One Hundred Rare Book Terms
Perfect binding — Quire
Perfect binding: A misleading term for books that have been “bound” by gluing a series of independent sheets directly to the spine of the book rather than sewing or gluing gatherings in place. (A perfect-bound book effectively has all of its pages tipped in.) This is a common practice in modern paperbacks and results in books that can easily fall apart once the glue gives out and are nearly impossible to repair afterwards. It is a pernicious practice that only has its cheapness to recommend it.
Plate: A term used to refer either to a thin slab of metal used for printing or to the image printed by a plate. Most plates were made of copper, but other metals were also used, especially steel and zinc. Printing an image from a plate often required a special press and would be done by a specialist printer. Photographs in books are often called “photographic plates.”
Press figure: A small number or symbol printed at the bottom of the verso side of a leaf. Some printers would use press figures to keep track of the productivity of different employees. They were commonly used in English and American books in the 1700s, though they are also sometimes found in books from the late 1600s and early 1800s.
Printing: A term used to refer to the mechanical production of text or images. The word “printing” is derived from words meaning “impression,” referring to the shapes made by seals or stamps on clay or wax. Most forms of printing are a variation on the following procedure: ink or paint is applied to a three-dimensional shape, which is then pressed against the material intended to be printed. Through contact and pressure, the ink is then transferred to the material, after which point, the process can be repeated with a new piece of material. The cultural impact of widespread printing is hard to overstate as it allowed the mass production of books and other written materials, turning what had been an expensive luxury good into a cheap commodity.
Provenance: The term for a specific book’s history in terms of ownership.
Quarter bound: A binding style where the spine and part of the boards, and the covers are bound in one material while the rest of the cover is bound in another material (or left unbound).
Quarto: A book format, commonly abbreviated 4º. The quarto requires two folds to produce and is usually squarish in shape, though this may vary based on the dimensions of the original sheet of paper. A quarto gathering usually has four leaves (i.e., eight pages) but a quarto gathering produced through half-sheet imposition will have two leaves (i.e., four pages).