Last night, a friend of mine brought to class a copy of the Gormenghast trilogy, which whet my appetite for new reading. So I got the first book, Titus Groan, out of the library this afternoon, and have been spending much of my evening reading it.
And I keep noticing something I can’t explain. Every 16 pages, at the bottom by the page number, there is a sequential letter to the left and the initials “P.T.G.” to the right. And for the life of me I can’t figure it out.
Was this some sort of common printing practice in Britain circa 1946? Is it some quirk specific to Mervyn Peake? Does it have some relevance to the book? Does this exist only in the edition of the book I’m reading?
More than likely the letters represent signatures.
Books are printed on large sheets of paper that usually have 16 pages (on each side) printed on them in such a way that when they are folded and cut appear in the right order in the finished volume. To ensure that the signatures would also appear in the right order, it was once very common that they be lettered.
I don’t know exactly when or why the signature letters disappeared, although they did so lowly over time so there is probably not one date that can be given. You can see them on all sorts of older books, although not every book had them even back in the day.
P. T. G., BTW, obviously stands for Peake Titus Groan. Another way to ensure that the pages are put in the right volume.
I’ve seen this in other old books. My copy of M.R. James’ collected ghost stories, for example, has something like CASAOGS (Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook and Other Ghost Stories) in the lower right corners at 16-page intervals.
I guessed that this was some sort of printer’s device to keep the pages in order; thanks for providing a little confirmation of this.
If you look inside the spine of a hardcover books (called in the trade “cloth” as distinct from “paper”), you’l notice–most of you have no doubt already noticed–that a book is made up of a number of once-folded pages, gathered in eights, making sixteen pages per grouping. Each of these groupings–single folded like individual magazines–is called, for reasons explained much more clearly by Exapno, a signature. These signatures are sewn (traditionally) and/or glued to the spine to build the whole book. And since of course these signatures must be put together in the proper order, they’re often numbered. Most of them were numbered outside of the trimline; the book was constructed before the pages were cut, in most cases, with the notable exception of those books with the fancy but annoying deckled page edges that make it impossible to flip through with your thumb. In the the even oldener days, books were sold with the pages untrimmed: the signatures folded, bound, and sold as is. The reader cut each page with a letter opener as he progressed through the book. I used to own a 14th edition Ulysses, printed by Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, that had apparently proved to much for its original owner: only about the first quarter of the book had been cut.
And you can find, from all times in history and even today, signatures that have been put in out of place, duplicated, omitted, or printed upside down. A tiny minority of collectors seek out these volumes, but as a reader I find them unendurable.