Bookmarking Book Art – The Colophon and the Left-over “i”

This tale comes from J. S. Kennard’s short 1901 tome on the colophon — that last page at the end of a manuscript or book. The colophon has served many purposes: 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. Examples can be traced back to clay tablets and forward to websites.

Cuneiform tablet from the Library of Ashurbanipal, British Museum. Interesting that the colophon was added in ink after the clay had dried.
Colofon page of Rijksmuseum website

Its presence on websites may be one of those decried skeuomorphic hangovers from book publishing, but perhaps the colophon has an underlying value or purpose to serve in both the analogue and digital worlds. The late Bill Hill, who wrote the 1999 Microsoft white paper “The Magic of Reading” and was an early contributor to online typography, suggested making colophons a compulsory standard for website design and asked:

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?[Sadly this page at the Bill Hill’s site is no longer available.]

Fanciful? Perhaps, but not much more fanciful than Erasmus’ proffered explanation of the word “colophon”. His expanded edition of Adagia printed by Manutius in 1508 includes this adage:

Colophonem addidit He added the colophon. This came to be used when the finishing touch is added to something, or when some addition is made without which a piece of business cannot be concluded. The origin of the adage is pointed out by Strabo in … his Geography, …

And here is Strabo from the Loeb Classical Library online:

As venerable a publishing custom as the colophon may be, it is more honoured in the breach than the observance. Book artists tend to be more observant, but not religiously so, and of course some works of book art might be disfigured by a colophon. Still, there are sound reasons why book artists should bother themselves with a colophon — even if it stands apart from the work. In her review of Book Artists and Artists Who Make Books (2017), India Johnson gives one of those sound reasons:

It’s probably impossible to include every detail of production in a colophon—but some give it their best stab, exhaustively listing everyone that took part in a project. More concise colophons recap only the most relevant details of making—perhaps those the primary creator feels will factor saliently into making meaning of the book.

The convention of the colophon in our field exposes an assumption that the meaning of an artwork is informed not only by the finished product, but by the specifics of artistic labor. Book Artists and Artists Who Make Books“, CBAA, 1 October 2018. Accessed 3 October 2018.

If craft does figure in a work’s meaning, then the more we can see how it figures, the greater our ability to appreciate and understand the work. For conveying insight — what materials and from what sources, what processes, what tools, who contributed, where and when the work occurred — the colophon stands ready. But where does it stand?

A contemporary of Kennard, A.W. Pollard declared that, to be a proper colophon, it had to appear at the conclusion or summit of the work. Artful as are some of the manuscripts and books that Kennard and Pollard cite, none push the envelope in the manner that works of contemporary book art do. Which brings us to another reason for book artists to consider the colophon: inspiration from history or tradition.

The last page of the codex may be a rightful spot for placing the codex, but what if the bookwork’s shape is challenging or musing about the shape of the book? Finishing touches might go anywhere. Think of Van Eyck’s self-portrait hidden in a reflection in The Arnolfini Portrait, or that of Vélazquez in Las Meninas.

Historians’ diligent cataloging of the “hands” of the scribes has enriched the self-identifications in colophons and connected those craftspersons with additional manuscripts. Book artists who use calligraphy or involve calligraphers should ponder the implications of this tool historians use to identify scribes by the style of their “hands”.

Late Medieval English Scribes (2011)
The Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York

What potential, meaningful “tells” in a work’s colophon might the book artist or calligrapher leave to enrich the work — and provide insights for historians and connoisseurs poring over the finishing touch?

The colophon’s underlying value or purpose warrants book artists’ thinking about recording it offline and online, though this might be stretching the definition of the colophon. Our enjoyment of Kitty Maryatt’s 2018 reconstruction of La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (1913) by Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay is certainly enhanced by the “colophonic” booklet she included with the work and the “About” page online.

Perhaps the story of the little “i” left over – the colophon – will prod the future historians of book art to examine bookworks and their artists’ websites for those finishing touches and stir artists to bestow that last finishing touch for the sake of the work’s soul if not their own.

A Prospect of Colophons

The Anatomy Lesson: Unveiling the Fasciculus Medicinae (2004)
Joyce Cutler-Shaw
The careful reader will notice that the edition number is missing. This instance of the work is one of the binder’s signed but unnumbered copies, having been acquired directly from Daniel E. Kelm.
The Ballad of the Self Same Thing (2019)
Lyn Dillin
Can this be the first rhyming colophon?
Finding Home (2016)
Louise Levergneux
This may not be the first bilingual colophon I have seen, but its being inside the top of the box enclosing the work makes it the first to occupy the physical summit a work.
Theme and Permutation (2012)
Marlene MacCallum
This double-page spread reveals process information about the work that adds to the reader/viewer’s appreciation of the themes and permutations occurring in the pages.
Mallarmé’s Coup d’État (2007)
Kitty Maryatt
The colophon’s nod to Iliazd sends the reader/viewer back to the start of this catalogue that is a bookwork in its own right.
La prose du Transsibérien Re-Creation (2019)
Kitty Maryatt
A “colophon within a colophon”. The booklet providing details about the original work and Maryatt’s re-creation has an accordion structure and collapses into its own tri-fold wallet, which fits within the cover of the main work, seen here in its acetate holder.
L is for Lettering (2011)
Cathryn Miller
This hilarious and touching abecedary parades as a marked work handed in for a course, a portrait of the artist within a contemplation of the past and future of typography and letterpress. This colophon embodies the finishing touch.
A’s Rosen War (2017)
Alan Caesar
This colophon continues the premised date with which this work of science fiction book art begins.

Further Reading

CREWS Project, “Learning about Cuneiform Tablets Behind the Scenes at the British Museum”, 14 June 2017, accessed 20 April 201. (See for an example of scribes’ skill in ink on clay.)

Richard Gameson. The Scribe Speaks? Colophons in Early English Manuscripts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. (See for the human interest: “I, Aelfric, wrote this book in the monastery of Bath”; “Pray for Wigbald”; “Just as the port is welcome to sailors, so is the final verse to scribes”.)

Bill Hill, “The Magic of Reading”, accessed 20 April 2019.

Joseph Spencer Kennard. Some early printers and their colophons. Philadelphia : G.W. Jacobs and Co., 1902. (Less academic but just as interesting and typographically more fun than Gameson.)

Alfred W. Pollard. An essay on colophons, with specimens and translations. Chicago: Caxton Club, 1905.

Alfred W. Pollard. Last words on the history of the title-page, with notes on some colophons and twenty-seven facsimiles of title-pages. London: J.C. Nimmo, 1891.

Ming-Sun Poon, “The Printer’s Colophon in Sung China, 960-1279”, The Library Quarterly,43:1 (January 1973). (See for the 34 calligraphic inscriptions and the colophon to the Diamond Sutra: “On the 15th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Hsien-t’ung [May 11, 868], Wang Chiek on behalf of his two parents reverently made this for universal free distribution.”)

Christine Proust, “Reading Colophons from Mesopotamian Clay-Tablets Dealing with Mathematics”, NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin, 20:3 (September 2012). (Helpfully diagrammed black and white views of the difficult-to-see incisions in clay.)

Ding Wang, “A Buddhist Colophon from the 4th Century: Its Reading and Meaning”, Manuscript Cultures, 3 (2010). (Beautiful photos of the scroll scribed by Baoxian.)

David C. Weber, “Colophon: An Essay on its Derivation,” Book Collector 46 (Autumn 1997).

Ads In Books: 1884? Try 960-1279, Sung China!

Ads In Books: 1884.

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

ebook-evolution

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 BookNew 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.

David Weinberger and Roy Tennant celebrated the anniversary with engaging and personal posts linked from their names here.

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

Liane Lefaivre’s, Leon Battista Alberti’s Hypnerotomachia PoliphiliRe-Configuring the Architectural Body in the Early Italian Renaissance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997).

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.

“Venice Month December. 1499. in the house of Aldus Manutius, most accurately done.”

Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!

Added 20120812.

Image

“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:

“The Open eBook Publication Structure or “OEB,” originally produced in 1999, was the precursor to EPUB.  Version 1.0 of the Publication Structure was created in the winter, spring, and summer of 1999 by the Open eBook Authoring Group.  Following the release of OEBPS 1.0, the Open eBook Forum (OeBF) was formally incorporated in January 2000.  OEBPS Version 1.0.1 [OEBPS_1_0], a maintenance release, was brought out in July 2001.  OEBPS Version 1.2 [OEBPS_1_2], incorporating new support for control by content providers over presentation along with other corrections and improvements, was released as a Recommended Specification in August 2002.   EPUB 2 was initially standardized in 2007. EPUB 2.0.1 was approved in 2010.   EPUB, Version 3, was approved as an IDPF Recommendation in October 2011.  It is substantially different from EPUB, Version 2, both in using only a single form for textual content and in having support for audio, video, and scripted interactivity (through Javascript).  No longer supported are the EPUB_2 formats for text content, one based on the Digital Talking Book [DTB_2005] format and a second form based on XHTML 1.1 compatible with OEBPS_1_2.   A single new encoding for textual Content Documents is based on HTML5/XHTML and CSS3, despite the fact that both of these W3C standards are still works in progress. SVG is supported for graphics and it is possible to have an EPUB_3 document whose “pages” consists [sic] only of graphics, for example for a graphic novel.  Several legacy features are deprecated.  Some legacy structures may be included for compatibility of EPUB_3 documents with existing EPUB_2 readers.  EPUB_3 readers are expected to render publications using version 2 and version 3.”

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!

Added 20120806.

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!

Added 20120725.

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.

Added 20120719.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120717

Another timeline, this one focused on bookbinding. Is .zip the binding for an ebook?

Added 20120717.

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.

Added 20120710.

 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”?

Added 20120706.

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.

A bookmark for the end of the book? | Colophons & copyrights: Delight in the details « Felt & Wire

See on www.feltandwire.com [Search for this link on the Wayback Machine]

On her blog “Felt & Wire,” Alyson Kuhn shares her foray into the origins of the word “colophon.” [Search for this link on the Wayback Machine]

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?”

From what better vantage than the colophon to look back for the origins of the book and forward for its future?