Crazy for Colophons

     During these uncertain times of global pandemic, many people have been asking themselves, “What is the deal with colophons?” We're of course kidding. But, we all know the scenario. You have finally made it to the end of a great novel. The wily detective has revealed who the murderer was, or perhaps a young wizard has triumphed over an evil necromancer. Whatever the plot of the story may be, you can rest assured that it has finally ended. But as you read the final page, and you begin to bask in the satisfaction of completing a fascinating story, you gasp to realize that there is yet another page of text to be read. How can there be more? What could this page be? Why, it is the colophon page, of course.

   Avid readers are oftentimes rewarded with a colophon page. Many can feel short changed when the colophon is omitted. The colophon is usually a short paragraph that explains the style and history of the type font used in the book, sometimes including information about or the logo of the book’s printer. Colophons are often found at the end of a text, with the heading, "About the Type'. Sometimes, the colophon will appear first few pages of the book. Colophons have existed for as long as there have been printed books. This brief essay will highlight some of the unique colophons that can be found in SLPL’s Rare Books and Manuscripts' collection.

   Our first selection is from Joseph Spencer Kennard's overview of Some Early Printers and Their Colophons. In the early days of printing press, colophons were often employed by the printers in a promotional, or dare I say, self-congratulatory manner. Please review the colophon from a collection of Virgil's work printed by a Christopher Waldarfer below.

   An excerpt reads 'If any of you desires books that are well printed, books in which from beginning to end there is no blemish, let him examine this"

 Our next example is from a fun little book called Facts About Sherry by Henry Vizetelly from the 19th century. Who knew there was so much to know about sherry? This colophon for our edition includes a unique printer's logo for Bacchus Press. 

 

The 1903 first edition of Jack London's classic Call of the Wild seen below has a wonderfully illustrated cover and a nifty colophon. Next up is our first edition copy of H.L. Mencken's Notes on Democracy from 1926. Note how the colophon provides a great deal of printing information including the Linotype in which it is set, named after Italian scholar and printer Giambattista Bodoni, the Esparto (a type of grass) paper made in Scotland, and the binding by The Plimpton Press of Norwood, Mass.

As is the case with many of our titles published by small and private presses, this slim volume on paperweights identifies the book's number as 453 out of 500 from its print run.

 

   We finish our brief journey through the world of colophons with examples from two local authors, the late William H. Gass and Curtis Sittenfeld, who called St. Louis her home for many years. Please note the extensive and very descriptive colophon from Gass' novel. Also of interest, the type for Sittenfeld's novel is listed as Minion. Our studies can find no connection between this font and the beloved animated film characters. Further research may be necessary.

     We hope that you enjoyed this brief overview of colophons. Be sure to be on the lookout for them in your future readings. As always, give us a call at 314-539-0370 or email us at specialcollections@slpl.org to make an appointment to view items in Rare Books & Manuscripts. Thanks!

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