Nice old-fashioned quirks in Book Design

Double Elephant's picture

Hi all,

I'm starting a thread about bygone quirks in book design.

When I say quirks I mean things like endpapers, a note on the typeface at the back of the book, vignettes for each chapter opener, the first word of the next page at the bottom of the current page etc etc.

Can anyone think of some others?

Theunis de Jong's picture

... a note on the typeface at the back of the book ...

That's a "Colophon": When did people start to name their typeface in the colophon? and thread reference therein.

kentlew's picture

Okay, I’ll grant you that last one (the stray word at the bottom); but what makes the others “bygone”?

Endpapers, colophons, and vignettes aren’t extinct.

Double Elephant's picture

Ok, ok… 'bygone's' the wrong word; traditional is perhaps a better term.

Anyway, whilst badly phrased (sorry), hopefully you get the jist?

I guess another one I can think of is the use of a pilcrow rather than a paragraph space.

PublishingMojo's picture

The headbands and footbands at the top and bottom of the spine of a casebound book. They are a vestige of the threads used when books were hand-sewn. Like the sleeve buttons on men's suit jackets, they are a decorative artifact of something that used to be functional.

Double Elephant's picture

Brilliant, yes, I'll add head bands (and ribbons) to the list.

Any typographic ideas?

dtw's picture

I think there's a lot less use than there used to be, of decorated rules or fleurons to separate sections, or just to fill up a small white gap at the end of a page.

(As an aside: one of the academic journals I work on, used to start every article with a drop cap in a six-line decorated border, and have a decorated rule separating run-on book reviews. Up until 2004. I'm kinda sad that it doesn't do that any more...)

jabez's picture

There's some interesting stuff mentioned in the final programme of a conference that took place in September.

The majority of the papers delivered on Thursday 29 September can be watched on Youtube:

Book Design from the Middle Ages to the Future: Traditions & Evolutions
The objective of this international congress is to explore traditions and innovations in book design and typography from the manuscript era to the age of the electronic book. The congress explicitly wants to focus on these elements of book design that have faded out, have survived or that evolved over a long period of time...

Nick Shinn's picture

Extra spacing between sentences, killed by kerning.
However, I wouldn’t call that a quirk, as it served a purpose.


Reference symbols have been largely replaced by numbers.
Again, I wouldn’t call them a quirk—they were a practical way for printers to make reference calls by means of characters doing double duty—without recourse to a special sort of superior figures or packing a smaller size figure.


Roman figures in italic text.
Old-style figures in all small caps.


I would say that “dumb” quotes and faux italic/bold have become (not so nice) old-fashioned quirks, relics of the early days of DTP.
Perhaps they will acquire a quaint cachet in time.


A new quirk is how “smart” layout apps abbreviate numbers incorrectly, with a single left quote mark.

Joshua Langman's picture

Various degrees of oldness and extinctness:

Running heads that were bigger than the main text. Never see that anymore.

Also, signature numbers printed at the bottom of the first page of a signature.

Use of dot leaders rather than solid rules for blanks (in tables, etc.)

Triangulated headings and chapter ends.

Text set solid.

Turnover lines brought up or down, and set flush right with one left parenthesis or bracket (still see this sometimes)

"Block quotes" with quote marks down the whole lefthand side

Italics for all names

To-morrow, rôle, co-operate or coöperate, etc.

The word at the bottom of the page is called a catchword:

dtw's picture

Good ones.
Extra space inside punctuation marks such as quotes, exclamation and question marks.
Very widely spaced dot leaders in TOCs.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Em dashes instead of ellipsis.

oprion's picture

Pilcrows in place of paragraph breaks, daggers, roman numerals in appendices. Em space between a dropcap and the first line. Letter-spaced words with intact ligatures in fraktur.

eliason's picture

End-of-chapter line lengths that are centered and decrease in length down in a triangle shape. Is there a name for that?

Joshua Langman's picture

That's what I meant by "triangulated chapter endings." Not sure if there's a better term.

Also, and still from wildly different periods:

Double-em dashes for interruptions: "But I think——"

And for anonymity: Mr. K—— (still see this sometimes)

Periods after headings

Double space between sentences

Cent sign, "per" sign

Pointing printer's fingers ("index")


Roman caps with italic lc

Tables where the vertical rules stop to let the horizontal ones through, or vice versa

Of course, if you're in England, lots of current American punctuation looks like a charming old fashioned idiosyncrasy: Mr. (instead of British Mr), 1,000 (instead of British 1 000 or 1000), etc.

aluminum's picture

Color Plates/Tip Ins

PJay's picture

One of my beefs is that, often, in a well-produced non-fiction book, where there's an index there will not be a typeface note.

Double Elephant's picture


Some great responses! Thanks everyone.

Two bits that intrigue me:

'Turnover lines brought up or down, and set flush right with one left parenthesis or bracket (still see this sometimes)' – I can't imagine what this looks like… can you explain?

'Color Plates/Tip Ins' – what are these?

dtw's picture

'turnover lines brought up or down...'
I used to see this in old dictionaries a lot, to save space. Something like this:

...where there's three-quarters of a line of empty space after the entry for "turnout...", while the entry for "turnpike..." only wraps to a second line by a short distance, so they turn it up (and right-align it) instead of down, and indicate it with a bracket.

'Color plates/tip ins': a separate signature of better-quality paper, specifically for taking color illustrations, all grouped together.

kentlew's picture

> 'Color plates/tip ins': a separate signature of better-quality paper, specifically for taking color illustrations, all grouped together.

Yes, that describes color plates — a separate signature of color printing gathered and bound together as a section in an otherwise one-color book (or sometimes two-color: I’ve done that before).

“Tip-in” usually refers to a color illustration/photo that has been printed by a separate process and then affixed onto a blank page set aside for the purpose in an otherwise one-color book.

Color plates are still common in certain genres. Tip-ins, however, require hand work and so are almost never seen these days.

Joshua Langman's picture

Turnover lines:

Yes, that's exactly what I meant. Never seen it in a dictionary, but you still see it (rarely) in poetry and plays. Here, from the very first edition of A Midſomer nights Dreame:

On the upper right, "bryer" (briar) is turned over this way.

It's maybe more interesting to note, however, when they don't do it.

Ooh, this reminds me of another quirk: the long S.

Té Rowan's picture

Is it mis-sing or miss-ing?

Dick Wynne's picture

Coloured or gold tops (to the pages). I would like to tip in, on some projects, but cannot find sufficiently thin quality inkjet paper. Too many tip-ins and the book won't close well and/or the binding will get strained, I imagine. Unless you go to the trouble of dummy pages where the tip-ins will go, which you then razor out. Did they ever do this back in the day? And then what about the page nos? Some scope for error.

Nick Shinn's picture

Tissue paper to protect “plates”.

JamesM's picture

> Tip-ins, however, require hand work and
> so are almost never seen these days.

An unusual example that comes to mind is the 1997 coffee-table book "From Myst to Riven" (about the making of those computers games). The central graphic on the cover was glued in place after the cover was printed, so they could offer your choice of 5 different cover images.

Joshua Langman's picture

Signatures bound with uncut pages, requiring the use of a "book knife" (?) — I feel like there's another term for the specific tool you use to cut them apart, but can't think of it right now. Anyone want to chime in?

Nick Shinn's picture

Paper knife.

Dick Wynne's picture

A blind-blocked recess on the cover where a printed design or photo etc can be affixed, somewhat protected from scuffing.

Dick Wynne's picture

Widow / orphan control, to the extent of shortening the pages of a spread by 1 (which I do quite often), even 2 (which I haven't yet but wouldn't rule it out) lines, where necessary. (In fact, any W/O control at all would be nice in many modern trade books, it is fast becoming 'quaint').

Joshua Langman's picture

Hm. Personally, I never do widow/orphan control for normal prose as I think it already looks … not so much quaint as inconsistent. I think pages lengths bobbing up and down is uglier than single-line paragraphs. I do control in poetry, though, and to avoid very obvious blemishes like a subhead at the bottom of a page with one line after it, or a two-line page at the end of a chapter.

jacobsievers's picture

A half title and a bastard title.

Dick Wynne's picture

"A half title and a bastard title."

Aren't these one and the same thing?

I do like the theatrical sense of anticipation created by, say, dark coloured endpapers --> half-title --> title page on first encountering a book. I gather the half-title originated as a way to identify and protect the book in the bindery, is this right?

Joshua Langman's picture

This is how the title page itself originated.

PJay's picture

Occasionally you get a superfluity of title pages - I had a book recently with 4 or 5 successive title pages - 'enough already'.

Except for the artisan presses, and aside from electronic books, the niceties of book production seem to have pretty much gone by the board. It's apparent that pennies are pinched in the matter of editing and proofreading: a number of books are going straight to press from the author's computer without further ado. Mistakes in grammar, word usage, etc., even turn up in books with respected authors and publishers.


jacobsievers's picture

Half-way through Theodore Low de Vinne's Treatise on Titlepages. Amusing: lots of bygone niceties/quirks/straightup-insanity to choose from.

Té Rowan's picture

@Nick – Paper knife, eh? Well, I’m glad I only need one for envelopes now.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

@Dick Wynne: To compensate for the added thickness of multiple tip ins you would use strips of paper, bound with the full pages, to provide for some room. This way a tip in on every single full page is feasible.

My fave o-f quirk: lots of ribbon markers in lots of colours.

hrant's picture

You want old-fashioned? Buckles! :-)

> Extra spacing between sentences, killed by kerning.
> However, I wouldn’t call that a quirk, as it served a purpose.

Not exactly. First proper spacing between sentences was
killed by monospaced fonts (a mechanical compromise
in typewriters) which have spacing so loose that the single
space after a period gets lost, so you put two spaces. Then
desktop publishing killed (or demoted 99%) monospaced
fonts, but some people stayed dead inside and they still
use two spaces.


Nick Shinn's picture

The kerning-killed-double-spacing theory:

Without kerning, many words that begin sentences (in mixed case, of course) have a large gap between the capital and the lowercase letter immediately after. The culprits are most notably T, V, W and Y followed by a vowel. Double spacing avoided the effect of said capitals appearing to be evenly isolated between the end of the previous sentence and the rest of their word.

Typewriters had nothing to do with it, as the practice was widespread before their invention.

The demise of double spacing began with Linotype’s two letter logotypes for the problem capital-vowel combinations.

hrant's picture

> the practice was widespread before their invention.

Note BTW that in metal composition you don't "double"
a space after a period - you just choose a spacing sort of
a functional width.


hrant's picture

Could you point to a specific post?


Nick Shinn's picture

Some Dickens, from the original 1853 publication. (Typewriters introduced in the 1870s.)

Perhaps more so than the kerning issue, the variation in justification accounts for extra sentence spacing—otherwise sentence spacing in a tight line would be way less than word spacing in an open line, which gives the wrong hierarchical impression of how text is organized into paragraph/sentence/words.

hrant's picture

That's clearly a justification trick.
Anything more convincing?


Don McCahill's picture

How many do you have to see to believe it? This is a link to a facsimile edition of Pride and Prejudice, showing the same feature. (Use the look inside to look at interior pages).

riccard0's picture

That's clearly a justification trick.

It may well be. And at the same time it could as well be the origin of the "double space after the period" habit used with typewriter.

hrant's picture

> How many do you have to see to believe it?

I can't nail down a number* but how about we
start with just one (that's not full-justified).

* I think it does require a few independent
precedents to qualify as a trend/influence.


Nick Shinn's picture

how about we start with just one (that's not full-justified).

See the second line of the Bleak House image above.

hrant's picture

OK, I see that. That's even way more than the equivalent
of two spaces, plus "De" isn't loose at all. I wonder what
they were thinking, since something like the "Ve" (middle
of 8th line) seems too "innocent" to trigger an across-the-
board massive-space-after-periods strategy. I wonder if
in this particular case the profusion of quotes (which are
very loose there) was the main trigger instead.

FWIW I'm willing to change my view, but I have a feeling
the solid logic of the typewriter version might be being
rejected by typesetters because they feel embarrassed?


Té Rowan's picture

All paragraphs indented, including the first, is still the norm in some places.

Was it ever common to set poems and poetry within frames? Coloured frames?

eliason's picture

I wonder if
in this particular case the profusion of quotes (which are
very loose there) was the main trigger instead.

No, a quick look at three <1870 samples from Google Books suggests it was general practice: 3-for-3 have "double" spaces between sentences.




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