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The production of books in early modern england

Vastly different from the process of producing books today, books in the early modern period were printed in a sheet-by-sheet process that were then folded, bound together, covered, and thus completed. The folding of these sheets was synonymous to the price of the book; a folio for example being considerably more expensive that an octavo. This was due to price of paper as a commodity in this era, and therefore, a folio version of a text, where each sheet was folded once, required much more paper than an octavo, where each sheet was folded eight times.

We can see the number of sheets used in a book made in the early modern period as they generally feature at the bottom of the page an ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ etc. or a similar way of marking that enables those who bound the sheets together to understand what order they go in. Much like the writing of plays, it appears that the printing process itself too was very collabarative.

Designed by Johannas Gutenberg but brought to England by William Caxton in 1476, printing presses were used to print the text onto the sheets. This process originally involved the use of woodblock where letters were lined up and placed on a wooden board called a ‘galley’. This galley is then bound with chord to stabalise the individual matrix / letters in place and placed on a wooden frame upon a strone press. The text / letter cut-outs are then inked and moistened paper is laid over the structure. This is then rolled under the carriage and the printed page is removed.

Another comparison with early modern book production and today’s is the authority that the publishers had over the construction of a book, rather than the author. Firstly, the printers manufactured and created the physical sheets / pages of the book. These sheets were then bound by the stationers and covered according to the customers wishes. The publishers, however had the most authority over the book’s production, and were responsible for paying the author, the stationers’ licensing fees and providing the printers with paper. However, they did not just control the money aspect of a book’s creation, but held authority over what could be included or discluded from the content of the title pages, including dedications, commissioned dedicatory verses to the author or even the author’s name.

The Fairie Queene and The Shepeardes Calendar, together with the other works of England’s arch-poet, Edm. Spenser 1611. 

  • This collection, an updated version from the original publication of Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene 1590&1596 and his other works, was interesting to look at and compare to the previous publication of it as there was distinctive differences in the two published texts. The collection published later, was published as a Folio as opposed to the first publication which was a Quarto. 
  • Furthermore, the paratext in the collection of works was far more elaborate, not just because of the extra text added to the dedications, but also the printed text was far neater, and the print more elaborate. 
  • According to ESTC this particular edition was the first of these as it was printed as a collection, with only one other edition of it having been published.  

The Countesse of Pembroke’s Arcadia, Philip Sidney. 1633. 

  • ESTC indicates that this particular edition is a second edition of the text, whilst the title page revealed that this was the 8th time of the author being published, with the edition having ‘never before printed sonnets’ from the Sidney.   
  • Furthermore, this edition also featured a supplementary passage by Sir W.A Knight, which when consulting ESTC could be identified Sir William Alexander, the Earl of Stirling. In addition to this, the second edition also features a dedication from the author to his sister and a letter to the reader signed by a H.S.; Hugh Stanford on behalf of the countess. 
  • Fundamentally, when examining the additional material in later versions of printed texts, we can usually observe an increase in paratextual material that in turn can alter the meaning and reception of the texts as a literary entity. 

Sophia, Elli, Kelly, Becky, Luke