On occasion, interesting and unusual aspects of books, manuscripts, and prints catch the attention of the cataloger at work on them. ((One such item was written up by Sarah Werner last December in “‘Tis the season for almanacs.”)) The office of the Cataloging and Metadata Department (located on Deck A right below the Paster Reading Room) is an open area with a large table in the center, which makes it really easy to show each other the cool stuff we come across. Something interesting, unusual, and cool crossed my desk recently, and it seems a shame not to share it with a wider community.
John Newton’s Tabulae Mathematicae, or, Tables of the Naturall Sines, Tangents and Secants, published in 1654, offers up exactly what the title promises: hundreds and hundreds of pages of dense numbers in tabular form. Tucked in among its 452 unnumbered pages is a folded leaf containing (wait for it … ) a table. So far, nothing unusual.
Now we’re getting to the fun part. When the folded leaf is unfolded, we see a lot of wasted space, in stark contrast to the compact printing everywhere else.
The table’s title is at the top left, above the blank space. Instructions to the binder are printed below the blank space and running perpendicular at the fore-edge. The binder of this volume ignored the instruction to cut along the black line—else we wouldn’t be reading it—but otherwise followed orders. The purpose of this mostly blank half page? To push the content out, permitting the reader to consult two tables simultaneously.
One anomaly mars the book’s otherwise regular physical structure. The text consists of 19 whole sheets of paper that, when printed on both sides and folded, yields 12 leaves each. These sections, or gatherings, are signed sequentially from A-T, and each has 12 leaves except for gathering Q, the one that contains our folded sheet. ((For more on signature marks, see Sarah’s “Deciphering signature marks“.)) Q goes only to 10, followed directly by the folded leaf.
There are two pieces of helpful information for understanding what this anomaly might mean. First: as you can see from the diagram below, in a duodecimo the last four leaves of the gathering are printed as a strip that is then cut from the rest of the sheet before it is folded into its gathering:
And the second tidbit of useful information: folded leaves were typically printed separately—larger than the leaves of text, they couldn’t conveniently be set and printed together—and inserted by the binder into the correct place.
As you can see, a 12mo might easily have a gathering of 8 leaves instead of 12, but 10? What’s happened to the remaining 2 leaves? If you look again at the unfolded leaf, you’ll see that it is roughly twice the width of a regular leaf. The plot is thickening nicely: gathering Q alone has 10 leaves, and just where we would expect the 11th and 12th leaves of Q, we instead get a folded leaf that corresponds to the width of two leaves side-by-side. I postulate that, in contrast to how folded leaves were typically handled, this one was printed on the same sheet with the rest of Q.
No one else I showed this book to has seen anything like it, either the only usable part of a folded leaf extending beyond textblock, or evidence of folded leaves imposed together with the rest of the text. We would love to hear more about either phenomenon!