Books and Printing and Mormons. Part 1.

I like books and I enjoy the physicality of a book. The cover, the pages and the various special properties that define these things. Just for fun, I’m going to educate the ignorant and open myself to criticism of the educated. So feel free to take your best shot.

The profession of book-making is an old one. Someone got the idea that attaching individual writing surfaces together made a great filing system and the codex was born. From there, professionals began to make a living at the process. Much of the work was religious in nature with religious orders partially devoted to the making of codices. The process eventually became one of great beauty with illustrated manuscripts, elevated and dropped upper case letters (versals) adorned with intricate weavings of fanciful creatures, plant-life, etc.

This versal was created in software (LaTeX) for a recreation of the Geneva Bible.

This versal was created in software (LaTeX) for a recreation of the Geneva Bible.

What normal folk call pages are not really pages in the technical language of books. The flush trimmed sheets of paper you find in a modern book are called leaves. If you’ve ever encountered a book in untrimmed sheets those are called sheets, in fact, or sometimes, stock. A leaf has two sides and each side of a leaf is a page. Now grab an English language book and hold it open on your lap. You see two leaves, one on the right, one on the left. The face of the page you see on the right is called the recto page of that leaf. The page of the leaf on your left is called the verso page of that leaf. Thus, each leaf has a recto page (or side) and a verso page (or side). Recto pages have odd page numbers, verso pages have even numbers.

Pages don’t actually have page numbers in book-talk. Instead, the ordinal at the bottom or top (or occasionally, side) is called a folio.[1] You’ve probably noticed that some pages, like a title page or copyright page in a book have no folio. Only those pages having folios form the pagination of the book.

Next, Type.

[1] Sometimes, folio is used in a different fashion, as in “Shakespeare’s First Folio.” This is a reference to the dimensions of a book. More rarely, “folio signature” appears. This refers to the number of times a sheet is folded.

4 Responses to Books and Printing and Mormons. Part 1.

  1. ricke says:

    So, would the books we have today (including the one of yours I hope to buy someday) properly be called codices? Or is there a proper distinction between a book and a codex?

  2. Tod Robbins says:


    If you haven’t read it yet, Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age is a fascinating book on this topic. One of my former professors in grad school, David M. Levy, wrote it. Let me know what you think.

  3. WVS says:

    Thanks for the tip, Tod. It’s an important issue and documentary editors, historians, text scholars are way behind the curve on this. I have a certain fear about digitization though. There are many skills that only flower in the presence of physical antiques. I wonder if the digital doc age will mean that the senses other than sight get devalued somehow. Hey, paranoia is important to survival.

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