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The Collation

correcting mistakes

In my last post, I wrote about my joy in finding printer’s errors and what we might learn from them about early modern printing. In this one, I want to look at some examples of what printers do to correct their errors. Mistakes happen, as I tell my kids; it’s what you do about your mistakes that matters.

So, what do you do when you make a mistake? You fix it! In most cases, you’d hope that the error came to light during a proof stage so that you can correct it before you start your print run. Sometimes, however, you find mistakes during a print run; in that case, you can stop the press to replace the incorrect type with correct type. (“Stop the presses!”) The petition I wrote about in the last post, where I was focused on the curious shadow-type, is also a good example of the different states a page can exist in when it’s been corrected. The key detail of the title page is the section describing who is being petitioned (“The Right Honourable the Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses of the Commons”) and who is doing the petitioning (“Subscribed with the names of above twenty thousand”): 

  1. See the extended comment stream on the previous post about the different states of this work and the apparent differences between the different editions of it. It’s not clear to me from Wing how many of the copies of C4343 are in the variant state of “ciizens” or what the difference is between C4343 and C4343A. Apparently the Yale copy of C4343A is missing the imprint date on the title page, but the Newberry copy of C4343A, which is on EEBO, shows the imprint date, albeit one that has nearly been trimmed away.


Thanks for these posts, it’s been enjoyable to read about various strategies that printers and publishers came up with to cope with the (inevitable) errata.

The posts brought to mind that there are also many cases in which errata were not corrected for one reason or another, not least of which was the cost involved in either securing a patch or getting a new printing. The example that sprung to mind — and you may already be well aware of it — was the “Vinegar Bible,” a 1717 printing of the King James Version by John Baskett that is owned by Christ Church in Philadelphia. It is so named because of a mistaken labeling of the “Parable of the Vineyard” in the Gospel of St. Luke. Christ Church never fixed the problem because it could never afford to replace such an otherwise well-produced Book. Now it owns a curiosity (though the item is stored at the Library Company of Philadelphia, which is where I saw it).

Joseph M. Adelman — March 1, 2012

I suspect you noticed in the petition that the variant state with citizens lacking the t also mentioned ” the names of about twenty thousand”. That became “the names of above twenty thousand”. Were the presses stopped to correct the missing “t” or was it the arrival of additional subscribers names (perhaps with the opportunity to correct the spelling) that motivated the effort to change the type?

Charles Keely — March 2, 2012

[…] end the post with and why Wing drives me nuts! The second post, just up a few hours ago, is “Correcting mistakes,” and it picks up from the previous post to consider how early modern printers tried to fix […]

link catchup » Wynken de Worde — March 3, 2012

[…] wasn’t the point of the printing press to make identical copies? — but whether through the realities of production or byproducts of use, every book ends up at least slightly different than it’s […]

How big can a small mark be? | Notes For Bibliophiles — April 20, 2012

[…] more on the mistakes in that book, see my blog post “Correcting mistakes” in The Collation. […]

multivalent print, or, learning to love ambiguity in three easy lessons | Wynken de Worde — February 24, 2013

How would one correct their own mistake on their own already printed run of a book they published. Any tape or strategy to remove a print error of one word on a page, and write over to correct, matching color and type of the page?

Gregory Amour — March 8, 2018