Having grown up in an age of ever increasingly sophisticated advertising, I’m amazed at the poor way printers represented their work in the printers’ credits I see in the older books we work on at Distributed Proofreaders.
Printers’ credits? I’m not sure what the proper name is. I’m speaking of the two or three lines near the beginning or end of a book where the printer’s name, address, and any other information appear.
I’m not sure of the purpose of this information appearing in a book. Perhaps it helps support a publisher’s claim that the book has been published in a particular country and is therefore protected by that country’s copyright laws. It doesn’t appear to be in every book, so it can’t have been a legal requirement to include it. Printing companies presumably had established reputations. Some may have been known for quick typesetting and turnaround, some for low prices, some for accurate technical work or quality binding. Publishers must have needed to know these reputations to select an appropriate printer for a particular job. I hope publishers weren’t depending on the two or three lines of printed identification to identify the quality of a potential printer’s work.
No, I don’t think this would have been the way printers were presenting themselves to publishing houses for future business. I expect printing companies advertised to publishers in some other way to establish business relationships. However, the printer’s credit in a book is the only way the printers are known to the reading public. In any case, I’d think they’d want to put their best foot, er, font and printing quality forward! I’d think they’d want to at least meet the quality of the rest of the book they printed.
In the early days of European printing, printers were often also the publisher, editor, bookseller, and even author or translator. The famous Aldine Press of Venice was one such printing firm, engaging giants of humanism such as Erasmus to produce translations of ancient classics imprinted with its distinctive dolphin colophon.
By the 19th Century, with specialization, the printer’s role had become separate, and the colophons belonged to the publishers. In some cases, printers may have wanted to omit a printer credit to avoid potential prosecution for printing banned or pirated books. But books containing printers’ credits that are poorly printed neither protect the printer from prosecution nor present the printer’s capabilities in a favorable light.
The printed book itself demonstrates the printer’s quality of work, but I’d expect the information naming the printing firm in the book to represent their best work. Printers’ credits first caught my eye as representing the worst example of printing in a book! I often questioned whether this blob of text had been originally printed in a book or just rubber-stamped crookedly after the fact onto the page.
As I found myself looking to see how poorly the printers’ credit looked in each book, my impression was that they typically use the worst font and have the blurriest impression of anything in the book. It’s as if they were trying to make the credit look as bad as they could. Besides the rubber-stamp look, the printing impression often looks incomplete, part of letters missing or blurred. Blobs of ink fill in the open spots of letters. But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some examples.
Let’s start with a few that have the rubber-stamp look:
Here’s one with an unusual layout:
Here’s one squeezed at the bottom of the last index page of a book, unevenly printed on a single line:
Finally, here are a couple of quality printer’s credits to be the exception:
Perhaps now you’ll find yourself looking to see just how poor an impression these printers make! Or maybe you’ll find the high-quality entry that proves the exception.
This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.
Thanks for an interesting post, WebRover. I quite enjoyed it.
I’ve noticed the varying quality of the printers’ impresses, too. Some of them are really bad, and some are works of art. The colophons my husband and I put in the family histories we wrote are pretty good, if I do say so myself. They include the name(s) of the font(s) used, the computer and software used, and some other information. But no heraldic device. ^_^
Very nice essay, thank you; I had never thought of this before.
I don’t know why the printer’s colophon went out of date, but imagine that publishers might like to show that their work was contracted to houses of high prestige, much as a car with Rolls-Royce on it bears a certain cachet that a similar vehicle of anonymous origin fails to convey, or branded lingerie might hint at more promise of quality than something unpretentious.
Heh, I recently made myself a couple of iron-on patches with what I now realize is a version of the Henry Holt and Company colophon (from the front of PG ebook 52366). I sewed the patches onto a fleece jacket to cover embroidered commercial logos (which is a bit ironic, I guess!).
I think the modesty of imprints has to do with publishers not wanting them to take too much credit — okay, you can have your name in small print on the last page, but that’s it!