Here is a useful tool for using colophons to identify scribes by the style of their “hands”.
In 1973 in an article in The Library Quarterly and in her 1979 dissertation, Mingshen Pan (or Ming-Sun Poon) concludes from her examination of books during the Sung period that the colophon gradually changed in form, content, design, and placement, demonstrating an increasing use of the colophon as an advertisement of the printer and his wares. This shift embodied a critical transition in the printing trade of that time. As support from governmental and private sources waned, support from diversified sources were sought in which the commercial element played a significant role.
Familiar? As the European printing press began to make books available to a wider economic circle, manuscript books ceased to be supported by commission and patronage. One of the earliest and famous printers of Venice, Aldus Manutius, reportedly printed only one commissioned book (Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1499); the rest had to make their way in the market.
In Sir Isaac Newton’s day, “Printers secured their livelihoods by advertising medicines, . . . Physicians told each other that if they want to market a new drug then they ought to go to the booksellers to do it.” Adrian Johns, Piracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), pp. 84-85.
Publishing has always been marked (or marred) by the struggle to establish a stable business model.
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20140201
Here’s a previously missed infographic for the evolution of the book – a bit skeletal but with the elegance of the format. And while we are at it, let’s add some bibliographic and webographic “evolution” entries:
Chris Armstrong’s article “Books in a Virtual World: The evolution of the e-book and its lexicon“, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 40/3, September 2008
Andy Greenberg’s 2007 pictorial look at ebook readers, article “In Pictures: The Evolution of E-Books“, Forbes, 12 March 2007
Frederic Kilgour’s solid little hardback entitled The Evolution of the Book, New York, Oxford University Press, 1998
I.T. Strategies’s research commissioned by Ricoh entitled The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for U.S. Book Manufacturers and Printers, Hanover, MA, 2013
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120812
Yesterday, the 11th of August 2012 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hypercard. Alerted by Matthew Lasar in Ars Technica in May, gurus lined up to comment on Bill Atkinson‘s contribution in the 80s to Apple and the basics of hyperlinking techniques we now take for granted.
With the publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Weinberger became one of the Web’s leading light-shedders (gurus) and provocateurs. Most important in this context, he was in the audience when Bill Atkinson presented Apple’s Hypercard to the MacWorld conference in 1987. Weinberger writes, “HyperCard was a groundbreaking, beautiful, and even thrilling app. Ahead of its time for sure. But the time it was ahead of seems to me to be not so much the Age of the Web as the Age of the App. I don’t know why there isn’t now an app development environment that gives us what HyperCard did. Apparently HyperCard is still ahead of its time.”
Tennant, too, has written several books and a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and currently works at OCLC. Most important, he “was there” as an early user of the Hypercard system and HyperTalk programming language on which it is based. As Tennant puts it, “HyperCard was where I learned how to DO the Web. It was where I learned the importance of screen real estate. It was where I learned the law of 7, plus or minus 2. It was where I learned how important graphics are in creating an engaging site. It was where I cut my teeth on interactivity.”
Apps, screen real estate, Miller’s law, graphics and “cutting teeth” on interactivity — all are part of the new toolkit for making books.
Timelines are, of course, for looking further back as well as forward. Earlier this year, April 2012 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the publication of
and the online publication of short but extensively hyperlinked extracts from the print book as well as the online publication of The Electronic Hypnerotomachia, which contains the facsimile text and illustrations. The online publication of extracts from Lefaivre’s book illustrates the linking prefigured by the “card stack” approach of HyperCard. What MIT Press and TU Delft, Lefaivre’s affiliation, host on their servers are not ebooks or even e-incunabula of the sort we experience today, but they are clearly forerunners to them.
In twenty-eight more months, December 2014, we will see the 515th anniversary of the original work’s publication by Aldine Press (Venice, December 1499). The founder Aldus Manutius did not normally publish heavily illustrated books. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was the exception and the only commissioned work that Manutius undertook. The exception reflects favorably on the overall success of his business and supports the view that Venice had become the capital of printing and publishing very shortly after the invention of printing by moveable type.
The book unveils an inscrutable, almost comic-book-illustrated story, glittering with made-up words in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic (including proto-Greek, -Hebrew and -Arabic fonts). In addition to the page displays sculpted into shapes such as goblets, this one volume displayed the technological mastery of and improvement on the new Roman (as opposed to the heavy Gothic) typeface Bembo. According to Norma Levarie in The Art & History of Books (New York, 1968), this singular volume revolutionized typography in France in less than twenty-five years.
Somewhat like software releases, though, the 1499 edition came with bugs. The colophon to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili falls at the end of a full page of errata.
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
“The Book Industry Study Group (BISG), a leading U.S.-based trade association representing the entire book supply chain, announced today the publication of a new Policy Statement endorsing EPUB 3 as the accepted and preferred standard for representing, packaging, and encoding structured and semantically enhanced Web content — including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file format.”
For the record and from the Library of Congress:
Coincidentally, Amazon UK reported today that it is now selling 114 Kindle ebooks for every 100 print books it sells.
The EPUB format is not natively readable on the Kindle device or in the Kindle application. Customers can add conversion apps easily to their devices to make EPUB readable on a Kindle, but as consumers seek the advantages of an industry standard, how will Amazon respond?
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120725
As we are still in the Age of e-Incunabula, what better than a trip half way around the world to Japan to see one of the world’s largest collections of Western incunabula — and an excellent site to bookmark?
The National Diet Library’s site refers to itself as an exhibition based on the book “Inkyunabura no Sekai” (The World of Incunabula) / written by Hiroharu Orita, compiled by the Library Research Institute of the National Diet Library. Tokyo: Japan Library Association, July 2000 (in Japanese).
The exhibition provides a timeline of incunabula from the second half of the 4th century when the shift to the codex occurred to 1980 when the British Library began entering data on its collection of incunabula into the ISTC. The site provides much more than this chronology.
Images from the collection, statistics on the type fonts used, coverage of design and how the quires (sheets of paper folded, forerunner of book signatures and files in EPUB!) were arranged, and the binding process — all are covered straightforwardly and often in entertaining detail. Look on this site and consider how far we have to go with our ebooks and apps!
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120719
Not as interactive as the Counterspace timeline for typography below, but certainly as densely informative, and it extends to typography online.
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120717
Another timeline, this one focused on bookbinding. Is .zip the binding for an ebook?
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120710
On the heels of the question above comes an outstanding interactive infographic on a critical element of the book and ebook: typography.
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120706
Yet another ebook timeline, and this one is broken down into interpretive categories, “The Age of Writing” and “The Network Era,” which is thought-provoking. Are we in “The Age of the Tablet”?
Start of the Ebook Timeline
In 1936, “Chronology of Books & Printing” appeared in its revised edition, published by Macmillan in New York. In 1996, Cor Knops picked up the torch and started a Book History Timeline from Sumerian clay tablets (he could have started with the caves at Lascaux!) through to 1997 with the first issue of “Biblio Magazine” but with little acknowledgment of ebooks.
Now in 2012, looking back to 2002, we find this journalistic stab at a timeline for ebooks.
Forged together, the chronologies would have to include “As we may think” by Vannevar Bush in 1945, Ted Nelson’s coining of “hypertext” in 1963-65, the Apple Newton in 1993 (how many publishers and authors have kept track of the free downloads of their Newton ebooks?) and much more.
Another extension of the ebook timeline appears in this book by Marie Lebert, which fills in important gaps, misses others and offers more than a few overemphasized continental developments. Her timeline takes us through 2009, which means that the signal events in 2011/12 of ebook sales’ outstripping those of print in some markets are still to be added.
The colophon – that last page at the end of a manuscript or book – has served so many purposes such as giving the title of the work, identifying the scribe or printer, naming the place and date of completion or imprint, thanking and praising the patron, bragging, blaming, apologizing, entreating, praying and much more that its origin could be traced back to almost any last mark in the earliest human records.
This device so infrequently used in books today, why should we bother ourselves with it? Fine enough for J. F. Kennard and A.W. Pollard, familiar to historians of the book, to have written small tomes about it in 1901 and 1905. Fine enough that it has appeared at the end of “fine books” from publishers like David Godine and the end of most of O’Reilly & Associates’ widely used IT books.
But that it shows up on websites, too? Just enter “colophons on websites” in your favorite search engine, and you will find for example:
Each of the website colophons above has its functional doppelganger among the early printers’ colophons, but more on that in a future post.
No doubt the colophon found its way into websites before 2008, but perhaps its presence has something to do with the writings of a Scot named Bill Hill (aptly so, if you recall the July 29th entry below). In 2008, he waxed enthusiastically about the colophon because of its historic association with type fonts:
“Why not introduce the venerable concept of the Colophon to the Web? Could it be used to drive a new business model for fonts which would benefit the font industry, web developers and designers – and the people who visit their sites?” He even suggested making the colophon a compulsory standard.
From today’s websites back to Dietrich, the first Abbot of Saint Evroul, who oversaw the scribes in the scriptorium there, the colophon courses like a meme or common protocol. It tugs at the self-reflective and communal in us. It looks backward over the work it culminates (a word etymologically related to it) and looks forward to the work’s future readers. More so in Dietrich’s time, it often looked backward over the life’s work of the scribe and forward to his future reward.
In case the image above (a page from Kennard’s book, “Some Early Printers and Their Colophons,” describing Dietrich’s exhortation to his scribes) is not legible, here is the relevant bit:
“Once upon a time there was a wicked monk. At his death the devil claimed his soul. He thought he had a sure thing. Now, it happened that just before his death the monk had completed the copying of a great fario volume. This book the angels brought to judgment-seat of God, and for each letter written in the book one sin was forgiven. When the recording angel had added up the two sides of the account, behold, there was one little ” i” left over, and the monk’s soul was saved.”
That little “i” left over – the colophon – will be a useful point from which to explore the evolution of the book and how its predecessors and its successors were and will be read.
See on www.feltandwire.com
On her blog “Felt & Wire,” Alyson Kuhn shares her foray into the origins of the word “colophon.”
In ancient Greece, Ionia to be precise, the city Colophon stood on a summit. The colophon, the final page stating the title of the work, who made it, when it was made, how it was made, for whom it was made, etc., stands at the summit of the book, justifying its being named for that city. It is the maker’s signing off from the summit of the foregoing text. That “signing off” can be construed as the “finishing touch,” which might refer to the reputation of the Colophonian warriors for being the deciding factor in many a battle, hence the phrase of Erasmus ‘Colophonem adidi’ – ‘I have put a finishing touch to it.’
The name of Kuhn’s site — “Felt & Wire” — reflects her passion for paper. She tag-lines it as “Impressions from the Paper-Obsessed,” which explains why her entry does not go back as far as the first appearance of colophons on clay tablets — nor ahead as far as their regular appearance in websites (an example of which can be found here).
But there is a functional logic for going back as far as those biblical “colophons.” They are recurring phrases related to the “toledoth“passages that appear in the Genesis tablets. Toledoth is Hebrew for “generations” as in “These are the origins [or histories] of Noah,” which a convincing group of Hebraic scholars translate in the possessive. As in “The foregoing book relating these stories belongs to Noah” or “This is Noah signing off.” So the toledoth perform some of the same finishing functions as colophons.
There is also, according to the Edenics site, an etymological reason for going back to the Hebrew. The word “colophon” itself has its roots in the Hebrew word “Gimel-Lamed,” meaning “wave” and “a prominent man-made heap.”
Certainly many books fit that etymological definition (a prominent man-made heap) and deserve a colophon whether they have one or not!
Looking forward, though, it is endearing that so many websites bear the colophon device and, in doing so, raise the questions, “Should we think of these websites as books?” “How might the use of traditional parts of the book in websites or ebooks tell us what the book will be beyond the Age of e-Incunabula?”
As if to prove the relevance to the Web of the “six degrees of separation” hypothesis, the search for “colophon” leads to an article in About.com referring the reader to guidelines for publishing on the web that come from the National Genealogical Society. And that brings us back to the toledoth (the “begats”) passages in Genesis!
Like the Ebook Timeline entry below, this Books On Books entry for the colophon will be regularly updated. From what better vantage than the colophon to look back for the origins of the book and forward for its future? More to come on colophons.