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).

Bookmark – Ringing the Changes on “The End of Books” (2014)

Are we there yet?

I mean the sesquicentenary of the premature announcement of the death of the book and such of its hangers-on as authors, readers and libraries.  I suppose I should be satisfied to have seen its centenary.  Robert Coover’s essay in the New York Times (June 1992) marked it a bit early, echoing Louis Octave Uzanne‘s tongue-in-cheek knelling in Scribner’s Magazine (August 1894), right down to the same title – “The End of Books”:

I do not believe (and the progress of electricity and modern mechanism [the phonograph] forbids me to believe) that Gutenberg’s invention can do otherwise than sooner or later fall into desuetude as a means of current interpretation of our mental products.

Uzanne - Reading on the Limited
Reading on the Limited, Pullman Circulating Library.
Illustration by Albert Robida from Uzanne’s “The End of Books”, Scribner’s Magazine, August 1894.

For Coover, not so tongue in cheek, it was hypertext’s divergent, interactive and polyvocal routes as opposed to the book’s unidirectional page-turning that heralded the death of the book (and the author).  D. T. Max rang out against CD-ROMs and the Internet bang on time in 1994 with “The End of the Book?” in The Atlantic when it was still called The Atlantic Monthly: 

… the question may not be whether, given enough time, CD-ROMS and the Internet can replace books, but whether they should. Ours is a culture that has made a fetish of impermanence. Paperbacks disintegrate, Polaroids fade, video images wear out. Perhaps the first novel ever written specifically to be read on a computer and to take advantage of the concept of hypertext … was Rob Swigart’s Portal, published in 1986 and designed for the Apple Macintosh, among other computers of its day. … Over time people threw out their old computers (fewer and fewer new programs could be run on them), and so Portal became for the most part unreadable. A similar fate will befall literary works of the future if they are committed not to paper but to transitional technology like diskettes, CD-ROMS, and Unix tapes–candidates, with eight-track tapes, Betamax, and the Apple Macintosh, for rapid obscurity. “It’s not clear, with fifty incompatible standards around, what will survive,” says Ted Nelson, the computer pioneer, who has grown disenchanted with the forces commercializing the Internet. “The so-called information age is really the age of information lost.” …  In a graphic dramatization of this mad dash to obsolescence, in 1992 the author William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace,” created an autobiographical story on computer disc called “Agrippa.” “Agrippa” is encoded to erase itself entirely as the purchaser plays the story. Only thirty-five copies were printed, and those who bought it left it intact. One copy was somehow pirated and sent out onto the Internet, where anyone could copy it. Many users did, but who and where is not consistently indexed, nor are the copies permanent–the Internet is anarchic. “The original disc is already almost obsolete on Macintoshes,” says Kevin Begos, the publisher of “Agrippa.” “Within four or five years it will get very hard to find a machine that will run it.” Collectors will soon find Gibson’s story gone before they can destroy it themselves.

Best not to wait for that sequicentenary then.  Accommodatingly in 2012, David A. Bell and Leah Price rolled out the canon more with Google, ebooks and the Kindle tolling not merely for the print book but rather for the New York Public Library and all libraries. We even had screenings throughout 2013 and scheduled for January 2014 of the documentary Out of Print, which asks, “Is the book as we know it really dead? Is the question even important in an always-on, digital world?”

The nearer one stands, of course, the louder it is.

Sounded in the nineties but not obviously well heard, Paul Duguid, he of The Social Life of Information co-fame with John Seely Brown, advised “taking a breath”:

… it’s important to resist announcements of the death of the book or the more general insistence that the present has swept away the past or that new technologies have superseded the old. To refuse to accept such claims is not, however, to deny that we are living through important cultural or technological changes. Rather, it’s to insist that to assess the significance of these changes and to build the resources to negotiate them, we need specific analysis not sweeping dismissals.

… to offer serious alternatives to the book, we need first to understand and even to replicate aspects of its social and material complexity. Indeed, for a while yet, it will probably be much more productive to go by the book than to go on insistently but ineffectually repeating “good bye”.

So it is heartening (or depressing if you are a Jeremiah) to see 2013 rung out with an essay by Roger Schonfeld (ITHAKA S+R) that celebrates and encourages the specific analysis Duguid urged.  In “Stop the Presses: Is the monograph headed for an e-only future?”, Schonfeld suggests several directions for further research and design:

  • What are the perceived constraints of existing digital interfaces with respect to long-form reading of scholarly monographs? What functional requirements does print currently serve better than digital with respect to monographs, even recognizing that many of the same individuals are acquiring and using tablets and reader devices for other purposes? How can content platforms and publishers better address the needs of academic readers and other users?
  • In an environment that has in many ways grown more fragmented over time, how can libraries and content platforms ensure the most efficient discovery and access experience possible for users of scholarly monographs? Is there a place for serendipity?
  • How can stewards of primary source materials in tangible and digital form, such as archives, museums, and digital libraries, most effectively support the digitization of their own materials for discovery and access purposes and provide for rich linkages with the analysis of their holdings found in the scholarly monograph?
  • If greater opportunities are provided over time for readers to engage with the primary sources, how might authors respond to reshape the nature of the monograph?
  • Will the digital version of the scholarly monograph diverge from the print version as additional features can be added?

At the heart of what changes but remains in the shift from print to digital are Search and Usability or “ambient findability” as Peter Morville terms them. Morville’s seminal work on information architecture, search and user experience focuses on the Web but is equally applicable to the book and ebook. A superior e-monograph will enlighten its readers by the author’s choice of information architecture and its enabling them to learn and evaluate the search paths that lead to the presentation, the arguments and the primary sources. Likewise the superior print monograph achieves its goals by the judicious combination of preliminaries, Part, Chapter, endmatter and thousands of years’ development of paratextual apparatus.

Of the print apparatus for search and usability, the table of contents and other parts of the printed book’s preliminaries may not remain a useful point of entry to a scholarly ebook. In 2002, when a small team at McGraw-Hill working with Unbound Medicine decided that putting the index at the front of HarrisonsOnHand in place of the table of contents made more sense for the user of an HP iPAQ, they thought they had made a major breakthrough for mobile ebooks. Almost. What they were realizing is the centrality of those twin navigational stars, Search and Usability.

Only a little over a decade later, the insight continues to dawn, and with the intervening improvements in interfaces and devices, it may be much brighter this time.

The process of digitizing a printed book involves much more than the conversion of ink on paper to bits in a file. Functional aspects of the book must be mapped to digital equivalents. Thus we have tables of contents and indices turning into hyperlinks and spine files, page numbers that beget location anchors and progress indicators.

So wrote Eric Hellman earlier this year in “Anachronisms and Dysfunctions of eBook Front and Back Matter” and concluded that the title page in an ebook ought to be a “Start” page like the start screens in the old interactive CD ROMs or today’s DVDs of television series. Publishers such as Faber with T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land or Moonbot Studios with The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore have done just that.

Although the EPUB doyen and doyenne, Richard Pipe and Liz Castro, advised usability-driven rethinking of frontmatter, the practice is not widespread among purveyors of the less-than-enhanced ebook. Most editorial and design advisors such as Joel Friedlander only go so far. Their advice generally assumes the direct transfer of print frontmatter to the ebook. While allowing for the omission of spatial anachronisms like the bastard or half title, they only caution against overburdening the ebook’s frontmatter. As for the traditional index at the other end of the ebook, many publishers omit them or simply replicate the print version without links. Ebook indexes that link terms to their multiple locations in the text regardless of the flow of the text in the ereader or device are rare for obvious technical and financial reasons, and only this year was an EPUB specification for the index approved.

The two great affordances of the printed book that most challenge today’s ebooks and ereaders, however, are legibility and the page.  While screen legibility may be improving at a “blinding rate”, we have today little more specific, scientific analysis of screen vs print legibility than Ellen Lupton found in 2003, although Jakob Nielsen remains indefatigable on the subject. Mechanics aside, the debate over the efficacy of reading from the page vs that from the screen should always be kept in mind. Ferris Jabr‘s April 2013 article in Scientific American and the six months of responses to it helped the topic considerably.  Jabr concluded, “When it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage. But text is not the only way to read.” Which harks back to the conclusion of a previous post in Books on Books and Jerome Bruner’s  apt observation of Lev Vygotsky’s fondness for Sir Francis Bacon’s epigram, “Nec manus, nisi intellectus, sibi permissus, multum valent” (Neither hand nor intellect left each to itself is worth much)” (247).   Perhaps for now neither print nor digital left each to itself is sufficient.

How the page matters.  Enough so for Bonnie Mak to make it the subject and title of her book and to join Johanna Drucker, Peter Stoicheff, Jerome McGann and a long list of scholars conducting the analysis Duguid urged.  As the August 2013 Ploughshares interview with her illustrates, Mak’s focus and interest on the material aspects of the page and book extends also to the library and performance art. Which brings us back to Drucker the book artist, who argues that instead of considering the page, table of contents, etc., as static, iconographic features of format, we should think of them as cognitive cues in an instruction set in the “program” of the codex.  With reflowable text and responsive design, though, the cues can become slippery, so much so that the EPUB standard makers introduced Fixed Layout Properties with EPUB3.

This line of thinking about print space vs e-space comes sharply into focus if we consider annotatability, another of the printed book’s apparently superior affordances. While various devices and ereaders offer the ability to highlight and annotate, not all do, and the annotations are rarely accessible to others or across devices and platforms.  The Web and ebook standards communities are hard at work on a specification for open annotation, which will enable the reader to share annotations of a work with other readers and enable annotations upon annotations. While we wait for the standards, though, the market spawns numerous solutions such as Readmill and SocialBook that functionally reflect “the conceptual and intellectual motivations” behind the affordance.

These experiments and successes exemplify the specifics Duguid urged. The big print-to-digital experiment of the last decade, however, that would by any measure be deemed to have exceeded expectations is the Google Book Project.   Whether it was conducted in any sense “by the book” has been extensively argued in the courts and wherever else publishers, authors, technophobes and technophiles tend to gather.  The year saw the dismissal of the Authors’ Guild case against Google, which left everyone just to carry on behind the scenes as they had been. So we are left with both the occasion for further bell-tolling for the book and further Duguidian exploration and experimentation as well as the avenues of research suggested by Schonfeld.

There is, however, one more change to ring at the close of 2013. The metaLABproject pulls a bit on that rope, but Kenneth Goldsmith grasps it firmly and echoes Michael Agresta‘s earlier insights into the many web-to-print phenomena that demonstrate that these two technologies may be forever intertwined.   Goldsmith’s “The Artful Accidents of Google Books” highlights several individuals’ obsession with scanning errors from the Google Book Project.  One of them is Paul Soulellis, the proprietor of the Library of the Printed Web, which “consists entirely of stuff pulled off the Web and bound into paper books”.  

Soulellis calls the Library of the Printed Web “an accumulation of accumulations,” much of it printed on demand. In fact, he says that “I could sell the Library of the Printed Web and then order it again and have it delivered to me in a matter of days.” A few years ago, such books would never have been possible. The book is far from dead: it’s returning in forms that few could ever have imagined.

Or imagined digesting, like the series of book art by the late Dieter Roth, Literaturwurst (1969), to which Agresta gloomily alludes as “a final possible future for the paper book in the age of digital proliferation”.

I can hardly wait another thirty years!

Publications mentioned

Michael Agresta, “What Will Become of the Paper Book? How their design will evolve in the age of the Kindle,” Slate, 8 May 2012, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/design/2012/05/will_paper_books_exist_in_the_future_yes_but_they_ll_look_different_.html

Rick Anderson, “The Future(?) of the Scholarly(?) Monograph(?)”, The Scholarly Kitchen, 23 December 2013, accessed 23 December: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/12/23/the-future-of-the-scholarly-monograph/

David A. Bell, “The Bookless Library”, The New Republic, 12 July 2012, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.newrepublic.com/node/104873/print   

Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (New York: Faber and Faber, 1994)

Liz Castro, Comments on Richard Pipe, “ePub and Spine Order”, 31 May 2010, accessed 2 June 2013: http://infogridpacific.typepad.com/using_epub/2010/05/ebooks-and-spine-order.html

Robert Coover, “The End of Books,” New York Times on the Web, 21 June 1992, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/27/specials/coover-end.html

Johanna Drucker, “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to E-space”, Book Arts Web, 25 April 2003, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.philobiblon.com/drucker/#johanna

Paul Duguid, “Material Matters: Aspects of the Past and the Futurology of the Book”, 1996, accessed 24 December 2013: http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~duguid/SLOFI/Material_Matters.htm

Joel Friedlander, “Self-Publishing Basics: How to Organize Your Book’s Frontmatter,” The Book Designer, 8 February 2012, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/02/self-publishing-basics-how-to-organize-your-books-front-matter/

Kenneth Goldsmith, “The Artful Accidents of Google Books, The New Yorker, 5 December 2013, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/12/the-art-of-google-book-scan.html

Eric Hellman,  “Anachronisms and Dysfunctions of eBook Front and Back Matter”, Go to Hellman, 8 February 2013, accessed 2 June 2013: http://go-to-hellman.blogspot.ca/2013/02/anachronisms-and-dysfunctions-of-ebook.html

Gretchen E. Henderson, “People of the Book: Bonnie Mak”, Ploughshares, 20 August 2013, accessed 28 December 2013: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/people-of-the-book-bonnie-mak/

International Digital Publishing Forum, EPUB Indexes 1.0, 4 November 2013, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.idpf.org/epub/idx/

Ferris Jabr, “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens”, Scientific American, 11 April 2013, accessed 14 April 2013: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=reading-paper-screens

Anne Kostick, “Digital Reading: UX Publishing Outsider May Lead the Way for Publishing Insiders”, Digital Book World, 14 March 2011, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/digital-reading-ux-publishing-outsider-may-lead-the-way-for-publishing-insiders/

Ellen Lupton, ““Cold Eye: Big Science”, Print magazine, Summer 2003, accessed 28 December 2013: http://elupton.com/2009/10/science-of-typography/#more-113

Bonnie Mak, How the Page Matters (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012)

J. W. Manus, “Fun With Ebook Formatting: The Title Page and Front Matter,” Ebooks = Real Books, 23 April 2013, accessed 2 June 2013: http://jwmanus.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/fun-with-ebook-formatting-the-title-page-and-front-matter/

J. A. Marlow, “Effective Ebook Front and Back Matter,” The Worlds of J. A. Marlow, 19 April 2012, accessed 2 June 2013: http://jamarlow.com/2012/04/effective-ebook-front-and-back-matter/

D. T. Max, “The End of the Book?” Atlantic Monthly 274 (Sept. 1994): 61-71.

Jerome McGann, “Visible and Invisible Books: Hermetic Images in N-Dimensional Space”, nd, accessed 28 December 2013: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/jjm2f/old/nlh2000web.html

Peter Morville, Semantic Studios, accessed 2 June 2013: http://semanticstudios.com/

Priscilla Coit Murphy, “Books Are Dead, Long Live Books”, Media in Transition, 19 December 1999, accessed 28 December 2013:  http://web.mit.edu/m-i-t/articles/index_murphy.html

Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 29 December 2013: http://www.nngroup.com/

Richard Pipe, “ePub and Spine Order”, Using ePub, 30 May 2010, accessed 2 June 2013: http://infogridpacific.typepad.com/using_epub/2010/05/ebooks-and-spine-order.html

Leah Price, “Dead Again”, New York Times, 10 August 2012, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/books/review/the-death-of-the-book-through-the-ages.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&

Deena Rae, “Parts of an Ebook,” e-bookbuilders, 25 December 2012, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.e-bookbuilders.com/2012/12/parts-of-an-ebook/

Robert Sanderson and Paolo Ciccarese, “Open Annotation: Bridging the Divide?”, Slideshare,  11 February 2013, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.slideshare.net/azaroth42/open-annotation-bridging-the-divide

Roger Schonfeld’s “Stop the Presses: Is the monograph headed toward an e-only future?” (ITHAKA S+R, 10 December 2013, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.sr.ithaka.org/blog-individual/stop-presses-monograph-headed-toward-e-only-future)

Peter Stoicheff (editor) and Andrew Taylor (editor), The Future of the Page (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).  See also the YouTube interview of Stoicheff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XKHa7PH61c

Brad Stone, “Documentary Film Investigates the (Alleged) Death of Books”, BloombergBusinessweek, 10 May 2013, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-10/documentary-film-investigates-the-alleged-death-of-books

Louis Octave Uzanne, “The End of Books”, Scribner’s Magazine, August 1894, accessed 23 December: http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=scri;cc=scri;rgn=full%20text;idno=scri0016-2;didno=scri0016-2;view=image;seq=0229;node=scri0016-2%3A9

Bookmark – Bodoni’s Bicentennial

English: Comparative Bauer Bodoni versus Bodon...
English: Comparative Bauer Bodoni versus Bodoni Català: Comparativa Bauer Bodoni vs Bodoni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the passing of a great contributor to the linked histories of the book and typography:  Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813).  Bodoni among others such as Fournier and Didot established the “Modern” fonts, typefaces characterized by the extreme contrast of their thick and thin strokes, delicate and sharp serifs and a chilly sparkling engraving-like quality heightened by generous leading and made possible by improvements in 18th and 19th century typecasting and manufacture of ink and paper.  Bodoni planned and formed the royal printing house for the Duke of Parma in the Palazzo della Pilotta, where the Museo Bodoniano resides today.  Associated with Pope Sixtus V, Carlos III of Spain and the Duke of Parma, Bodoni became one of the most celebrated printers in Europe.

View of Palazzo della Pilotta. The rebuilt par...
View of Palazzo della Pilotta. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Bodoni’s fame in his lifetime was of a piece with that of the Romantic figures Chopin, Liszt, Byron, Goethe and Shelley, his output was Neoclassical with editions of Homer, Catullus, Virgil, Horace and the English poets Thomas Gray and James Thomson.  His two-volume Manuale Tipografico (1788, 1818) is a meticulous monument of typographic art with more than 14o sets of roman and italic typefaces, a wide selection of decorative designs and symbols and alphabets from the Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, Phoenician, Armenian, Coptic, and Tibetan languages.  The 1818 two-volume edition can be viewed online at the Bibiloteca Bodoni.

Portrait of Bodoni (c. 1805-1806), by Giuseppe...
Portrait of Bodoni (c. 1805-1806), by Giuseppe Lucatelli. Museo Glauco Lombardi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This flowering of typography and design – reflective of the age and technical developments of book printing – prompts a thought toward the impact of today’s technology – screen display, ereaders, XML and HTML, cascading style sheets, etc. – not only on type and design but their purpose as well.

“The type and pages beg to be admired – that is looked at – which is well and good, except that looking and reading are quite different, actually contradictory, acts…. To look at things, we either disengage and let them flow by on their own or we stop them in their tracks.  To look we hold our breath or (in the worst of cases) pant.  To read we breathe.”  So say Warren Chappell and Robert Bringhurst in their critical comments on Bodoni and the Moderns. (A Short History of the Printed Word, pp. 173-74; 1970,1999.)

Perhaps we are still in the age of e-incunabula and have not reached the point where type and design on the screen beg to be admired.   The improvements delivered by Readmill and Readability have been welcome for their contribution to ease of reading.  It may be perverse to wish for developments that may interfere as Chappell and Bringhurst assert the Modern faces interfere with reading.  But that assumes that they are right in their hieratic statement “To read we breathe.”   Might it be as legitimate to assert “To read we click.  To read we link.  To read we dim or brighten.  To read we tilt from portrait to landscape causing the page to reflow.”?  

Will High Definition play the role that improved paper surfaces played to allow those thinner strokes and delicate serifs in the 18th and 19th centuries?  And if it does, what on-screen design, comparable to Bodoni’s increased leading, will perform the same heightening effect for new faces and design that beg to be admired?  

Bodoni Ornaments
Bodoni Ornaments (Photo credit: Bene*)

For more on the subject of Bodoni, see “Biblioteca Bodoni Launched on Bicentennial Anniversary of Giambattista Bodoni’s Death” by Yves Peters, The Font Feed, 11 December 2013.

Bookmark — Anniversary of The Imprint and Its Font

Gerard Meynell's The Imprint
Gerard Meynell’s The Imprint

The Imprint

This year is the centenary of Gerard Meynell’s trade periodical The Imprint, which was the scene of Stanley Morison’s first appearance in print. How appropriate then that Morison’s book A Tally of Types tells the story of the journal’s founding and, equally important, how the historic font called Imprint Old Face came into being. The font’s importance is that “the design had been originated for mechanical composition. … the first design, not copied or stolen from the typefounders, to establish itself as a standard book-face.”(p.21) Ironically, Meynell and his colleagues intended for the font to be freely available to the trade, but eventually it came into the ownership of Monotype Imaging, where it can be obtained today under the OpenType family.

As the world of print morphs into its digital incarnation, we see the same impetus behind the new generation of typographers, the ones born digital, but we see varying degrees of adherence to the “type wants to be free” movement.

Bookmarking Book Art – Franziska, a typeface

The Fine Press Book Association’s inaugural Student Type Design Competition sprang from the hope that by building bridges between printers and young type designers we might end up creating new material resources for the fine press community.

A PDF document called the Making of Franziska – a hybrid text-face between slab and serif is available for downloading.  This document is quite well put together and provides a kind of tutorial on type design.

franziska-font_runge_03_text_04_freundliche-versalien

Bookmarking — A Variable Redletter Day?

In a report possibly falling under the category “What the Font?” or  simply “Sans Clue,” PoliceSpecials.com carried this story from the BBC today:

“Thousands of motorway speeding convictions could be overturned because the font used to display the numbers on some variable speed limit signs may not have complied with traffic regulations.  The Crown Prosecution Service said the signs showed mph numbers taller and narrower than they should have been.”

The typefaces mandated by the Department of Transport for traffic speed limit signs are Transport Medium, Transport Heavy and Motorway Permanent.  The designers were Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert.   Simon Garfield provides an amusing chapter in Just My Type on how their design came to be adopted.  But the typeface in question on which the BBC has belatedly reported (see the Daily Mail for the original scoop last December) is this:

variable

According to roadsuk.com (well, that is the URL, although a bit of blue in the letters “u” and “k” help to disambiguate the message),  the font seems to be named (imaginative this) “Variable Message Sign.”   But in the Daily Mail article, neither the “wrong” nor “right” signs illustrated seems to be in the Variable Message Sign typeface.  So, what the font?

article-2251985-169E2590000005DC-278_634x671 article-2251985-169E2560000005DC-717_634x668

A bookmark for Norma Levarie, The Art & History of Books (New York, 1968)

Norma Levarie (1920-1999) was a graphic designer and author of  children’s books, one a winner of a New York Herald Tribune award — Little People in a Big Country.   But, in addition to her design work for the National Audubon Society, The Jewish Museum, The University of Chicago Press, Oxford University Press, Random House and Harry N. Abrams, this Virginian’s most important gift to those interested in the evolution of the book and book arts is her volume The Art & History of the Book (New York: James H. Heineman, 1968).

The quality of her research and writing measures up to the best.  If only Heineman had been able to afford color reproductions, her ability to handle illustrations and her keen eye for selection of examples would have placed this book in good company with works such as Michael Olmert’s The Smithsonian Book of Books (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1992).  Still, Levarie’s book merits a bookmark for its overarching message, which is cleverly embodied in the book’s organization.

Facing the stark image of the Prism of Sennacherib on the opposite page, these words of Ashburnipal launch the book on the recto page:

Prism of Sennacherib. Assyrian, VII century B.C. Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Height 15 in. Reproduced from Levarie, The Art & History of the Book (New York, 1968).

“. . .  I read the beautiful clay tablets from Sumer and the obscure Akkadian writing which is hard to master.

I had my joy in the reading of inscriptions in stone from the time before the flood. . . .”

Continuing chronologically up to the fifteenth century and “block book,” Levarie switches to a geographical approach, starting of course with Germany, ending with England and returning to a timeline overview from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, the last illustrated with pages from Spiral Press’s Ecclesiastes (New York, 1965), drawings by Ben Shahn, engraving by Stefan Martin and calligraphy by David Shoshensky, and  Apollonaire’s Le Bestiare (Paris, 1911).

Guillaume Apollonaire, Le Bestiaire. Paris, 1911. Woodcuts by Dufy. Yale University Library, Graphic Arts Collection. 14 x 10 1/4 in.

This structure neatly builds to these concluding words:

“The homogenizing forces of our time have broken many barriers of national style, and sometimes it is difficult to tell at a glance the origin of a book.   But local differences in production or taste still exist, and where they are manifest they bring the pleasure of variety.  . . .

For the lover of fine books, nothing can replace the bite of type or plate into good paper, the play of well-cut, well-set text against illustration or decoration of deep artistic value.  But an inexpensive edition can carry its own aesthetic validity through imaginative or appropriate design.  These are not matters of concern only for aesthetes; if, in an era of uncertain values, we want to keep alive respect for ideas and knowledge, it is important to give books a form that encourages respect.  The style and production of books, for all the centuries they have been made, still have much to offer the designer and publisher in challenge, the reader in pleasure.” (303-06)

Leaping ahead more than fifty years to the shift from print to digital, we find that many of the observations and message legitimately reassert themselves.   Websites and ebooks do vary in design from region to region, but standardization and, more so, the global character of the Web and the products of the technology industries counter-assert a homogeneity in design.  Sven Birkerts‘ elegies for Gutenberg are echoed across blogs devoted to the continuing pleasures of the printed book.  But likewise Levarie’s stand that these are not merely matters for the elite is echoed across the debate of print vs digital in the popular press and the democratizing blogosphere.

What still must be translated from her message is how to make the leap that, if we respect ideas and knowledge, we must give online books as well as print books a form that encourages respect.

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?

Ebook Timeline — A continuing post, updated 2014 February 16

With static infographics gaining ever more popularity, this was inevitable:

the-evolution-of-the-book_50290aed00a7e_w1500
The Evolution of the Book
Visual.ly, 2011

Anyone up for grafting on some branches to cover Queen Anne’s Statute (1710), the German forerunner of the mass-market paperback (1867),  the introduction of the English modern paperback (1935), the introduction of standards (ISBN, EPUB), the start of the Google Print/Book Project (2004/2005), the month and year ebook sales overtook print sales at Amazon (May 2011), the appearance of the first book app  … ?

Jeremy Norman’s From Cave Paintings to the Internet remains the invaluable resource for such timelines.

Updated 20140216

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?

Added 20120806.

Age of IncunabulaAs 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?

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.

Feel free to suggest other timeline entries!

Previous:

Not as interactive as the Counterspace timeline for typography below, but certainly as densely informative, and this infographic extends to typography online.   Added 20120719.

Another timeline, this one focused on bookbinding. Is .zip the binding for an ebook? Added 20120717.

On the heels of the question above comes an outstanding interactive infographic from Counterspace on a critical element of the book: typography.  Added 20120710.

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.

INCIPIT (i.e., where the scoop started earlier in July):

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 2008, which means that the signal events in 2011/12 of ebooks sales’ outstripping those of print in certain months are still to be added.