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Preliminary Reading List

G-20. Printed Books to 1800: Description & Analysis

David Whitesell


Preliminary Advices

There is no prerequisite for this course, though students will get far more out of it if the advance reading is done carefully and completely.  As you go through the reading, jot down what you would like to have explained, or see examples of, in class.  Among other topics, the course will cover the basics of descriptive bibliography (format, collational formula, and description of paper, typography, contents, and binding), though with more emphasis on understanding descriptions found in bibliographies and catalogs than on writing one’s own.

Required Reading

  1. Philip Gaskell.  A New Introduction to Bibliography.  New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972, corrected 2nd printing, 1974; paperback ed., New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.
  2. Use any printing except the 1st, uncorrected printing (1972).  This is the primary text for the course, so please purchase a copy and bring it with you to class if at all possible.  Please read very carefully pp. 1-185 (“Book Production: The Hand-Press Period 1500-1800”), 313-335, and 368-380, but don’t get bogged down in the more technical sections.  Although this course will not cover the machine-press period (pp. 189-310), it would be helpful to skim this portion if you have time.

  3. John Carter.  ABC for Book Collectors.  London: Hart-Davis, 1952.  8th ed., revised by Nicolas Barker, New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2004.

    The 8th edition is available free of charge as a downloadable PDF file:
    http://www.ilab.org/eng/documentation/30-john_carters_abc_for_book_collectors.html

An elegant and witty guide to essential terminology.  Use any later edition. Some of the terms pertain to post-1800 imprints or are rarely used nowadays, but it is useful nonetheless to know these.  It would be helpful to bring to class a list of any terms which remain unclear or for which you would like to see actual examples.

Required Viewing:

  1. The Anatomy of a Book: I. Format in the Hand-Press Period.  Written by Terry Belanger and directed by Peter Herdrich.  1991.  30 minutes. 
  2. The Making of a Renaissance Book.  1969.  22 minutes. 

Both films are available on a single DVD which can be purchased from Rare Book School at a reduced rate of $45 for students enrolled in this course.  Included are a workbook and facsimile materials for The Anatomy of a Book, as well as the cost of domestic shipping.   Please note: students located outside of the United States must contact RBS for international shipping rates before sending payment.

Please watch both films before coming to class.  For the first, be sure to review the workbook and practice with the facsimile sheets, bringing any questions you have to class.  The making of a Renaissance book is an excellent visualization of the printing processes described in Gaskell.  If you are unable to view these ahead of time, you will have opportunities to do so at RBS.

Recommended Reading:

  1. Fredson Bowers.  Principles of Bibliographical Description.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1949; several reprint eds.; paperback ed., with introduction by G. Thomas Tanselle,  New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 1994.  
  2. Anyone with a serious interest in bibliography and the history of books and printing should tackle this magisterial, but challenging work at some point.  If you have the time, please read at least Chapters 5 (skipping over the finer print) and 7, and Appendix I (pp. 193-254, 269-311, 457-462; see also Gaskell, pp. 328-335 for a very concise—but not fully accurate—summary of these chapters.)  The basic concepts elucidated by Bowers will be covered in class.  Then read (or re-read) Bowers after taking this course, by which time his discussion should make considerably more sense.

  3. David Pearson.  Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook.  London: The British Library; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1998.
  4. Despite its heavily Anglocentric focus, this is a very useful introduction to marks of provenance and their identification, though the many illustrations tend to be a bit small and murky.  Please read pp. 1-26, 38-70, 82-139, and 274-296; skim the rest to the extent of your interest.

  5. David Pearson.  English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800.  London: The British Library; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2005. 

Another useful introduction to a very complex and amorphous subject.  The text and illustrations (many in color) provide an essential expansion of Gaskell’s extremely limited coverage.  Only partly applicable to binding styles elsewhere in Europe, but at least this is a start.  Please read pp. x-xi, 1-40, and browse pp. 41-163.