The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“What’s in a Name?” or, Going Sideways

When, in Act 2 of William Shakespeare’s famous teen suicide play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet muses “[w]hat’s in a name? That which we call a rose / [b]y any other word would smell as sweet,”1 it’s lucky for her that she isn’t speaking to a librarian. Although her sentiment is poetic, we librarians prefer to be a bit more precise when it comes to terminology. I usually appreciate my profession’s dedication to controlled vocabulary, but sometimes (for example, while writing this crocodile reveal post) it can be a bit maddening.

Two weeks ago, I posted what I thought would be a fairly straightforward crocodile mystery. A colleague mentioned that I should take a look at Folger 162- 035q, our copy of Nicholas Culpeper’s Directory for Midwives, because it had an interesting half-title that had been cut out and pasted to the fore-edge of the front flyleaf.

Folger 162- 035q, Nicholas Culpeper’s “Directory for Midwives,” 1671. The vertical half-title has been cut out and pasted along the fore-edge of the front flyleaf, so that it can be extended beyond the text block and used as a label when the book is shelved spine-in.

She explained that printers often included these half titles so that the book’s owners could cut them out and use them as labels, since books were often stored with the fore-edges facing outward.

Dramatist William Cartwright (1611-1643) sits below his books shelved with fore-edges facing outward in an engraving by Pierre Lombart (Folger ART File C329 no.1 (size XS), 1651?).

It makes perfect logical sense as a progression from writing the title of the book along the fore-edge in ink, and although according to John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors the survival rate for such half-titles unused was fairly high, that could also be explained: perhaps not every book owner had enough books to necessitate using a labeling system, or perhaps they had another method of telling books apart on the shelf. Since many such half-titles do survive still bound into their copies, I thought I’d do a quick survey of those in our collections, and get some more good photographs for my reveal. Unfortunately, this opened up a proverbial can of worms.

First: the problem of what to call these half-titles.

ESTC refers to them almost universally as “vertical half-titles.”

John Carter, in ABC for Book Collectors, can’t quite make up his mind about what to call them: in a section on “Longitudinal Labels,” he clearly describes this feature as “title-labels, printed vertically up the leaf in large type, which are quite often found still in place (i.e. not detached for use) in certain English books between 1650 and 1700.” The description makes clear that these vertical half-titles are in fact meant to be cut out and used as we have seen in Folger 162- 035q.  In another section on “Half-Titles,” he describes a half-title as “the leaf in front of the title-page…which carries on its recto the title (sometimes abbreviated) of the book…(N.B. Sir Walter Greg, for 17th century books, used the term half-title to cover also fly-titles and even what here are called divisional titles. Printers sometimes use the old-fashioned term bastard title. Some American bibliographers used to call half-titles fly-titles and vice versa, which is maddening.)”2 The difference between half titles and longitudinal labels, according to Carter, is one of function: longitudinal labels are meant to be cut out; half-titles, while containing much of the same information, are usually printed on integral leaves and not necessarily meant to be cut out (although they could be discarded to save space).3

Beyond Carter, we then come to this definition for the term “docket title,” issued by DCRM(B), the Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Books): “Docket Title: A title written, typed, or printed on a document, or on a label affixed to the document, briefly indicating its contents or subject. Usually found perpendicular to the main text, on an otherwise blank page (e.g., the verso of the last leaf), on a document designed to be folded for filing.”4

So…what’s in a name? I would answer Juliet that form ought to follow function, and so as Carter notes, the name for these titles would depend entirely on their purpose, whether that would be as labels meant to be cut out and used for bound volumes, labels printed on otherwise blank sheets to both protect the unbound text block from dirt or wear in the printer’s shop and provide speedier identification, labels to be cut out and filed, or for some other purpose.

I set out to examine some other longitudinal/vertical/bastard/half/docket titles in the Folger collections. To keep it simple, I limited myself to ten, including the original example, Folger 162- 035q.

Folger Call Number Title Publisher Date Vertical Half-Title
149- 233q A comment on Ruth ; together with two sermons Printed for G. and H. Eversden 1654 “Fullers} comment on Ruth; with two sermons on speciall occasions.” Printed on the verso of ¶1, the recto of which includes printed ornamentation, facing the primary title page. ¶1 is conjugate with ¶4, the last leaf of the dedication.
161- 803q A briefe exposition with practicall observations upon the whole book of Ecclesiastes. Thomas Childe for Ralph Smith 1654 “Mr. Cotton on Ecclesiastes.” A single folded sheet bound in at the back of the text.
162- 035q A directory for midwives, or, A guide for women in their conception, bearing, and suckling their children John Streater for George Sawbridge 1671 “Culpeper’s Midwife Enlarged” and “Culpeper’s Midwife, 2.Part.” First half title pasted on fore-edge of front flyleaf. Second half title appears on A1 verso, facing title, conjugate with A8.
B505 A chronicle of the kings of England Printed by E. Cotes for G. Saubridg…and T. Williams 1665 “Baker’s Chronicle.” A single folded sheet bound in at the back of the text.
D1513 The history of Diodorus Siculus. Printed by John Macock for Giles Calvert. 1653 “Diodorus Siculus, his History of the World.” Conjugate with title page (A1)
H356 copy 2 Select observations on English bodies Printed for John Sherley 1657 “Cook’s Select Observations on English Bodies.” Unable to determine if conjugate with leaves in first gathering, but seems likely that it is conjugate with the errata page (A12).
H3133.2 The Common-prayer-book Reprinted by John Brent and Stephen Powell (Dublin) 1699 “Common Prayer book, Best companion, &tc.” Vertical half title printed on K7 verso, conjugate with K2 in final gathering. K7 recto contains booksellers’ advertisements.
M706 The perfect cook Printed for Nathaniel Brooks 1656 “The perfect Cook.” A12 in first gathering; unable to determine for certain, but should be conjugate with leaf showing engraving.
N471 Netherlands-historian Printed by Stephen Swart (Amsterdam) 1675 “The Netherlands- HISTORIAN.” Vertical half-title is part of a single sheet, bound in at the beginning of the preliminaries. Second half-title is conjugate with the preliminaries.
R1973 Pansebeia: or, A view of all religions in the world Printed for John Saywell 1658 [Engraved]: “Ross his View of Religions, and Chuch Governments; also a Discovery of Heresies, in all Ages and Places; & of certain Notorious Hereticks, with their Effegies; Lives, Actions, & Ends.” Difficult to tell whether this leaf is conjugate, but certainly appears to be tipped in (8th leaf in a gathering of 9(?)). Most other editions appear to be missing their vertical half title.

Each example of this feature raised new questions for me.

Printed on blanks?: In both Folger 149- 233q and H3133.2, the vertical half-title is printed on the verso of a leaf where the recto is not blank, but includes some sort of content, whether it is intellectual content or ornamentation. This argues against the idea that these labels were universally meant to be cut out.

Left: Folger H3133.2 (1699), with the vertical half-title visible on the verso of leaf K7, which contains a list of books for sale by several Dublin booksellers.
Right: Folger 149- 233q (1699), showing the vertical half-title printed on the verso of a leaf with content on its recto.

In conducting some initial research into what other research has been done on these so-called “vertical half-titles,” I came across multiple blog posts that discussed “bastard titles” or “vertical half titles,” which the authors claimed were printed on otherwise blank sheets meant to keep the text block clean prior to binding, while still allowing the seller or printer to identify the title (Carter mentions this, as well), after which they could be discarded. But if this is the case, why print the titles vertically? And, why waste the time, energy, and money on printing a sheet that was meant to be universally discarded? Folger N471 possesses two half titles, one printed vertically and bound in at the beginning of the text block, not conjugate with any other leaves, and the next, immediately following, printed horizontally and part of the first gathering.

Folger N471 (1675). Left: first half title (vertical); Right: second (horizontal) half title

It seems possible that, if the printed sheets weren’t meant to stay with the text block in a final bound volume, the ones that do remain do so because they were re-purposed as fly-leaves, “waste paper” that was a bit closer to home than other varieties of waste paper. Or did these vertical titles experience a flash of popularity in the 1650s, then become just part of printing conventions in the later seventeenth century? We do know that vertical half-titles persisted into the nineteenth century (and paper labels meant for the spines of multi-volume works were printed with the books in the eighteenth century, although comparatively few of those survive), but again, that seems an awfully long time for something which has no real use or meaning to remain part of publishing. Caroline Duroselle-Melish noted that the vertical half-title for Folger R1973 is actually engraved, another not-insignificant investment of time and money for something thought to be fairly ephemeral:

Folger R1973 (1658), showing a n engraved vertical half-title misbound after A7.

Another colleague suggested I might consider which printers were producing works with these sorts of titles, but as we can see in the table above, there’s only one small overlap between two items where the seller is the same. It seems to have been a fairly widespread, common practice, given the high survival rate of these titles, whether or not we can technically say that they were “unused.”

So what was the purpose of these titles? Given that they are titles, we can still logically assume that they were meant for some sort of identification purpose. But at what stage in the book’s life? And for how long? Carter notes that they have been “the subject of much learned debate, [but their purpose] has not yet been certainly determined.” He then goes on to immediately offer his own opinion as the correct one, mentioning that many volumes have vertical manuscript labels pasted onto the edge of the front flyleaves while the printed vertical titles in those same volumes survive untouched. Although we don’t have any examples at Folger of vertical manuscript half-titles pasted onto the flyleaf fore-edges in place of a printed title, we do have a manuscript vertical half title that a reader has added to STC 25625 copy 2:

Folger STC 25625 copy 2, showing a manuscript vertical half title, written at the back of the text.

Was this manuscript title meant to be cut out and pasted on, either to the spine or the fore-edge? Did the former owner who wrote the title in do so simply because they saw other printed examples? Why did the writer place this at the back of the text block, instead of on one of the spare leaves at the front? Of course and unfortunately, this work has been rebound since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but it still seems to be in the place it was then, given some ink marks that have bled through onto the final pastedown.

Finally, I examined what sorts of works these titles were printed in. Docket titles, as noted previously, appear on the verso of proclamations or other sorts of political broadsides and legal documents; these vertical half-titles, although they do appear in legal works, also appear in books on many other different kinds of subjects; history, religious commentaries, medical texts, and even cookery.

Clearly, the answers to why these titles were printed, why vertically, who used them, for what, and for how long are sometimes clear and sometimes a bit murky, depending on the item. For Folger 162- 035q, Culpeper’s “Midwife,” one answer is reasonably obvious—to help the former owner identify the book on the shelf. Was this the label’s original purpose, or simply something the owner found useful? Unclear. But for Folger H3133.2, where the potential “label” is backed by printed text, and Folger R1973, where the label is bound into the middle of a gathering, or Folger STC 25625 copy 2, where the label was carefully written in and then apparently ignored, the answer is less obvious.

Any thoughts or comments? Have you encountered any interesting examples of vertical half-titles? We’d love to hear from you!

  1. Barbara Mowat, Paul Werstine, Michael Poston, Rebecca Niles, eds., Romeo and Juliet (Washington: Folger Shakespeare Library, n.d.), accessed July 6, 2019.
  2. Carter defines fly-titles as “a second half-title…placed between the last page of the prelims and the opening page of text.” He defines divisional titles as “a separate title page for a section or division of a book…”
  3. John Carter, Nicolas Barker, and Simran Thadani, ABC for Book Collectors, 9th ed., Newcastle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2016.
  4. Bibliographic Standards Committee, Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ACRL, Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Books), Washington, DC: 2007.

6 Comments


  • Bit of a stupid question, Elizabeth, but do all of those titles actually match the width (or should that be height?) of the book’s fore-edge? The title for “Culpepers Midwife” looks perfect for the purpose , because it fits the fore-edge and the type is a sensible size for reading from a distance, and the engraving for “Ross his View on Religion” also looks as though it would do the trick, but the one for the “Netherlands Historian” looks almost a bit too big (unless it’s a *very* fat book), and in the one for Fuller’s “Comment on Ruth”, the type used for the actual title seems too small – if this were put on the fore-edge and the book placed on the shelf, you probably wouldn’t be able to read anything except “Fullers”, which isn’t a particularly good short title. So perhaps they don’t all necessarily belong in the same category?
    By the way, I’m not sure whether the half-title in STC 25625 copy 2 really belongs with the rest, because it has all the hallmarks of someone practising their penmanship. It’s not that rare for people to copy out titles of books (or manuscripts, for that matter), and in this case perhaps the writer simply turned the book to be able to write bigger letters and do bigger flourishes…

  • PS: For what it’s worth, EEBO has images of a copy of “Culpepers Midwife” at the Huntington library (Wing number C7493) from which it looks as though this particular title may have been trimmed away from one of the fold-outs.

  • Hi Elisabeth,

    Yes, I was definitely keeping an eye on the size of these titles–some do seem a bit too large, but most of them are in the same size type as is being used for other title pages in the same work, or are comparatively-sized so that one would think they would fit along the fore-edge. Although where the Culpeper title is placed, it doesn’t drape over the fore-edge, but sticks out like a tab (see the first picture), so perhaps size wasn’t a concern if this was the intent.

    Re: the manuscript example–yes, certainly not meant to be a direct comparison to what’s going on with the print, but more something interesting that might tell us a bit more about what contemporary owners/readers were seeing in their books, or what they expected to be there. Of course it could just be someone practicing, as you suggest, but given its placement and orientation, could potentially be a later reader adding a vertical half title they felt was “missing.” This may never be clear.

    Thanks for mentioning the copy at Huntington! I haven’t had a chance to look as deeply into other copies as I would like, yet, but I did look at the Ross in EEBO, and both copies there are missing their engraved title. It would be interesting to do a survey of copies that survive with these features and those that don’t.

  • Thanks for the quick reply, Elizabeth! That’s an interesting point about the title working more like a tab – I suppose that suggests it was not so much for browsing from a distance, like titles on a spine, but to avoid taking the wrong volume from a tightly packed bookshelf like Cartwright’s. So the fluttery bits protruding from some of his books in the engraving (which I initially took to be ribbons used as bookmarks) could also be some form of book-labelling system, then. At least they all seem to be attached to bindings or flyleaves.

    And yes, you’re obviously right about early readers thinking of printed books and manuscripts in similar terms – bound manuscripts would probably have been kept on the same bookshelves, right next to “proper” books, and unlike today, their binding wouldn’t have looked dramatically different either. What made me wonder whether your manuscript example was really meant as a title in imitation of a printed book were mainly the decorative squiggles surrounding it, because they’re a very manuscript-y thing. Even the Ross title – where the engraver could easily have thrown in a few decorative flourishes if desired – has a very clean and type-focused look, so at a first glance it might pass for print.

  • The Harvard Library Bulletin n.s. 14:4 (Winter 2003) may suggest a solution. And on flap-titles there’s a note in the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand Bulletin [now Script & Print] 22:2 (1998), 107-110.

  • Thanks for these resources! For those following along, 14.4 of the Harvard Library Bulletin with Dr. McMullin’s article, which I was unaware of and am very glad to find, is available freely online (https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:427335045$1i) and tackles this question in full. I like the term “title-label” as a more neutral option, though I wonder if it provides enough of a distinction. Have you done any further work on this topic that you would be interested in or willing to discuss? And of course, as you note, establishing the original purpose of this title-label would be of significant interest to the bibliographic community–I hope it can be done!


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