One Hundred Rare Book Terms
Recto – Stub
Recto: The side of a leaf that is visible when the leaf is on the right-hand side of the codex. (The other side of a leaf, when it is on the left, is the verso side.) In broadsides and single sheets of paper, the recto side is usually considered to be the “front.”
Relief printing: A term for illustration processes where a design is raised above the rest of the material it is attached to, i.e., everything except the design has been cut away. Relief printing is the opposite of intaglio printing and is recognizable because it results in black lines on a white background. Common forms of relief printing include woodcuts.
Roman type: A style of type, prevalent at first in southern Europe and now throughout the Western world. Roman type is distinct from blackletter (which tends to be blockier) and italic (which tends to be fancier).
Rubrication: The practice of differentiating special letters or words in colored ink, usually red or blue, rather than black. Initials in particular tend to be rubricated. In manuscript production, this was a specialist area of scribing and it was done after the rest of the text was completed. Because of the challenges in printing books in multiple colors, early printers also hired rubricators but eventually replaced rubricated initials with woodcuts.
Scroll: A book form, probably developed in ancient Egypt, where the material is written on a continuous strip of material that can be rolled up for storage. Scrolls are still commonly used today in ceremonial and religious contexts: as merely two examples, diplomas and Torahs are habitually written as scrolls.
Sewing supports: The cords, thongs, or cloth strips used to connect different gatherings. Gatherings would be sewn onto the sewing supports, which in turn would either be interlaced with the boards or pasted to them. Some bindings draw attention to their sewing supports with raised bands on the outside of the cover, though these may or may not correspond with the actual position of the sewing supports.
Signature marks: The letters and numerals used to label each gathering, typically on the recto side at the bottom. Each gathering would have a symbol and then some of the sheets would be “signed” with that symbol and a number indicating which leaf was being used. Not every leaf in a gathering is usually signed, but only enough leaves to ensure that there was no chance of misfolding the sheets. For an octavo, for instance, this would likely mean that the first three leaves would be signed, e.g., A1, A2, A3, followed by five unsigned leaves. Most printers would use the 23-letter printer’s alphabet to sign their gatherings, but other symbols might be used as well. The printer's alphabet follows the ancient Roman alphabet in that it does not include the letters J, U, or W. (For those who are interested in alphabetology, “J” is merely the consonantal version of the letter “I,” whereas “U” and “W” are variants on the letter “V.”) If a book had more than 23 gatherings, printers would start over at the beginning, often using two letters rather than one (gathering AA, for instance).
Sizing: A gelatin, usually derived from animal bones, that can be used for a variety of purposes in bookmaking. Paper is often coated in sizing to make it stronger and resistant to damage; sizing is also commonly used for paper marbling.
Sophisticated: An adjective for a book that has been altered in order to overcome some of its defects. The most benign form of sophistication is adding missing leaves that have been acquired separately; more unscrupulous collectors and sellers have been known to change a book’s title pages or covers to make it appear rarer. Never suggest an avid collector’s library is sophisticated unless you know they are actively collecting sophisticated copies.
Stab-stitch binding: A binding style where the thread does not go through the fold of the paper but instead stabs through the book from the top to the bottom. In Europe, this was usually reserved for pamphlets and was often a temporary approach; in Asia, it was often used as a more permanent style.
Stereotype: A metal plate that can recreate an entire page of a book, having been made by creating a mold from a page of set type. This is useful because it allows a printer to print the same book over and over again without having to set the type a second time. The mold used to create a stereotype is called a “flong,” which is worth repeating here because it is an amusing word. The use of “stereotype” to refer to an oversimplified image or idea (often inaccurate) that is copied is a reference to stereotype printing. Stereotyping was invented in 1701 by the Lutheran minister Johann Müller.