Parts of a Book – a guide for collectors of signed first editions

A few years ago, we started buying modern signed first edition books just for our own pleasure.  At that time, we literally didn’t know a thing about book collecting.  Come to that, as we’ve now found out, we didn’t even know the correct names for the different parts of a book!

Since then, luckily for us, things have improved; we now know what makes a book collectable (well, for most of the time) and we know far more about book terminology.  So, here’s our guide to the different parts of a book along with some insight into book binding methods; we hope you find it useful.

And, as always, thanks for reading…

Diagram of the Different Parts of a Book

B b

Back

See Spine

Backbone

See Spine

Backstrip (bkstrp)

This term can mean either of the following…

  1. The covering on a book’s spine that normally has the title and author of the book printed on it.  Sometimes decorated, it’s usually made of cloth, leather or paper.
  2. A strip (e.g. of stiff paper) used by a bookbinder to reinforce the back of folded sheets in the binding of the spine.

Backstrip label

See Label

Bastard title

See Half title

Binding (bdg)

This term can mean any of the following…

  1. The style in which a book is bound, e.g. edition binding, job binding, library binding
  2. The covers of a bound book
  3. The finished work resulting from the processes involved in binding a book
  4. The concept of securing the leaves or sections of a publication so as to keep them in proper order and to protect them
  5. The style in which a book is decorated

Blank leaves

See Blanks

Blanks

This term refers to an intentionally blank page in a book.  Blanks can be located at beginning of the book, at the end of a clearly marked division, and / or at the end of a book.  They are also known as blank leaves or printer’s blanks.

Board paper

see Endpaper

Boards (bds)

This term originally comes from the time when book covers were made of wood.  Today, it refers to the stiff pieces of cardboard or paperboard used in the making of a hardback book cover.

Book jacket

See Dust jacket

C c

Copyright Page

Part of a book’s front matter, this is usually the reverse side of the title page.  It will normally list details of the copyright owner and date, a copyright notice, legal notices, publication information, edition / printing facts and cataloguing / ISBN data.

Cover

This refers to the outer covering of a book.  Its purpose is to protect the text block both in use and in storage and, in many cases, to serve as a means of decoration.  Covers can be:

  1. Limp - that is with no boards and the covering (usually vellum) is turned-in on itself before the inside surface is covered with board papers
  2. Semi limp (or semi-flexible) - this uses thin, flexible boards that are, as a rule, covered with either cloth or leather
  3. Stiff - this type uses more or less rigid boards covered with paper, cloth, leather, vellum or a combination of these materials

Note that in edition binding and library binding, the term case is more appropriate than the term cover.

Covering

this term can refer to either of the following…

  1. The material, such as paper, cloth, leather, vellum (or a combination of any of these), which covers the spine and usually the sides of the cover.
  2. The process of pasting or gluing the covering material (cloth, leather, etc.) to the cover.  That is, drawing it over the spine and boards, and turning it over at the head and tail edges.

Crash

This refers to a coarse, open weave, starched, and sometimes napped, cotton material used in edition binding for lining the spines of books.  Note that the crash is not usually a part of library or hand binding as it is too lightweight and flimsy.  Alternative terms for the crash include mull and super.

D d

Dedication page

Part of a book’s front matter, the author uses this page to name the person or persons for whom he or she has written the book.  It’s usually located opposite the copyright page, just before the main body of the book.

Dust jacket (dj)

This is a removable paper wrapper that, at its outset, enclosed a book to protect it from dirt.  Yet, jackets now play a key role in modern book advertising.  This is because they will often give info about a book that is not on offer anywhere else.  Alternative names for the dust jacket are dust wrapper or book jacket.

Dust wrapper

See Dust jacket

E e

End lining

See End paper

End sheet

See End paper

Endpaper (ep.)

The plain white, coloured, decorated or printed-paper that is at the front and back of a book.  Half of the endpaper is pasted to the inner face of the boards (pastedown endpaper) while the other half is effectively a blank page (free endpaper).  As well giving a neat finish to the cover, endpapers play a big part in a book’s strength and durability.

The terms for specific endpapers are front free endpaper (ffep), back free endpaper (bfep), front pastedown endpaper (fpep) and back pastedown endpaper (bpep).

An often-used alternative term for the pastedown is the board paper.  Other less-common terms include end lining, end sheet or lining paper.

F f

False bands

Fake raised bands attached directly to the spine of the book or the hollow of the cover.  The point of this decorative element is to make the book look sturdier than it actually is.

Fly title

See Half title

Flyleaves (fl.)

These are blank pages at the front and rear of a book after the free endpapers.

Foot edge

This refers to the bottom edge of the text block.

Fore edge

This refers to the front edge of the text block.

Frontispiece (frontis.)

This is an illustration, which usually faces the title page.

G g

Gathering

See Signature

Gutter

this is the inner margins of two facing pages.  The term can sometimes refer to the external channel created by the joining of the boards to the spine (see joint).

H h – I i

Half title

Part of a book’s front matter, this is an extra page, in front of the true title page, that only gives the title of the book and nothing else.

While always present in modern books, in the days when books were on sale as a number of unbound pages, the half title served as a ‘cover’ to protect the true title page.  As such, it’s sometimes missing from older books as it wasn’t always part of a custom bookbinding.  Note that bastard title and fly title are alternate names for the half title page.

Head edge

This refers to the top edges of the text block, covers and spine.

Headband

A functional or ornamental band, made of coloured silk or cotton, which is fastened at the top (and sometimes the bottom) of the spine of a book.  Originally sewn into the boards or leaves of the book to link the signatures, today this is mainly decorative and glued-on.

Hinge (hng.)

This is a strip of fabric fixed between the spine of the text block and the interior of the cover.  Its purpose is to provide additional strength at the cover / text block flex point.

Hollow

This refers to the lining (usually made from a folded sheet of kraft paper) glued to both the spine of the text block and the inside of the spine of the covering material.  The purpose of the hollow is to make it easier to open the book.

Inlay

A strip of kraft or other relatively stiff paper, used to stiffen the spine area of the case of a library binding.  In general, edition bindings do not have inlays.

J j – K k

Joint

This is the exterior juncture of the boards and spine of a (usually) casebound book, on occasion known as the gutter.

L l

Label

A square or rectangular piece of paper or leather attached to the spine of a book, containing printed information about the book such as author, title and volume number.  An alternative name is the backstrip label.

Leaf (pl. leaves) (lf)

A leaf is a single sheet of paper in a book.  A page is one side of a leaf.

Lining paper

See End paper

M m

Mull

See Crash

P p – Q q

Page (pg.)

One side of a leaf, whether blank or containing text, regardless of sequential arrangement.  For more on pages see leaf, recto and verso.

Printer’s blanks

See Blanks

R r

Raised bands

The cords, or thongs, used to sew sections of a book together appear as ridges across the spine of a covered book.  Raised bands have long been associated with the best of fine hand binding.  Note that raised cords are an alternative term for raised bands; also see false bands.

Raised cords

See Raised bands

S s

Section

See Signature

Shelf-back

See Spine

Signature

This refers to a group of folded pages (usually 16 or 24) that, when bound and trimmed with other signatures, form a book.  While technically different from the printer’s and binder’s points of view, today there is very little distinction made between the terms signature, gathering or section.

Spine

This is the back of the book.  Besides adding strength to the book, it usually displays the book’s title when it’s standing upright on a shelf.  Alternative names for the spine include back, backbone and shelf-back.  Note that backstrip is not an alternative name for the spine.

Super

See Crash

T t

Tail edge

This refers to the bottom edges of the covers and spine.  Unlike head edges, the bottom edge of the text block is the foot edge, not the tail edge.

Text block

This consists of the signatures of a book, sewn together and trimmed, but without a cover or endpapers.  The terms for the three outer sides of the text block, when a book is closed, are the head (or top), fore (or front) and foot (or bottom) edges.

Title page (tp)

Part of a book’s front matter, this is usually the front side (recto) of the second leaf of a book.  It displays the book’s full title, the sub-title (if any), and the name of the author and, usually, the name of the publisher.  The copyright page is normally on the reverse side (verso) of this leaf.

Further Reading

If you would like more information on bookbinding terminology, the excellent Bookbinding and the Conservation of books - A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology by Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington is worth a look.

You may also like to take a look at our articles on book terminology and book faults and flaws.  As someone interested in books, we think you’ll find these helpful and informative.

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