Book Terms

Books sizes

The paper made was cut into a standard size. It is dependent on the folding of these sheets that give us the sizes:

Folio: fold once / therefore two leaves   (Book size approximately 12 x 19 inches plus)

4to: folded twice, therefore four leaves    (Book size approximately 9.5 x 12 inches)

8vo: folded four times therefore 8 leaves    (Book size approximately 6 x 9 inches)

16mo folded eight therefore 16 leaves    (Book size approximately 5 x 7.5 inches)

32 mo folded 12 therefore   32 leaves      (Book size approximately 3.5 x 5.5 inches)


This terminology had been used for centuries to describe book sizes until metrification in the 1970’s when A1, A2 etc has taken over. But they still basically apply.

After the book has been folded, it is sown along on the fold. The segments of leaves are sown yet again, joining all the segments together at the fold. Books can have different bindings, paper, card and leather

Very Brief History of Printing

Early books, as we know them, were originally written by hand on parchment or vellum. Printing and the books terms date back to the early 1450’s.The Gutenberg Bible being the first printed book was printed in Mainz, Germany by J.Gutenberg. Each letter would have been hand cut in reverse and placed onto a line, in reverse for printing so that in the printing, the letters would appear correctly.  Errors would occasionally occur in this process, such as numbering of the next page, wrong letters put in etc. Quite often, as an aid to the typesetter, the last word on the previous page would be printed on the top edge prior to text. Originally wooden letters were used, however, over centuries and with industrialisation, metal letters were introduced. In 1890’s the mechanisation of typesetting allowed automated casting of fonts. Phototypesetting   was used briefly 1950’s to 1990’s, however the introduction of computing within book production and the Newspaper industry. It decimated a whole industry that had been going for centuries. In London, Fleet Street and St. Pauls Yard had been a hive of printers and book sellers. The book industry around St. Pauls was destroyed in the Second World War by bombing  the vast stocks of paper being an additional fire hazard. Fleet Street, the centre of Newspaper publishing was changed forever as the manual craft of typesetting was replaced  by digital typesetting  and desk top publishing. Book and Newspaper production being revolutionised and changed forever. The question facing academics is how one can store the written word forever in a digital format that cannot be changed, as we have seen each new format is quickly superseded and infomation built up over years can be lost in a moment. Prehaps there is still a role for the printed word?

Paper & Paper Production

Hand Made Paper

Cellulose fibres (typically and normally from the cotton plant) are ground up and mixed with water. This mixture of fibres and water, which is very dilute, is called pulp. It is passed into a vat in which it is agitated mechanically to give an even concentration, the papermaker (vatman) stands by with a pair of moulds. A mould is a rigid wooden frame covered with a fine wire mesh. He produces a sheet of paper by dipping the mould into the pulp and lifting it out with a shaking action. The water drains off leaving a matt of fibres in the mould the outer edges of which is called a deckle. The edge of the sheet is at the deckle, but one gets fibre seepage under the deckle. Thus the edge of the sheet is not a sharp edge, but a rather ragged graduation down to nothing – this is called a deckled edge and is the natural edge obtained when paper is made by hand. Because of the method of manufacture, the fibre orientation is random and there are no significant differences in properties of the sheet in the long or short direction.

Mould Made Paper

Pulp is prepared in the same way as for hand-made paper and is usually of the same high quality raw materials. At the point of manufacture, the process is now automated and the pulp is passed into a vat that contains a rotating cylinder partly immersed in the pulp, again covered in a fine wire mesh. This is the cylinder mould form which the paper takes its descriptive name. As the cylinder rotates, the fibre forms into a matt on the outside of the cylinder. Just after the highest point of rotation and before re-entering the vat, this matt of fibres is couched off onto a felt and removed continuously from the point of manufacture to be further processed. Because of the nature of the machine which is usually run very slowly, although there is a difference in properties between the long and short directions of the paper but not so pronounced as for commercially manufactured machine-made paper (see below).

Machine Made Paper

Again cellulose fibre is prepared to give a pulp in low concentration in water. Commonly, but not always with machine-made paper, the pulp is of lower quality than for either of the above. This is now passed onto a horizontal fast moving wire mesh and the excess water drains through, leaving the sheet formed on the wire. This principle was developed by the Fourdrinier brothers and this type of machine is called a Fourdrinier machine. This machine is accepted today as giving the most economical production and is used to produce large quantities of cheaper paper which are produced at high speed. Because of this normally high speed production, the sheet will show very marked differences in properties between the long and short direction of the sheet.

Excerpt from:  John Purcell Papers, London


Prior to the Eighteenth century most books were of a religious or practical nature, science, gardening, husbandry, medicine and such like with the occasional classic such as Virgil, Chaucer, books of fables and emblem books. However more practical books tended to have a shorter life and an inverse ratio has resulted in preponderance of the less read ‘Classics’.
However, in the eighteenth century there was an explosion of printed material available to purchase. This was due to the Donaldson Verses Beckett ruling which confirmed that a large number of works and books first published in Britain were now in the public domain, either because the copyright term granted by statute had expired, or because they were first published before the Statute of Anne was enacted in 1709. This opened the market for cheap reprints of works from  Shakespeare, John Milton and Chaucer, works now considered classics. The expansion of the public domain in books broke the dominance of the London booksellers and allowed for greater competition, with the number of London booksellers and publishers rising threefold from 111 to 308 between 1772 and 1802. It was in this period that there was an great increase in the number of novels, itself a new form of publishing, and the first wave of novel writers including Jane Austen, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding.
To save on costs, some early books, not all, were with just a plain cardboard cover. Sometimes often this was covered in a coloured paper, often made in Holland and known as a ‘Dutch Paper’, with a cloth spine. It was up to the owner of the book to commission and pay for a book binder to cover it with a fine or plain leather binding. Commercial booksellers and stationers would buy the unbound sheets and arrange for these to be bound in a variety of paper and leather bindings, to be sold directly to the public. Therefore some books have publisher’s bindings; other books have various variant bindings. To save costs even more, some pamphlets and early children’s books (known as chapbooks) just had paper wrappers.
These objects which had been the preserve of the rich, the nobility and the church thus found their way into the hands of the common man or woman and their children.