The Printed Book

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

Modern Books Part 3

Those of a rather more ambitious format included The Keepsake of Charles Heath, The Picturesque Annual, The Landscape Annual, and Lady Blessington's Book of Beauty which, though a late comer, quickly took a leading place. As gift books these Annuals were succeeded by the drawing-room table book-Beauties of the Poets, Gems of Landscape, Poems of Eliza Cook, and other favorites-in elaborate and heavily gilt cloth bindings; and these, in turn, disappeared from view when the large table on which they were displayed went out of fashion. Since then the style of Christmas books has passed through various phases, down to the' colour-books' of to-day.

By contrast to these gift books, the novel depends for its existence entirely upon readers, and the changes it has passed through reflect the reading habits of the times. In the days of Richardson and Fielding a novel might appear in anything from two to nine volumes, but in the nineteenth century three volumes became the regulation form for new novels, and, since nothing less would satisfy the circulating- library reader, publishers in order to work off a short novel would append to it one or two short stories so as to fill out the three covers. The tyranny of the three volumes continued until the revolt of the circulating libraries in the' nineties.' By 1893 the one volume novel had begun to appear, the struggle between the two forms raged hotly in 1894, and in the following year the old three-decker collapsed, the libraries having declined to take any more. The three volume novel at a guinea-and-ahalf with its cheap reissue in yellow picture boards at two shillings then gave place to the one volume issue at six shillings, followed by its sixpenny or seven penny reprint.

Two notable features among the publications of the present age are the great number of illustrated books, an outcome of the facilities afforded by mechanical processes of pictorial reproduction, and the extraordinary number of cheap reprints, in handy and attractive form, of standard and popular books which have ceased to be copyright. Some idea of the total number of books published annually in the kingdom may be gained from the figures given in the yearly volumes of The English Catalogue of Books. The Catalogue for 1913 contained 12,379 entries, of which 9541 represented new publications, and 2838 new editions.

From a typographic point of view English books of the first half of the nineteenth century possess but little interest. Some of the best work of the early part of this period came from the presses of Thomas Bensley and William Bulmer, the latter of whom printed the imposing Boydell Shakespeare (17911802) and several of the works of Dibdin the bibliographer. These books also shew the new fashion of type which set in at the end of the eighteenth century and soon prevailed to the exclusion of every other model. This new letter, known as 'modern facet,' is in the style of that used by the celebrated Bodoni press at Parma. A particular form of it, which exaggerates the thick strokes, and is consequently called 'fat face' type, was much in favour, more especially for the larger books. Recently this fat face letter has been resuscitated on a refined model, and is a feature in the better-class printing of the last quarter of a century.