Category Archives: Books About Books

Book Format definitions

Last week I finished David and Natalie Bauman’s Rare Finds. It does an okay job of explaining some of the more popular categories (Americana, Children’s Lit, Photography, etc.) that people collect (and some nice photography), but the really interesting stuff comes at the back of the book in the indexes, Frequently Asked Questions, Book Bindings and  More Resources sections.

One part that I want to share here is the bit on book formats. If you’re in the market for old books you will see many books’ sizes abbreviated as 4to, 8vo, 12mo and so on. You might also see the terms folio, quarto, octavo, etc. These all indicate how many time a printed sheet was folded in order to produce the pages in the book. So a quarto (meaning one-quarter) means that the original printed sheet was folded once in half and then folded in half again. This gives you 4 leaves (8 pages) all at one quarter of the original sheet.

So folio is folded once yielding 4 pages, quarto yields 8, octavo gives you 16 pages, etc. Now there was no standard size for the sheet of paper that printers started with, so there is some variance in how big to expect a book to be. But here is a handy chart of the average sizes found in older books, from page 73 of the Bauman’s book:

Again, their book is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the bibliophile’s world, but it would be good for someone thinking about collecting or for a completist collecting “books about books”.

New Basbanes Book in 2013

Nicholas Basbanes is world’s leading expert on “books about books”. In 2009, during a BookTV interview (and tour of his home library), he teased his next book about the history of paper. It looks as if that new book, titles Common Bond, will finally get finished and printed. Basbanes is slated to speak at a University of Missouri dinner next week. An interview in the school’s library newsletter (PDF download) has Basbanes talking about the book briefly, saying:

“…I am loosely describing as a cultural history of paper and papermaking. It is a story that covers two thousand years but, consistent with the way I do things, is pretty much an exercise in storytelling. I go where the good stories are.”

The book has traces paper’s invention, use and future from the earliest pulp recipes in China through the current artisan and preservation efforts of today. The folks over at the FineBooks blog (the blog where I picked up on this and one you should be reading) said that Knopf is the publisher. I checked the Knopf Fall 2012 and didn’t see it listed, so it looks like it will be a Spring 2013 title at the earliest.