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The Collation

Colored print or color print?

Consider the following physical description in Hamnet, the Folger’s online catalog (it’s for an edition of Anna Jameson’s Characteristics of women, also published as Shakespeare’s heroines):

xl, 340 p., [12] leaves of plates : col. ill. ; 28 cm.

The first part translates as “the printed portion of this book consists of 40 pages numbered with sequential roman numerals followed by 340 pages numbered with sequential arabic numerals, plus 12 unnumbered plates at some unspecified location or locations amongst those pages.” The second part, after the colon, translates into the vernacular much more succinctly:  “col. ill.” means that the illustrations are in color. Here’s an example:

Lady Macbeth from Folger ART Vol. e109

"Lady Macbeth" in Characteristics of women, moral, poetical, and historical / by Mrs. Jameson. From the last London ed. New York : John Wiley, 1850.

  1. That it helps the description fit on a 3 x 5 inch card was once a great thing, too. Now it’s a footnote for history buffs.
  2. Different “states” of the same print are the result of deliberate changes to the printing plate, regardless of how much time has elapsed. Prints made several years apart from an unaltered plate are the same state; prints made several years apart where the publisher’s name was the only thing altered on the plate are different states; prints made the same day from a plate that had a few lines and squiggles added or burnished off are different states. Bibliophiles will have noticed that this is not what “state” means in book printing. The meanings of “edition” and “impression” are also examples of art historians and book historians being separated by a common language, but this footnote has gone on long enough.


[…] several Shakespeare specialists, such as the Folger Shakespeare Library’s blog called The Collation. I particularly liked their recent post on the history of cataloguing early printed books and the […]

Telling a book by its cover | The Shakespeare blog — May 28, 2012