Sometimes books surprise us, and not always for the reasons we expect. Is there something unusual about the book below? Is is maybe a bit more narrowly oblong than usual?
Two years ago, I took Rare Book School’s course on descriptive bibliography. It was a great experience—it immersed me, and a group of other similarly dedicated biblionerds (as one of my friends affectionately refers to those of us who ooh and ahh at the intricacies and oddities of rare books), into the details of producing descriptions of rare books according to the established principles of bibliographical description. (“What would Bowers do?” was our mantra.) 1
But the biggest thing I took away from that experience was the revelation on the final day of a format that I’d never heard of before—a decimo, or, as my DesBib friends and I still like to shout when we’re surprised, a tenmo! That’s right, 10mo, a format that consists of 10 leaves per sheet of paper, accomplished by dividing the paper lengthwise in half and widthwise in fifths. One of the interesting things about the 10mo is that if it’s a 10mo in 5s (that is, if there are 5 leaves to a gathering, rather than 10), you could end up with a collation formula that uses odd numbers—something that is generally otherwise unheard of. In fact, David Whitesell’s challenge to us in class that day was to imagine a scenario in which a collation formula would be correct if it read A-C5. Novices that we were, we couldn’t. And when he pulled out a book and explained the existence of a 10mo format, there were audible gasps in the room.
This particular 10mo is a 1627 Venetian traveler’s phrase book, a genre usually referred to as Berlaimonts (or Barlements), after Nöel de Berlaimont, whose “Vocabulare,” first published in Amsterdam in 1530, kicked off the genre. This Berlaimont was published in Venice and translates common phrases into 8 languages: Latin, French, Flemish, German, Spanish, Italian, English, and Portuguese. In this opening, you can see that the English dialogue begins, “I trust you wil bring me good loock” (click to enlarge the image and put your language skills to the test):
The Collation will be on a relaxed schedule for August, with posts appearing a leisurely once a week. This post serves as a sort of “crocodilish” mystery to tide you over until our regular teasers return in the fall. I hope that your August brings you good luck and that you make plenty of exciting discoveries that allow you, whether they are of a bibliographic nature or not, to exclaim, “Tenmo!” 2
- The answer, of course, was to be found in Fredson Bowers’s Principles of Bibliographical Description, first published in 1949 and oft reprinted since.
- Should you wish to learn more about 10mos, and the questions raised by it, read David Paisey’s “Decimo: Reflections on Some Rare Formats” in The Italian Book 1465-1800: Studies Presented to Dennis E. Rhodes, ed. Denis V. Reidy (1993), pp. 161-74 and B.J. McMullin’s “Paisey’s Oblong Decimo,” Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand Bulletin 20 (1996): 224-25.