One Hundred Rare Book Terms
Tipped in — Wove paper
Type: The letters used to print words. Generally, the term refers specifically to moveable type where the letters can be rearranged in any order to print any text. Printing with moveable type was undertaken in Asia as early as the 11th century and was separately invented in Europe in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg. A complete set of type for a given alphabet was called a “font.”
Vellum: Another term for parchment. Vellum is sometimes used to refer specifically to parchment made of calf skin or lamb skin, but its use is not very consistent. Calves and lambs, being younger, tended to produce higher quality parchment without many blemishes and so their skins were in high demand. The term “uterine vellum” is used to refer to parchment made from the skin of unborn calves or lambs. Some early books were printed on vellum rather than paper as luxury commodities.
Verso: The side of a leaf that is visible when the leaf is on the left-hand side of the codex. (The other side of a leaf, when it is on the right, is the recto side.) In broadsides and single sheets of paper, the verso side is usually considered to be the “back.”
Watermark: An identifying mark made by papermakers. Wherever the watermark was placed, it would result in the paper being slightly thinner, allowing the watermark to be visible when light passes through the paper. Watermarks can serve multiple purposes: to authenticate a document, to indicate the manufacturer, to indicate the paper size, and to simply be beautiful. In Europe, watermarks were made by sewing a piece of wire in a particular shape to the paper mold.
Woodcuts: A relief illustration process where a design is carved into a block of wood. The resulting stamp is called a woodblock; a book printed exclusively with woodblocks is called a “blockbook.” The oldest surviving printed book, a Chinese copy of the Diamond Sutra printed in 868 CE, was printed from woodblocks. In Europe, the earliest documentary reference to woodblock manufacture is from 1393: a monastic account book notes that a payment was made to Jehan Baudet, a cutter of molds or blocks, probably to produce woodblocks used to print on textiles. The oldest dated wood-block print to survive is an image of St. Christopher bearing the infant Christ, printed in 1423 and predating the Gutenberg Bible by at least twenty-two years. Making woodcuts is called xylography by those with a Greek-language bent.
Wood engraving: An intaglio illustration process where a design is carved into a block of wood. Wood engraving requires very hard wood to allow for refined linework as well as a printing press able to exert a greater amount of pressure than early hand presses were able to: it replaced woodcuts in the 19th century with the advent of cast-iron presses.
Wove paper: A kind of paper where there the wires of the mold are woven closely together like cloth. As a result, no wire lines are visible and the resulting paper is very smooth. It was invented by James Whatman in Hollingbourne, Kent, and first used in 1757 for John Baskerville’s Virgil, which was printed partially on wove paper and partially on laid paper. The first book printed entirely on wove paper was either Baskerville’s edition of Paradise Regained or Edward Capell’s Prolusions, both of which were printed in 1759.