my syllabus is a quarto

As some of you know, I am the queen of folding exercises. It’s the only way to understand early modern book formats, and I like puttering around coming up with better ways to demonstrate this to my students and even to my blog readers (see here and, most recently, here). Because it’s that time of year when I get my syllabus in order and because, thanks to my week at Rare Book School’s Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description, I have format on my brain, it suddenly dawned on me that instead of just handing out my one-sheet syllabus (the bulk of my syllabus is online), I could hand it out as a folding exercise!

And so, after much fiddling with Word (which really isn’t the right tool for this sort of thing), I have at long last produced my syllabus in quarto format!

I’m pretty crazily excited about this. I didn’t number the pages of the syllabus, because that would be giving the game away, but I did try to include lots of hints to figure out what order the pages go in: there are signature marks on the second and third leaves, lots of numbered sequences, and a clear title page. I’ll let you know how it goes in class. I had fun, if nothing else, but I think it might help us start a semester-long conversation about the physical properties of texts.

If you want to examine it more closely, a pdf of it is here; just print as double-sided to try it out yourself. And if you want to make your own quarto syllabus (or quarto text), I made up a Word template that will make it a bit easier for you. Take it, use it, and have fun folding!

DIY newsbook

No, I don’t mean it’s time to write your own news sheet newsbook. It’s time to fold your ownnewsbook! Why would you want to do this? Well, for one thing, it’s a handy way to understand and demonstrate to others the general principle of early modern format: multiple pages are printed onto a single sheet in the correct order so that when folded, they appear sequentially. It’s like magic! Or, um, folding.

Above is a numbered example of the same newsbook that I used as an image in my last post. The red numbers are page numbers: folded in the right way, you’d get an 8-page booklet in the order indicated. But if you look closely, you’ll see that the actual news sheet doesn’t have page numbers. Instead, there are signatures: at the bottom of the first page is a tiny, blotted “L”; at the bottom of the 5th page is a tiny “L3″ (the “L2″ has been cut off at some point when the page was trimmed). These are signature marks that count off by leaves. What’s a leaf, you ask? It’s a physical unit of paper: when you turn the page in a book, you are actually turning a leaf of paper. Early modern printers would have thought in terms of sheets and leaves, not pages, when they were figuring out how to print a work. Depending on the imposition (how the text is laid out on the sheet), you could end up with different numbers of leaves: 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 24. A quarto imposition results in a sheet of paper being turned into 4 leaves; there are 2 pages to each leaf (a recto side and a verso side), so there are 8 pages in all. The blue letters and numbers show the signatures. One thing that throws off beginners is understanding how recto and verso relate to each other. They do not mean right and left but front and back. When this pamphlet is open so that the 5th page is on the right-hand side of the opening, and the 4th page is on the left-hand side, the 5th page is the recto side of the third leaf in this gathering (L5r, for short), and the 4th page is the verso side of the second leaf in this gathering (L4v). Gatherings are numbered (well, lettered) in order so that the printed sheets of paper can be assembled in the right order in the final book. This is the “L” gathering, and it would be preceded by the “K” gathering and followed by the “M.” Once you start thinking in terms of leaves and gatherings, which are the units that are most helpful for printers, rather than pages, which are primarily useful for readers, it’s pretty easy to keep it all straight.

You can follow this link and print off the two images as a single sheet of paper (or print separately, of course, and then run them through a copier to make it two-sided) and practice folding it as a quarto yourself. When you’re done, you can try folding it into a tiny little pressman’s cap, following the instructions that appear in this lovely piece, “The Newspaper Man is Defunct,” from The Cape Cod today.

By the way, my syllabus is now done(ish) and can be found online in pdf form.

Correction: The spelling of recto has been changed to reflect its actual spelling. Oops.
Correction 2: I have corrected my usage of “news sheet” to reflect the more accurate term “newsbook” throughout the post. See the comments below for an explanation of the difference between the two!