Rare Book Descriptions, The Title Page

The bibliographic description is a method of cataloging rare books that helps librarians, archivists and collectors distinguish between different texts. In a descriptive bibliography, there are generally five main parts. The transcription of the title page is typically the first of these. The others include the formula, which gives information about the construction of the text; technical notes, the paper, typeface and other aspects of the text; analysis of the book’s contents; and annotations, which may include details about the books history.

If you find yourself in possession of a rare book and you want to compare its title page to another transcription or you want to write a transcription of a title page for a rare book, there are a few conventions to follow:

¥ Separate each line with a “ | ”

¥ Record capitalization, spelling, bold face and italics exactly as shown on the title page.

¥ In older texts, do not replace “v” with “u” or “J” with “I” if the alternative was used originally.

¥ Do not correct errors. Instead use [w.f.] for wrong fonts and [sic] and include the error.

¥ Record rules as [within two rules], [swelled rule] and [vertical rule] and include the length in millimeters (rules are assumed to be horizontal unless otherwise indicated.

¥ Record “type ornaments” as [type orn.] or [row of type orn.]. Include the height and width in millimeters.

¥ Record borders as [within a compartment] and [within a frame] and include the height and with in millimeters.*

¥ Record devices and woodcuts as [device] .*

¥ Record engraved title pages as [engraved t.p.].*

*Borders, devices and engraved title pages may be standard marks used by publishers or printers. These can be indicated below the transcription with a reference or indicating (see below).

Title page transcriptions should conform to these conventions, but there are no precise rules and this allows for a degree of flexibility. Here’s an example of transcription done for a mass-market paperback purchased last year:

[Illustrative title, “GoOD OMeNs,” 36 x 53 mm] | The | NICE and ACCURATE | Prophecies of | Agnes Nutter, | WITCH | [Illustrated type in circular form, “Terry Pratchett (type orn.) Neil Gaiman (type orn.),” 41 x 41 mm] | [type orn., 9 x 5 mm] | HarperTorch | An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers


Comments and Additions are always welcome…