Return to site

Book Features - Gone

· Fine Book Collecting,Paper Quality,Catchwords,Book Features,Technology

Earlier this week, we acquired an older book and while looking at it, I thought there is a feature that we don’t see anymore. This led me to thinking about what other book features that were once present but now gone. So, here are three of these items.

The Quality of Paper

Up until about 1840, paper was created from a pulp of cotton, linen, hemp, and other vegetable based materials, resulting in a paper that was softer and took ink eagerly. But it was relatively expensive. Then in the mid-1800s, wood pulp was introduced into the paper slurry mix, as a cost saving initiative, and gradually wood pulp became more and more popular, and today it accounts for 95% of the paper substrates. The introduction of wood pulp resulted in a more brittle product, and one that was more susceptible to foxing and other discoloration problems. Technology has gotten better, but not before many books produced from 1840 into the late twentieth century started to depreciate and even disintegrate. During World War II, many books carried an apology for the poor quality of paper due to the inability to use more vegetable based ingredients into the paper slurry. Those books can be quite ghastly today. Let’s look at a book that was produced in the sixteenth century and examine its paper.

broken image
broken image

This German edition of Plutarch’s Works was printed in 1541. The paper is still soft and pleasant to touch after more than 475 years. The text and the woodcuts have maintained their clarity and ease to the eye. I’m sorry that you cannot reach out and caress these wonderful pages, unless, of course, you drop in for a visit!


A catchword is a word placed at the foot of a handwritten or printed page that is meant to be bound along with other pages in a book. The word anticipates the first word of the following page. It was meant to help the bookbinder or printer make sure that the leaves were bound in the right order or that the pages were set up in the press in the right order. Catchwords appear in some medieval manuscripts, and appear again in printed books late in the fifteenth century. The practice became widespread in the mid sixteenth century and prevailed until the arrival of industrial printing techniques late in the eighteenth century.

broken image
broken image

A Tour from Downing to Alston-Moor, by Thomas Pennant, was printed in London in 1801. You can see the catchword “cloud” at the bottom of the page and then at the top of the following page. By a yummy coincidence, the word cloud was followed by “berry”.

I have found the catchwords useful while reading books of the period, especially when you have to turn the page. So, in my mind it is useful to the reader as well as to the printer/bookbinder.

Now look back at the 1541 Plutarch – it used catchwords too!

The long “s”

broken image
broken image

I had to laugh when I brought up the Wikipedia description of the long “s”. Nowhere did it show an actual long “s”. I assume that being archaic they couldn’t reproduce it.

Oh well – we will sojourn on without my beloved Wikipedia.

The General History of the Late War (the Seven Years War, 1754-1763, known as the French
and Indian War in North America) was published in 1775.

The photo of the text clearly depicts the long “s”. It looks just like an “f” but the bar only appears on the left hand side of the vertical spine. And this paragraph demonstrates the rules for usage. The Short “s” or the “s” as we use today, is used when the letter is the start of a capitalized word and as the last letter in a word. Otherwise, the long “s” is used. It was hard to get used to when first reading text, but it did not take long before you never noticed the difference.

The long “s” originated in Roman times and was used in various languages up until about 1800.

Oh, and look, there is a catchword!