One Hundred Rare Book Terms
Kozo paper — Mezzotint
Laid paper: Paper that demonstrates chain lines and wire lines, typically handmade. Chain lines and wire lines are traces left by the papermaker’s mold and are commonly visible when light shines through the paper. They are very useful in determining the format of a book, as they can give some impression of how the paper sheet was folded.
Leaf: The basic unit of a codex book, i.e., a piece of paper with a page on either side. In most bindings, a leaf is made by folding a sheet of paper one or more times, producing another pair of leaves with each fold. Two leaves that are connected through the fold are conjugate with one another; if a leaf’s conjugate has been removed, it will often leave a visible stub in a book. Single leaves (especially from very old books) are often sold individually.
Librarian: A person who maintains a collection of books and other research materials. While librarians can become bellicose if their collections or patrons are mistreated, they are otherwise irenic and magnanimous. Some librarians, particularly those who engage in definition, are pleonastic whereas others are more succinct. Oddly, few librarians have much time to read.
Ligature: A single character that combines multiple letters. Ligatures were initially invented by scribes but were taken up in printing both to imitate handwriting and to utilize space efficiently. The character “æ,” for instance, is a combination of the letters “a” and “e,” which is sometimes used as a fancy way of spelling words like “encyclopædia” and sometimes as a letter in its own right (as in Old English). Most ligatures have fallen away over the centuries, as they required custom-made type and it was simpler to just use letters individually. The most commonly used ligature today is probably the ampersand (&) symbol, which combines the letters “e” and “t” to abbreviate the Latin word “et” into one character.
Lithography: An illustration process invented in 1798 by the Alois Senefelder that is neither intaglio nor relief. Lithography involves writing on a flat surface with a grease-crayon and then applying an acid solution to slightly etch the non-drawn surfaces. The entire surface is then covered in water, which does not lie on the greasy marks (as water and grease repel one another). A greasy printing ink is then applied, which only settles on the greasy drawing, and can then be printed. Lithography can be done using special limestones or using metal plates. It allows color printing in a way that previous illustration techniques did not and is still practiced by artists today.
Manicule: A term for the little hands drawn in the margins of many medieval and early modern books. The main feature of a manicule is its index finger, which is often cartoonishly long, and points at specific passages in the text. Most manicules were drawn by readers to note things but they were occasionally also added by printers. Each reader would draw a manicule in their own idiosyncratic way, sometimes lavishing great detail on anatomical detail and a sleeve cuff at the hand’s wrist and sometimes simply drawing a few quick round strokes to suggest other fingers.
Manuscript: A document written by hand rather than printed. Many medieval manuscripts were written by monks, but by the 12th century, the demand for manuscript books from the various universities was so high that monastic production could no longer keep up and scribing became a profession in its own right. Professional scribes co-existed quite successfully with printers for a long time and early printing drew heavily on manuscript traditions: Peter Schoeffer, Gutenberg’s most skillful co-worker and an important printer in his own right, had been trained as a scribe before he became a printer.
Marbling: A decorative approach created by putting a sheet of paper in a bath of gelatin or seaweed sizing with lines of color spread on it. The resulting paper has beautiful color patterns on it produced by the color floating on the surface of the size. Marbling was probably invented by the Japanese, with examples of Suminagashi paper dating back to 1118 CE.
Mezzotint: An intaglio illustration process where parts of a plate were toned by roughing them with a serrated rocker and then graded by burnishing. Mezzotint does not include any linework, only shading and toning, and was often combined with engraving. It produces a beautiful, velvety texture but the plates for mezzotint are very fragile and only produce about 50 good impressions before the art begins to fade. In spite of its Italian name, mezzotint is a mainly English process and was used from the mid-1600s.