Construction of a Book Part 1

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916


In setting out to convert the manuscript copy of any work into a printed book a number of questions at once arise. Chief among these are the format (shape and size) of the book; the kind of type to be used; the quality of the paper; the illustrations, if any; the number of copies to be printed; the binding; and, if it is to be offered for sale, the price at which it shall be published. All these matters are interdependent, and affect each other in various ways.

One of the initial questions is, what shall be the format of the book? Many considerations go to the settling of this important point. The use to which the book is intended to be put; the subject matter; the extent of the manuscript; and even the illustrations, if any, which are to accompany it, or, as now too frequently happens, which it is to accompany. The common designation of the size of a book as folio, quarto, octavo, or duodecimo (in abbreviated form: fo1., 4to, 8vo, 12mo) is not an indication of actual measurement, but of the number of times the full sheet of paper is folded after it is printed off. Thus, folio indicates that the sheet has been folded in half once, making two leaves ; quarto, folded twice, making four leaves; and octavo, three times, making eight leaves. In a duodecimo the sheet is folded so as to make twelve leaves, and this forms a book that is somewhat narrow in proportion to its height.

It will readily be observed that it is the size of the full sheet of paper which fixes the actual dimensions of the book, and that a quarto or octavo may vary according to the size of the sheet used. There are some nine or ten sizes of paper in general use, the commonest being foolscap, crown, demy, and royal. To indicate more precisely the dimensions, both the size of sheet and the folding (e.g. demy 8vo, crown 4to) are mentioned in the ordinary description of a book. The approximate measurement in inches of the commoner sizes of page is as follows:

As a guide to the binder in arranging the folded sheets in correct sequence a letter or number (as in this volume) is printed at the foot of the first page of each sheet. These signatures, for so they are called, afford, in general, a ready means of ascertaining the format of a book. To do this, count the number of leaves from one signature to the next; a signature will usually be found on page 17, or page 25. If there are four leaves, the book is a quarto; if eight, an octavo; twelve, a duodecimo, and so on.