Once there was a book…

The Making of a Children’s Classic, part 2

For this second post on John Ogilby’s Fables of Aesop, I’ve decided to focus on mistakes that occured during the publishing process. During the hand-press period, the publishing process involved multiple people and aspects. First you had to ‘print’ a manuscript that was most likely written by hand. In order to print this manuscript, you needed multiple sets of type faces, which were made of metal and set by hand by the typesetter. Once the type for the page was set, it was carefully handed to the printers – one an inker and the other who would run the printed press. The type set was inked using large blotters  and then a large sheet of handmade paper was placed over it. The man running the press would run the paper through the press in a swift motion and the page would be hung to dry. Pages in which there were errors or smudges would be set aside to be used as binders waste. If the book had plates, such as in Fables of Aesop, these plates were created by an engraver and printed separately. Usually they bore some mark that would give the binder a hint as to where to place the engraving within the text. This is often where mistakes occured. Let’s take a look at one such mistake in Fables of Aesop:

photo 3

Binder’s and printer’s mistake

The binder’s mistake is somewhat clear if you look at the engraving closely. You should notice that the plate (2) is bound upside down (as evidenced by the trees and the castle). The text is printed in the correct manner, however the catchword is actually ‘varnish’d’ instead of ‘vanish’d.’

Misspelled catchword

Misspelled catchword

Thankfully, the binder was still able to correct the printer’s mistake when he bound the book. But let’s take a closer look at the plate.

Close-up of engraving

Close-up of engraving

This is a close-up of the top of the plate. In the top left-hand corner, you will see what looks like a number two (if it had been bound correctly), but it may have looked like a number seven as well. However since the binder did actually bind this next to the second fable, he probably knew that the engraving belonged next to the second tale.

So why was this plated printed upside down? Well, we won’t know for sure, but there a few assumptions we can make from what we know during the hand-press publishing period. Perhaps the binder was drawn to the the shadow of the dog, a mirror image, and he became distracted by this mirror image. So distracted in fact that he bound the engraving upside down. Another possibility is that the binder simply had too much beer to drink when he was binding the book. It is a known fact that during the hand-press period, papermakers, printers, binders, and other male workers received an allowance of beer they could drink throughout the day. It was a fair amount, ironically, given that so many aspects of these jobs required strong attention to detail. In addition to wages, beer – up to six liters a day – was supplemented for their hard work. In case you are wondering, six liters of beer is roughly equivalent to 10.5 pints of beer.

While we’ll never know why the plate was bound upside down, it does bring up some interesting questions regarding the hand-press period, and provides for wonderful discussions.

Note: Please see previous post for the citation.


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This entry was posted on July 25, 2014 by in Children's Literature, Paratexts and tagged , , , .
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