Once there was a book…

The Making of a Children’s Classic, Part 1

Title page

From The Fables of Aesop Paraphras’d in Verse: Adorn’d with sculpture, and illustrated with annontations by John Ogilby. 1668, Thomas Roycroft: London. Oversize 04

As the second oldest book in the Baldwin Library, this particular title is truly one of the treasures of the Baldwin Library. According to WorldCat there are only eight physical copies in the world. It was printed during the hand-press period (1474 to mid-19th century), when paper was made from pulp rags and each page had its type set by hand and then printed on the press by hand, sheet-by-sheet. Measuring 10.5 in x 16.5 in and weighing around 25 pounds, this Fables of Aesop never fails to amaze students, researchers, and faculty—not only because of its impressive size but also that such a printing achievement occurred so early in time.

The author, John Ogilby, has a colorful history. A Scot born in 1600, he was a well-known translator of Greek and Latin, a former dance master, and a theatre owner in Ireland (where he became Master of the Revels in 1637 and again in 1661, when the monarchy was restored). Ogilby is most famous for creating and publishing the first British road atlas. In 1651 he published the first edition of The Fables of Aesop and the original second edition was published in 1665, but was lost due to the Great Fire of 1666. This second edition was re-printed in 1668 by Thomas Roycroft, a London Polyglot printer who was also named Orientalium Typographius Regius (The King’s Printer in Oriental tongues), and held other titles such as the King’s print office in England, and the King’s printing office in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Once the pages had been printed and the engravings (of which there are 81 in this book) were collected, they were given to a binder in the city who would hand sew the pages together. Two items printed on the page would give the binder an idea of how to bind the book correctly, especially since pages were often printed out-of-order and the engravings were printed separately. Here is a page from The Fables of Aesop:

Beginning page

This page contains not only decorative markings (header and beginning letter of the fable), but also annotations off to the side (rather like footnotes) and, at the bottom of the page, a binder’s mark and a catchword. The binder’s mark was a either an upper case or lower case letter printed in the center bottom of the page. This marking, which could run the entire alphabet before going into double letters, would tell the binder how to fold the pages (for example, this title is a folio) and also assist in the order of the pages since you could not always rely on a correctly numbered page. In addition to the binder’s mark, there was a catchword printed in the bottom right of the page. This ‘catch’ word was the first word of the next page, so it would catch the binder if there was any doubt as to which page came next. Engravings were numbered and inserted in by the binder in that order.

binder’s mark                         catchword


However, as we will see from the next post on Thursday that even with these helpful hints for the binder, mistakes could often occur due to human error. Our next post will look at both the printer’s and binder’s mistakes which happened during the making of this beautiful book and offer some possible explanations as to how these mistakes could have occurred…



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This entry was posted on July 21, 2014 by in Children's Literature, Paratexts and tagged , .
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