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The Collation

Waste not, want not

As all three commenters worked out, this month’s crocodile image is of printer’s waste used as endleaves. You can see the end of the book on the left side of the opening below (note the “finis” marking the end of the text) and the quarto imposition of the scrap paper used as part of the binding on the right side (note the brown-stained holes near the right edge, left by the clasps that were once there):

The last page of Asser's Aelfredi regis res gestae and the recto of the back endleaves of printer's waste from the 1580 Accession Day liturgy.

The last page of Asser’s Aelfredi regis res gestae (on the left) and the recto of the back endleaves of printer’s waste from the 1580 Accession Day liturgy.

The rear endleaves, showing more of the printer’s waste.

Printer’s waste is not an unusual thing to see in bindings from this period. Paper was needed to create the binding structure, leftover paper from printing books is available, and voilà! Waste not, want not. Why was there so often scrap paper from the printing process? One reason has to do with the practice of printing by sheets, which are then assembled into gatherings and into the final book: if you want 500 copies of a book, you’ll use 500 sheets of each gathering. But in the printing process, you’d typically print more than the exact number of sheets needed, accounting for errors and overage and the general vagaries of human behavior. So what do you do with those extra sheets? You repurpose them.


Surprising things do turn up as waste. Although it is very old, see my “F1 _Coriolanus_ Fragment Found in Seventeenth-Century Binding.” _Shakespeare Newsletter_, 16 (1966), 1. (with Louis Marder).

Williams, William Proctor — April 17, 2014


Fascinating. I’ll check on the All
Souls copy when the library opens next week after Easter, and report back.

Emma Smith — April 21, 2014


Checked 21507.5 in the Codrington Library, All Souls – it’s a match! These leaves of printers’ waste do come from this copy.

Emma Smith with Gaye Morgan — May 2, 2014


Fabulous! Thanks for checking, Emma. With this confirmation, perhaps we can update our catalog records to note the printers’ waste source.

I forgot to mention in my post this detail, but it’s surely relevant: both pieces of waste were printed by Christopher Barker. The books in the sammelband were not printed by Barker (two were printed from John Day and the third by Henry Bynneman), but it’s clear that Barker’s shop got rid of its waste and some of those sheets ended up here!

Sarah Werner — May 2, 2014


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