavor.

However this fold over may have happened, it is unlikely to have affected more copies than mine: another reason to cherish such freaks of process.