cryptic footnotes

Recently I’ve been slogging through the 1400 page tome which is “The Count of Monte Cristo”. While I was at the library the other day, I found a copy with really tiny type split into two volumes. So I checked it out that I might tote a one-inch thick, half-pound book rather than the huge monstrosity I had previously been hauling around. I started reading this volume about 200 pages in. On page 227 I came upon a strange footnote: “*H 394”. “This is odd,” thought I; but I dismiss it and go on, only to find on page 259 “*I 394”. Hmmm. Curiouser and curiouser. Flipping through the book, I find a number of these strange footnotes, each with successive letters of the alphabet, each with the number 394, and each, strangely enough, on the right-hand (or odd-numbered) pages. None of these pages has anything corresponding to the footnote in the text, neither is there an explanation at either the front or the back of the book. The complete list of these strange footnotes is as follows:

page 3 “* 394”;
page 27 “B 394 8.15”; page 35 “*B 394”;
page 59 “C 394”; page 67 “*C 394”;
page 91 “D 394”; page 99 “*D 394”;
page 123 “E 394”; page 131 “*E 394”;
page 155 “F 394”; page 163 “*F 394”;
page 187 “G 394”; page 195 “*G 394”;
page 219 “H 394”; page 227 “*H 394”;
page 251 “I 394”; page 259 “*I 394”;
page 283 “K 394”; page 291 “*K 394”;
page 315 “L 394”; page 323 “*L 394”;
page 347 “M 394”; page 355 “*M 394”;
page 379 “N 394”; page 387 “*N 394”;
page 411 “O 394”; page 419 “*O 394”;
page 443 “P 394”; page 451 “*P 394”;
page 475 “Q 394”; page 483 “*Q 394”;
page 507 “R 394”; page 515 “*R 394”;
page 539 “S 394”;
page 555 “T 394”; page 563 “*T 394”

Looking through this list, I notice that there seems to be an 8-page space within each letter (except for the missing *S), a 24-page space between letters, and that J is strangely missing. (I also note that I apparently was less observant than I thought, as I appear to have missed the ones on pages 219 and 251 while reading.) Anyone have any idea what this crap is? This volume was printed by J. M. Dent & Sons LTD in London in 1955. Thanks in advance for your help!


PS - Incidently, wouldn’t Cryptic Footnotes make a great band name? :slight_smile:

I bet the explanation is in the other volume. It’s probably keying that edition to the pages in an earlier edition. Often when one edition has become the standard, textual editors and commentators will still make reference to that one. Subsequent editions with different pagination will be keyed to the standard edition’s pagination. One example of this is: every line of Plato is keyed to the Greek text published by the Aldine Press in Florence, Italy, way back in the fifteenth century.

Those are compositor’s marks, put at the beginning of each signature (24 page signatures are odd in my experience, but possible) so that the guys binding the book get the pages in the right order.

If this is true, “394” was Dent’s internal ID code for this book, and the ascending letters correspond to each signature.

Maybe I should explain this a bit more…

You don’t print a book all at once, you print it in smaller chunks, called signatures (look at a hardcover’s binding and you can see how the pages are grouped into little, identically sized, sections). Signatures are always some multiple of 8 pages (because each sheet of paper becomes four pages – it’s printed front and back and is two pages wide), though, in my experience, 32 pages is the most common. I suppose signatures could logically be a multiple of 4 pages, but, for practical purposes, only the multiples of 8 are used.

So a particular signature will contain, for example, pages 1-32 of a book (the first printed piece of paper has pages 1,2, 31 and 32 and so on). The next signature will contain pages 33-64. To keep all of the signatures in order until they’re bound (a separate process from printing, often done in a completely different location), codes used to be printed in the margins at the beginning of each signature so that the signatures could be kept in order.

Not having seen this book in question, I can’t be 100% sure that this is what your odd marks are, but I’m pretty confident. They fit all the hallmarks of compositor’s marks – short, cryptic and in ascending order by signature.