Archives for category: Why is that?

We have long lived in a book world where there’s an apparent fiction at work over the ownership of the books as they sit about between publisher and ultimate customer. Bookstores send publishers orders, and the publishers (if the bookstore’s credit record is clear) will ship the books to them accompanied by an invoice, billing the cost of books, less discount, to the bookseller’s account. All seems pretty straight-forward: the bookstore has bought the books. Bookstores tend to get fairly generous credit terms from publishers, and may not face having to pay anything for two or three months. From an insurance perspective the books do now indeed belong to the bookstore: if the shop burns down, the bookseller’s insurance company is the one on the hook. But essentially the bookstore has those books there on a sale-or-return basis. If nobody comes into their shop to buy the books they will pack them up and return them to the publisher for full credit. The publisher will even pick up the freight cost. Thus in a way the bookstore doesn’t finally “own” the books till they sell them. This is formally termed a guaranteed sale arrangement.

Taking the logic of returns further, we now effectively live in a world of consignment buying, as reported in Shelf Awareness of February 18th 2014. Consignment is also called sale-or-return, although consignment selling might in its purest manifestation involve payment of a commission on the sale, rather than conversion to a discount sale as is done with books.

The reason the book trade came up with the idea of offering full returnability, is basically a marketing issue. You want to have books available in bookstores at publication date, preferably in profusion, so that anyone who reacts to the marketing hullabaloo by impulsively deciding to part with their money is able to do so without having to wait for a special order to arrive, by which time second thoughts may well have supervened, or the impulse to buy something else preempted the funds. To achieve this hyper-stocked position your sales representatives will seek to persuade bookstores to order more stock than they’d ever need under any circumstances other than the wildest bestsellerdom. It’s in the publishers’ interest for bookstores to over-order: it’s in booksellers’ interest to order cautiously. To overcome this dilemma the publisher moves the financial risk from the bookstore to their own accounting department by guaranteeing to take back unsold copies. “See safe” terms was what we often called such consignment deals in the days before they became the norm. This terminology was invented in Britain in the thirties when suddenly no-one could afford to buy anything. Better to have some books in front of the retail customer than to insist on the niceties of normal trade terms, so we’d see the bookseller safe so that we could make a sale.

The wheeze of guaranteed sale/sale-or-return, which now governs trade publishing, originated in the USA. When I worked in book sales in Britain in the sixties, the idea of returns hadn’t been invented — in the UK at least. I might occasionally get a phone call (actually, in those days it would almost certainly not have been a phone call, but a letter) from a bookshop that had made an ordering error, and of course we’d agree to take the books back for credit. But this was a very rare happening. We did however occasionally make arrangements for a consignment or see safe sale. Perhaps there was a special event, and the publisher would arrange for books to be supplied to the local bookstore on a see safe basis — after all who could know how many attendees there’d be and what proportion of them would want to buy a copy. Publishers are by nature optimists, but in many instances the reason for offering books for sale was mainly to appease a demanding author. Not fair to impose the cost of such promotion of the bookstore. These see-safe books would go out with a pro-forma invoice, recorded on the bookstore’s account but not billed to them. After the event, the books sold would be billed and unsold copies would be returned, though if there weren’t too many, they would often just be put into stock by the bookshop and paid for too. These sorts of book promotion events occur regularly to this day.

Europeans are more down-to-earth here: Germans call it fett, fat; the French say gras, also fat. The Italians have neretto (black) or grassetto, and Spaniards go for letra negra or just negrilla. The Oxford English Dictionary gives c.1871 as its earliest quotation for bold in the sense of boldface type. (The use of boldfaced as describing an impudent person goes back to 1692, not really all that much earlier.) What did we call boldface type before that? No trace.

The fact is that prior to the nineteenth century we didn’t call bold type anything because it simply didn’t exist. Paul Luna in Anniversary Essays on Johnson’s Dictionary edited by Jack Lynch and Anne McDermott (CUP, 2005) informs us “The use of bold type for headwords in English dictionaries seems not to have come about until the 1870s, some thirty years after the introduction of the first boldface types, called Clarendon, by a London type-foundry [Robert Thorne’s Fann Street Foundry]. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, black-letter had provided a color contrast analogous to the use of boldface with roman.” Originally bold types were cast in larger sizes since they were really intended for advertising and posters.

But why did we English speakers opt for a word meaning courageous rather than the more obvious fat, heavy or black?  Well, recall that as time passes the meaning of simple words can migrate. In earlier times bold also meant big, plump, well-filled. One example quoted by the OED from 1787 is “Being a bolder and better grain, weighed heavier”. Thorne’s original faces do seem to have been referred to as fat at the time. Maybe Victorian prudery took over and demanded a less physical term.

Nowadays we have semi-bold and bold, extra bold, heavy, grotesque, and yes, fat. There’s no reason why you can’t call that typeface you just designed whatever you want, and there are no hard and fast boundaries between these terms, but I list them roughly in ascending order of fatness. Fonts in use has a nice survey of fat faces, with lots of graphic examples.

Publishers like to use French flaps to give a paperback a de-luxe look, and justify a higher price. They are quite fashionable these days as are all sorts of embellishments to our books. (Once upon a time there was a more general consensus that the content was what would sell the book, though I guess even back then we did try to make our jackets pretty.)

French flaps are just like the front and back flaps on a book jacket transferred onto a paperback cover. They do increase your costs, partly because they use more cover board, but mainly because they split the trimming process into two steps. The fore-edge of the book block has to be trimmed before the cover goes on — if it wasn’t you’d end up with handy bookmarks in the front and back of the book when the guillotine chopped off the edges. Then after the cover has been applied to the spine, the book gets trimmed again to chop off the top and bottom margins. Not every book manufacturer is set up to provide this option, so price and scheduling can be issues. There’s always a risk of over-trimming the fore-edge so that the cover overlaps a bit too much. The opposite effect, leaving the white pages sticking out beyond the cover is so awful that the safety margin is moved inwards. Be it said, the manufacturer of the Very Short Introductions series does a pretty good job in this regard.

Originally typecases would all be locally designed. Each printer would bang up a typecase out of bits of wood to suit his own preferences. A different case would be made for different type sizes and different typefaces. Their layout would of course be the same. As time went by layouts would doubtless tend to converge: here’s an 18th century English layout from John Smith: The Printer’s Grammar (1755).

The two cases would be arranged one above and behind the other. The upper case contained Caps and Small Caps and other less frequently used sorts, and this arrangement gave rise of course to our common parlance distinction between upper and lower case letters. Whether the layout of this double frame of typecases from Oxford is the same as Mr Smith’s example or not, we cannot tell.

A composing frame from Oxford

The point of the two part arrangement was to cut down on arm movement in order to increase the speed of typesetting. The size of the space allowed for each sort was determined by the letter’s frequency of use. The most commonly used letters would be placed together in the middle, for the same reason. The upper case tended to be left in alphabetical order. But, lovers of tradition as printers must ever be, Cap J and Cap U followed Z, because in the earliest days of printing J and U were not used by English printers, and were only added on later!

The California job case, which originated in San Francisco, swept America in the mid nineteenth century and got rid of the upper/lower arrangement, putting caps on the right. It was alleged that it cut down ½ mile’s worth of arm travel a day as compared to its predecessor the Italic case layout. I guess experienced compositors had gotten used to having their Js and Us next to Z by then.

Note the spaces, Quad, Em quad and En quad almost next to the Caps, and the 3-em space nearer the middle of the lower case sorts, as it would be what was most frequently used as word space. A 3-em space is, confusingly, not 3 ems wide: three of them together will make up one em.

A visit to the Mackenzie & Harris typefoundery, from which this layout is a keepsake is highly recommended. It is housed in the same building in The Presidio in San Francisco as Arion Press, whose future, consequent upon the retirement of Andrew Hoyem, is we all hope in the safe hands of the Grabhorn Institute.

Squares are what we call those little bits of cloth showing (in a hardback) around the edges of the endpaper where the endpaper is glued into the case holding the book in the binding. In the picture below, the squares are the blue bits showing around the green endpaper. In an ideal world the squares will be an even all around, about 1/8″ in a 6″ x 9″ book. As a book comes off the binding line the glue is still wet and the book block can be squished around to even up the squares, but because this costs it’s not much done now.

In this photo you can see that the squares are not exactly even, which is a little embarrassing because this is Volume 2 of Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The printing press as an agent of change. Still, not too bad, and let’s assume all the others were perfect. Book loving production people will also make sure that a slightly faulty book doesn’t get into stock. This they do by selflessly taking the “faulty” book home to read. I am embarrassed to confess that I have indeed heard a colleague offer to hurt a book for me. (I’d usually say I’ll take it uninjured!)

You can also make out by the shadows the edges of the cloth where it’s folded over the board forming the case. Along the spine you can also discern by its shadow the mull liner which adds strength to this binding — it is glued to the spine of the book block and held between case and the endpapers at front and back. There’s a useful diagram at my earlier post Hardcover parts.

Very rarely you’ll see a big fat book bound with almost no square at the bottom, so that the bookblock isn’t hanging within the case, tempting it to tip forward towards the fore-edge, weakening the bond at the top of the spine. Not sure whether there’s a mechanical reason why we don’t do this, or whether it’s just habit (or more darkly a desire that the book should fall apart, necessitating replacement with a new copy).

Like so many things we used to spend our working days caring about evenness of squares is hardly a matter of concern these days. The book market, certainly the trade book market, is price sensitive, so little quality touches tend to fall away in an attempt to preserve margins.

A crusher panel is what we called the die used for blind stamping. Blind stamping is a stamping hit made without any gold or colored foil between the die and the cloth. Foil stamping involves the application of heat and pressure, transferring the foil from its carrier onto the case. A crusher panel might be used to create a sort of pseudo-three-color effect. You can see the effect of the crusher panel behind the title, Novels 1959-1965, of this Library of America book. In a toothy cloth like the Brillianta LOA use, a crusher panel will smooth out the surface of the cloth a bit, so that detail in the stamping will look clearer.

Behind the author’s name you can see that there’s a foil panel of dark blue. After that panel has been stamped onto the cloth, the rules + author + title is stamped in gold foil. Three dies (brasses or Chemacs in UK) may have been used, one for the crusher panel, one for the dark blue foil panel, and one for the gold foil. I say “may” have been used because it would be possible to make ready the stamping machine to do both flat panels, the dark blue one and the crusher panel, at the same time. The dark blue foil would be fed in from left to right on a thin strip, aligned so that it didn’t overlap the blind panel. A little bit fiddly to make ready, but probably worth while in a run as long as this one no doubt was. In that case the foil panel and the crusher panel could be carried on a single metal die, made with a little space between the two panels.

Here’s a picture showing how we used to manage to get our dies to fit the spine width. These two volumes are dummies, produced to check on the width of the stamping dies, as well as the fit of the slip case. Normally dummies would be made from blank sheets of the same paper you were going to use to print the book. These dummies were made later: they contain the printed text and illustrations. Dummies are expensive: you are binding a single copy, by hand, after all. So why waste your money?

Bear in mind that paper is sold by weight. Weight here means basically how much fiber there is per square inch. Nowadays paper machines are sufficiently well monitored that we can be confident that a 50# paper advertised as having 384ppi (pages per inch) will hit 384 pretty closely over the run. To go to the other extreme, imagine a hand papermaker’ vatman trying to keep his basis weight steady and maintain a consistent thickness just by dipping the mold into a bath of pulp and water: the better you are at it, the better you’ll get at approaching the target. But it has to be a wide target; total consistent is obviously unattainable. (The fascinating video at Paper making by hand 4 is well worth looking at to see the craft involved.) In the 1960s and 70s we lived somewhere between these extremes: thickness was fairly consistent, but not sufficiently accurate to hang your hat on. Thus we’d produce a dummy book on most projects where the width was critical. The majority of these were blank paper dummies and lived on to contain the artwork of many a little scion of the production department tree. I use the one from Alastair Fowler’s Triumphal Forms as a commonplace book.

The two-volume set illustrated, of Martin Robertson’s A History of Greek Art, was printed by letterpress and bound at The University Press Cambridge, with six 32-page signatures of plates printed offset by Westerham Press, Kent, in volume 2. It’s perhaps odd that despite the mixture of two papers in Volume 2 that’s the one we managed to guess right when we had dies made for the spine stamping. I suppose the dies made for volume one would just have been thrown away — many a production worker had nice brass as a paper weight on their desk — and new ones produced for the run. Presumably we managed to delete VOL before 1 before the final run. The books are in excellent condition, but the slipcase has endured some of life’s knocks, which is of course it’s function. I wouldn’t be utterly amazed to be told that the cloth used on this set was also the Dutch-made Brillianta, like the backcloth used on the Library of America volumes.

Codex is the word used to indicate that form of content holder which we think of as a book: a bunch of folded pages held together on one side and conventionally, but not necessarily, protected by some sort of cover. It can also be used to indicate a manuscript volume: The Codex Sinaiticus is a famous example. Indeed The Oxford English Dictionary gives this as its single bookish definition, ignoring the folded book/not-scroll definition, which meaning has presumably evolved in the last century or so, maybe as a result of the growth of book history as an academic subject: this OED entry is one of those not revised since 1891. They cite a listing of recipes for medicines as their only other non-obsolete meaning for codex. My school Latin dictionary (published by Cassell & Co. in 1927) gives “codex, codicis, m, = caudex, trunk of a tree; a book, composed of wooden tablets, covered with wax; a book, document.” This all seems a bit more definite than other sources suggest: but maybe there really are Latin documents which use codex in the sense of wax writing tablet. The editor, Professor Thomas, is obviously plumping at least for the derivation of the bound book from wax tablets. But if we are starting off with caudex, a tree trunk, log, block of wood, ending up with “book” may a bit of a stretch, but there are theories. Perhaps we’ll have to await the OED editors’ adjudication when they get around to updating this entry.

The development of the codex is often held to be associated with the Christians in 2nd century Rome. The earliest known reference however is from Martial in the 1st century who encouraged his readers to buy his poems in this new format. “You who long for my little books to be with you everywhere and want to have companions for a long journey, buy these ones which parchment confines within small pages: give your scroll-cases to the great authors – one hand can hold me.” Sounds a bit like paperbacks for railway journeys, doesn’t it? I still like my suggestion that the preponderance of early codex volumes from Christian sources is not a result of there being more of them in the first place. Rather I suspect it was a result of differential survival rates. Monks would no doubt go to considerable trouble to hide their codices — they well knew how laborious they were to create — and would clearly be more motivated to save the devotional literature on which their life was grounded rather than those bulky pagan classics, while reading laymen, thin on the ground anyway, might be less heedful about their books when the Vikings were landing. Thus more “Christian” codexes would survive the times of trouble, no matter whether there were more or fewer of them at the start. It’s dangerous to draw conclusions from the absence of evidence, but we shouldn’t altogether ignore it in making our guesses.

To come up with the idea of the codex we did first have to “invent” the page. Scrolls, the functional predecessors of the codex, weren’t of course written in mile-long lines; their text was indeed divided up into blocks which could be said to resemble pages. They were only written on on one side though. Some papyrus pages were first found at Oxhyrynchus in Egypt, written on both sides and thus presumptively from things we’d call books rather than scrolls. The presence of page numbers is also diagnostic — they were obviously not needed if you were just unrolling a scroll as you read. But papyrus was liable to break when folded, and was in any case more suited to the hot dry climate of Egypt than to Europe’s more humid environment. We can say with some confidence that the codex format couldn’t really take off till there was a regular supply of parchment. Exactly when parchment was invented, or more importantly was perfected is not know. Herodotus says that writing on skins was common in his time, the 5th century BC, but what’d be needed would be a regular supply of good quality, and we can only speculate rather circularly that such conditions began to appear in 1st century Rome, as attested to by Martial.

Keith Houston’s The Book has just been published, and is, as I’ve said in my review, an invaluable resource on many topics including this one. Here’s a piece of his for BBC.com about the origins of the codex.

Both of these techniques arrive at the same destination, a wooden block with the background carved away, leaving a raised image which can be inked and printed by letterpress along with the types making up the text.

Boxwood sample from Hobbit House Inc.

They differ in that wood engraving is done on the end grain of a block of wood (often boxwood) whereas a woodcut will be done on the more easily worked side grain. In this photo the end grain is seen on the right hand side.

Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) is credited with the invention of wood engraving, and he certainly was a master of the craft, engraving fine lines which the end grain could hold in a way that the side grain couldn’t.

However, one has to recall the detail which Albrecht Dürer had been able to achieve in his woodcuts four hundred years earlier. Here for example is St. John devouring the book from Revelations X.9 “And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.” Dürer’s book is surely a bit more than a “little book” but he does manage to get lots of fine detail into this woodcut. One commentator claimed you could read the words on the pages. The Web Gallery of Art enables you to increase the size of its image to 200%, but even at that I can’t tell whether the words really are recognizable.

By the early years of the nineteenth century the technology of printing illustrations in books had advanced to quite sophisticated levels. The peak of excellence was offered by copperplate engraving, whereby a craftsman delicately gouged out little lines of metal from a smooth plate to allow the remaining image to be printed either as an intaglio or a relief print. The stability of the metal allowed for delicate lines, and marked a significant advance over the earlier method of woodcuts.

But do not assume that just because something is better it automatically takes over from all contenders. There was a hefty installed base of woodcut operators, and because copperplates cost more and required printing on a separate press they were thus only employed on deluxe projects. (Because these copperplates had to be printed on a different press and added in later to the text pages, they were known as “plates”, a term we still use in a rather debased sense, sometimes even using it to designate just a full page halftone.)

One cannot perhaps argue that this whimsical vignette contains more detail than Dürer’s work; but this feather just wouldn’t have been possible as a woodcut.

Bewick was born in Mickley near Newcastle upon Tyne, and spent his working life in that city (recoiling from an eight-month stint in London). A better draftsman than scholar, Bewick was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to Ralph Bielby, an engraver, and quite quickly switched from engraving on metal to doing his work on end-grain boxwood. This was not only cheaper but enabled the engravings to be incorporated into pages of metal type and printed in one pass. The pinnacle of their partnership was the publication of Bewick’s A History of British Birds in two volumes, Land Birds (1797) and Water Birds (1804).

One of Bewick’s blocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a video showing Thomas Shahan making a woodcut

If you don’t see a video here, click on the title of this post so that you can view it in your browser.

And now a video of a wood engraving:

The project described in this video was set up by the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. The engraving is being done on end grain maple off-cuts from their wooden type. As you can see the techniques are very similar, with a wood engraver being able to use finer tools to create tinier detail.

Jenny Uglow’s Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick is an excellent biography.

How many sheets of foolscap must I have disfigured in the cause of education? Nowadays, when we mostly live in that European-inspired world of boringly logical standardization based upon numbers and fractions thereof (I blame Napoléon), school children in Britain are no longer directed to write their essays on so many sides of foolscap. It’s A4 they’d use. In my schooldays foolscap meant a tall pad of white paper, around 8″ x 13″, ruled in pale blue, perhaps with a red double-lined vertical margin on the left. I suppose the word foolscap is rapidly traveling towards that fatal dictionary designation, Obsolete.

Jester’s cap watermark. National Gallery of Australia

It’s not altogether obvious why a sheet of paper slightly shorter and slightly narrower than legal size paper, should have had such a fanciful name attached to it. One theory is that paper of that size was manufactured with a watermark showing a jester’s cap (a fool’s cap), but there doesn’t seem to be evidence that sheet sizes were ever designated by watermarks. Nonetheless Keith Houston, in The Book, retells the story of the Rump Parliament’s ordering that a jester’s cap be used as a watermark on paper used by Parliament in place of the traditional royal arms. This is a neat historical joke, but does reek of back formation.

The Oxford English Dictionary will have nothing to do with it, stating in a rather lengthy aside “It has been asserted that the fool’s cap mark was introduced by Sir John Spielmann or Spilman, a German who built a paper-mill at Dartford in 1580; but we have failed to find any trustworthy authority for this statement. The Brit. Mus. copy of Rushworth’s Hist. Coll. (1659) is marked with this device. The watermark called by Sotheby ( Princ. III.) a ‘fool’s cap’, and said by him to occur in some copies of Caxton’s Golden Legend, seems not to be correctly so called. The catalogue of the Caxton Exhibition (1877) states that examples of the fool’s cap, dating from 1479, are found in a German collection there exhibited. There is no foundation for the often-repeated story that the Rump Parliament ordered a fool’s cap to be substituted for the royal arms in the watermark of the paper used for the journals of the House.”

The OED‘s earliest source for foolscap in the sense of a paper size dates from 1699, from A new dictionary of the terms ancient and modern of the canting crew, where it is defined “Fool’s-Cap, a sort of Paper so called.”

So far, so circular. The watermark idea sounds plausible, but that of course doesn’t make it true. The Oxford Companion to the Book opts, rather tepidly, for the watermark origin, adding, to complete the circularity of their argument. “it is the clearest example of a watermark being used to name a sheet size”. (Wouldn’t it actually be the only example?) The German connection hinted at above prompted me to do a bit of German research. I find no hint that they ever referred to any sort of paper in terms having anything to do with jesters’ caps.

Paper wrapper (From Paper in Printing History, Lindenmeyr Paper Corp. 1979)

For what its worth my bet is that the name — which obviously has to come from somewhere* — results from a wrapper put around sheets of paper of this sort of size and merchandised by a medieval papermaker with a jester’s cap on the label. See the wrapper in this picture: the paper it contained could easily have been called “lion”. By their very nature disposables like this very rarely survive, just as word origins for commonplace articles are infrequently recorded.

It  also seems difficult to be absolutely precise about the measurement of foolscap. I suspect that different manufacturers chopped it off at different points depending on convenience. In my size comparison with legal paper not only does the term foolscap appear to be becoming rare; legal sheets of paper seem to be at risk of disappearing. As the site papersizes.org informs us “Nowadays with the proliferation of cheap printers Legal paper is becoming less common as the cost of having two paper trays in a printer is significantly greater than just having one and Letter size paper is winning out when printers only have a single tray.”

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* I fear that the history of British (and other) paper names is far too convoluted, extensive (and be it confessed, confusing) to be adequately covered in a blog post. The site papersizes.org, linked to above, makes a stab at it via the tabs in the gray bar at the top. I did have a partial go in the early days of this blog.

I wonder if the reason Sponge Bob or Bart Simpson have yellow faces doesn’t have more to do with CMYK than with the RGB solution this video suggests. Of course lots of modern cartoon characters have been developed for TV but the conventions may have been established before that in newspapers and comics, where absorbent papers demanded large screens and spot colors, subtractive rather than additive color.

Still, this is interesting. Maybe yellow does stand out against a blue background being complementary on the RGB color wheel. But just because the sky is blue doesn’t have to mean it’s the constant background color in a cartoon. What about green grass? Wouldn’t complementarity make us want the faces to be magenta?

I just bet the convention predates television, so that the explanation is rather more ink-based.

Link thanks to David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen.