1902 Encyclopedia > Book


BOOK, the common name for any literary production of bulk, now applied particularly to a printed composition forming a volume. The name is also used for the literary divisions of a work.

Wachter, with some other writers, derives the word from the same root as the German biegen, to bend, as the Latin volumen comes from volvere. But the more common ety-mology makes the tree the parent of the book, and refers the origin of the latter (Angl. Sax., ___; Germ., Buch; Dutch, boek) to writing on the bark of the beech tree (Angl. Sax., boc ; Germ., Buche ; Icel., _____ ; Dutch, beuke), or perhaps on beach boards. Analogy supports this deriva-tion. The byblos of the Greeks—whence their name for a book—refers to the Egyptian papyrus itself, and the Latin liber to the pellicle which enclosed its stalk. The codex of the Romans meant at first the trunk of a tree ; and the leaves of a book indicate a similar origin.

Egyptian papyrus showing god Osirus weighing human heart (image)

Egyptian papyrus showing the god Osiris weighing a human heart. (Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt)

The earliest writings were purely monumental, and accordingly those materials were chosen which were sup-posed to last the longest. The same idea of perpetuity which in architecture found its most striking exposition in the pyramids was repeated, in the case of literary records, in the two columns mentioned by Josephus, tfee one of stone and the other of brick, on which the children of Seth wrote their inventions and astronomical discoveries; in the pillars in Crete on which, according to Porphyry, the ceremonies of the Corybantes were inscribed ; in the leaden tablets containing the works of Hesiod, deposited in the temple of the Muses, in Boeotia; in the ten commandments on stone delivered to Moses ; and in the laws of Solon, inscribed on planks of wood. The notion of a literary production surviving the destruction of the materials on which it was first written—the " monumentum sere perennius " of Horace's ambition—was unknown before the discovery of substances for systematic transcription.


Tablets (tabulae) of ivory or metal were in common use among the Greeks and Romans. When made of wood— sometimes of citron, but usually of beech or fir—their inner sides were coated with wax, on which the letters were traced with a pointed pen or stiletto (stylus), one end of which was used for erasure. It was with his stylus that Caesar stabbed Casca in the arm when attacked by his murderers. Two such tablets, joined together, were called diptycha, the earliest specimens of bookbinding. They were fastened together at the back by wires, which acted as hinges ; the pages were called cerœ, from their waxen coating, and a raised margin was left round each to prevent obliteration by friction. Wax tablets of this kind continued in partial use in Europe during the Middle Ages ; the oldest extant specimen, now in the museum at Florence, belongs to the year 1301. The leaves of the palm tree were after-wards used in their stead, as also the inner bark of the lime, the ash, the maple, and the elm. But the earliest, though long obsolete, flexible material of importance was made from the concentric coats which wrapped the stalk of the Egyptian papyrus, from which is derived our word paper. The time of its introduction has been much disputed ; but it was certainly known long before Herodotus. The length of the Greek papyri is said to vary from eight to twelve inches; the Latin often reach sixteen. Some rolls, however, have been found as long as thirty feet. They were written on with reeds dipped in gum-water coloured with charcoal or soot of resin, the writing being readily obliterated with a sponge ; and it is conjectured that the surface was some-times prepared for that purpose with a wash or varnish. Pliny mentions also the ink of the cuttle fish as having been used for writing, as well as a decoction of the lees of wine. Red ink consisted of a preparation from cinnabar The next material commonly employed after papyrus was parchment, made from the skins of animals, usually of sheep or lambs. Vellum is a finer substance, consisting of prepared calf-skin. Parchment is commonly ascribed to Eumenés, king of Pergamus, in Asia Minor ; but he was, in all probability, not the inventor but the improver. Writing on skins is mentioned by Herodotus as common in his day ; and Diodorus and Ctesias speak of ancient Persian records on leather. The word itself (pergamena) first occurs, according to Mabillon, in the writings of Tatto, a monk of the 4th century. It appears to have superseded papyrus about the 7th century ; but its quality afterwards deteriorated. At first only one side was written on, the back being frequently stained. Parchments written on both sides are called by Pliny opisthographi. The term boc-fell is found, in early English, to designate this material. Its dearness in classical times led to the practice of erasing the original writing for the purpose of substituting new. Parchments so obliterated are known as palimpsests, from a Greek word signifying twice rubbed, or prepared for writing; and they are alluded to under that name by Cicero (ad Div. er vii. 18).

Pompeii wall painting

This wall painting (Pompeii, before 79 A.D.) shows a woman holding a book (codex) made of wax tablets (tabulae).


Paper made from cotton (charta bombycina) came into use, according to Montfaucon, towards the end of the 9th or the beginning of the 10th century; and the in-vention was opportune, as it checked the further use of palimpsests, which, from the scarcity of parchment and the demand for books of devotion, had imperilled the preserva-tion of much classical literature. Cicero's Be Republiea was discovered by Angelo Mai in the Vatican library written under a commentary of St Augustine on the Psalms; and the Institutions of Gaius, in the library of the chapter at Verona, were deciphered in like manner under the works of St Jerome. But the invention of linen paper gave the first real impulse to book production. The precise date of this invention is disputed; Mabillon refers it to the 12th century. Montfaucon, however, found no specimens earlier than 1270, and Maffei none before 1300; the most numerous of them belong to the 14th century. Scaliger ascribes the invention to the Germans, Maffei to the Italians, and others to certain Greek refugees at Basel; while Duhalde refers it to the Chinese, and Prideaux to the Saracens in Spain. For further particulars respecting the various substances of early books, the reader may consult the first volume of the Nouveau traite de diplomatique, by the Benedictines of St Maur, and the Essai sur I'histoire du Parchemin et du Velin, by Peignot, who has given a list of authorities on this subject.


The form of ancient books differed with the materials of which they were composed. When flexible matter came into use, it was found convenient to make books in the form of rolls, and the two names are synonymous in legal phraseology to this day. The papyrus, and after-wards the parchment, was joined together to form one sheet, and then rolled upon a staff into a volume (volumen). When an author divided his work into portions or " books," in the literary sense of the word, each division was usually a volumen by itself,—thus Ovid speaks of his fifteen books of the Metamorphoses as so many volumina ; and the same was done when an entire work was too bulky to be rolled on one stick. The staff in the Herculaneum rolls is con-cealed by the papyrus, but it usually projected, the ends being ornamented with bosses (umbilici) of wood and ivory. The title (titulus index) was either suspended like a ticket to the roll, or pasted on the outside. These rolls were frequently protected by a parchment cover; they were deposited in a cylindrical box (capsa or scrinium), or were arranged horizontally in cases round the walls of a library, as at Herculaneum. Many books could probably be stowed away in small compass by this means ; and the smallness of the rooms devoted in ancient times to such collections is readily explained in this manner. The volumen, however, in most cases, was far from containing as much as our ordinary books, even in an octavo form. The square form, originally applied to the codices or wax tablets joined together in the way described above, was resorted to afterwards for separate leaves, the same name being retained with altered materials. Martial speaks of this later kind of codex as a novelty in his day. It was com-mon, however, in Greek MSS., among the earliest of which Montfaucon discovered few specimens of rolls. The term liber in the 4th century is found applied to both rolls and squared leaves, but the former were discontinued in the
Middle Ages, and covers of boards were gradually intro-duced, the leaves being stitched together as well as folded.

Internal Arrangements

The internal arrangement of books has undergone Internal many modifications, which belong, however, chiefly to the arrange-subject of early writing. At first the letters were divided IEenta' only into lines, then into separate words, and these by degrees were noted with accents, and distributed by points and stops into periods, paragraphs, chapters, and other divisions/'" In some countries, as among the Orientals, the direction of the characters was from right to left, in others, as among the Northern and Western nations, from left to right. The early Greeks followed the two directions alter-nately,—a method which was called boustrophedon, from its analogy to the path of oxen when ploughing. In most countries the lines run from side to side, but in some, parti-cularly among the Chinese, their direction is vertical.

The diffusion of early books concerns especially the literary historian. Their scarcity before printing is illus-trated by the conditions attached to purchase or loan ; but it must be remembered that a particular book might easily bear a monopoly price, and that this is no test of the cost of those which might be multiplied by transcription. When, however, the small number of copyists in the Dark Ages and even later is considered, the high prices recorded in many instances do not appear surprising. A curious collection of scattered notices of this kind is given in the first volume of Warton's History of English Poetry. A catalogue of the books in the Sorbonne in 1292, consisting of upwards of 1000 volumes, is mentioned by Chevillier as having been valued at 3812 livres, equiva-lent, according to an English writer, to as many pounds sterling of the present day. In 1425, when the English became masters of Paris, the duke of Bedford, regent of France, sent the whole of the royal library into England; and the collection, which amounted to only 853 volumes, was valued at 2223 livres.

Printed Books

The characteristics of early printed books are noticed under the head of BIBLIOGRAPHY (q. v.) The folio and quarto sizes, originally adopted from the largeness of the types in the infancy of printing, are now generally restricted to works of bulk, as dictionaries and other books of reference. The size of a printed book is named from the dimensions of the paper and the number of leaves into which it is folded. The ordinary sizes for a long time were royal, demy, and crown; and the demy 8vo is now the commonest size in use. Post and foolscap are frequently but inaccurately described in catalogues as duodecimo. "Paper-moulds," says Mr W. Blades,2 a competent authority on this subject, " have fixed conventional sizes ; but since the introduction of machines for making paper, and the consequent disuse of moulds, makers work more by a given number of inches than by names of sizes. Consequently, the correct description of book sizes has become impossible, and the trade describe the new by the names of the old size they most resemble. To determine the real size of a bound book," he adds, "find the signature (a letter or figure at the bottom of the page), and count the leaves (not pages) to the next. A further test is the binder's thread in the middle of the sheet; the number of leaves from each thread to the next will give the same result. But these rules do not apply to old black-letter books and those of the 15th and 16th centuries, in which the most satis-factory test is the water-mark. The rule is:—a folio volume will have all the water-marks in the middle of the page; a quarto has the water-mark folded in half in the back of the book, still midway-between the top and bottom; in an octavo it is at the back, but at the top, and often considerably cropped by the binder's plough ; and a 12mo and 16mo have the water-mark on the fore-edge." For further information regarding MS. books see PALAEOGRAPHY, and for printed books BIBLIOGRAPHY. (E. E. T.)


The trade in books is of a very ancient date. The early poets and orators recited their effusions in public to induce their hearers to possess written copies of their poems or orations. Frequently they were taken down viva voce, and transcripts sold to such as were wealthy enough to pur-chase. In the book of Jeremiah the prophet is repre-sented as dictating to Baruch the scribe, who, when questioned, described the mode in which his book was written. These scribes were, in fact, the earliest booksellers, and supplied copies as they were demanded. Aristotle, we are told, possessed a somewhat extensive library ; and Plato is recorded to have paid the large sum of one hundred minae for three small treatises of Philolaus the Pythagorean. When the Alexandrian library was founded about 300 B.C., various expedients were resorted to for the purpose of procuring books, and this appears to have stimulated the energies of the Athenian booksellers, who were termed BiBXiwv Kairr]\oi. In Kome, towards the end of the Republic, it became the fashion to have a library as part of the household furniture; and the booksellers, librarii (Cic, De Leg., iii. 20) or bibliopoles (Martial, iv. 71, xiii. 3), carried on a nourishing trade. Their shops (taberna librarii, Cicero, Phil., ii, 9) were chiefly in the Argiletum, and in the Vicus Sandalarius. On the door, or on the side posts, wras a list of the books on sale ; and Martial (i. 118), who mentions this also, says that a copy of his First Book of Epigrams might be purchased for five denarii. In the time of Augustus the great booksellers were the Sosii. According to Justinian (ii. 1, 33), a law was passed securing to the scribes the property in the materials used; and in this may, perhaps, be traced the first germ of the modern law of copyright.

The spread of Christianity naturally created a great demand for copies of the Gospels and other sacred books, and later on for Missals and other devotional volumes for church and private use. Benedict Biscop, the founder of the abbey at Wearmouth in England, brought home with him from France (671) a whole cargo of books, part of which he had " bought/' but from whom is not mentioned. Passing by the intermediate ages we find that, previous to the Reformation, the text writers or stationers (stacyoneres), who sold copies of the books then in use,—the ABC, the Paternoster, Creed, Ave Maria, and other MS. copies of prayers, in the neighbourhood of St Paul's, London,—were, in 1403, formed into a guild. Some of these " stacyoneres " had stalls or stations built against the very walls of the cathedral itself, in the same manner as they are still to be found in some of the older Continental cities. In Mr Anstey's Munimenta Academica, published under the direc-tion of the Master of the Rolls, we catch a glimpse of the " sworn " university bookseller or stationer, John More of Oxford, who apparently first supplied pupils with their books, and then acted the part of a pawnbroker. Mr Anstey says (p. 77), " The fact is that they (the students) mostly could not afford to buy books, and had they been able, would not have found the advantage so considerable as might be supposed, the instruction given being almost wholly oral. The chief source of supplying books was by purchase from the university sworn stationers, who had to a great extent a monopoly Of such books there were plainly very large numbers constantly changing hands." Besides the sworn stationers there were many booksellers in Oxford who were not sworn ; for one of the statutes, passed in the year 1373, expressly recites that, in consequence of their pres-ence, " books of great value are sold and carried away fr-om Oxford, the owners of them are cheated, and the sworn stationers are deprived of their lawful business." It was therefore enacted that no bookseller except two sworn stationers, or their deputies, should sell any book being either his own property or that of another, exceeding half a mark in value, under pain of imprisonment, or, if the offence was repeated, of abjuring his trade within the university.

"The trade in bookselling seems," says Hallam, "to have been established at Paris and Bologna in the 12th century; the lawyers and universities called it into life. It is very improbable that it existed in what we properly call the Dark Ages. Peter of Blois mentions a book which he had bought of a public dealer (a quodam publico mangone librorum); but we do not find many distinct accounts of them till the next age. These dealers were denominated stationarii, perhaps from the open stalls at which they carried on their business, though statio is a general word for a shop in low Latin. They appear, by the old statutes of the University of Paris, and by those of Bologna, to have sold books upon commission, and are sometimes, though not uniformly, distinguished from the librarii, a word which, having originally been confined to the copyists of books, was afterwards applied to .those who traded in them. They sold parchment and other materials of writing, which have retained the name of stationery, and they naturally exer-cised the kindred occupations of binding and decorating. They probably employed transcribers; we find at least that there was a profession of copyists in the universities and in large cities."

The modern system of bookselling dates from soon after the introduction of printing. The earliest printers were also editors and booksellers ; but being unable to sell every copy of the works they printed, they had agents at most of the seats of learning. Antony Koburger, who introduced the art of printing into Nuremberg in 1470, although a printer, was more of a bookseller; for, besides his own sixteen shops, we are informed by his biographers that he had agents for the sale of his books in every city of Chris-tendom. Wynkin de Worde, who succeeded to Caxton's press in Westminster, had a shop in Fleet Street.

The religious dissensions of the Continent, and the Reformation in England under Henry VIII. and Edward VI., created a great demand for books; but in England neither Tudor nor Stuart could tolerate a free press, and various efforts were made to curb it. The first patent for the office of king's printer was granted to Thomas Berthelet by Henry VIII. in 1529, but only such books as were first licensed were to be printed. At that time even the pur-chase or possession of an unlicensed book was a punishable offence. In 1556 (3 and 4 Philip and Mary) the London Company of Stationers was incorporated, and very extensive powers were granted in order that obnoxious books might be repressed. In the following reigns the Star Chamber exercised a pretty effectual censorship; but in spite of all precaution, such was the demand for books of a polemical nature, that many were printed abroad and surreptitiously introduced into England. Queen Elizabeth interfered but little with books except when they emanated from - Roman Catholics, or touched upon her royal prerogatives; and towards the end of her reign, and during that of her pedantic successor, James, bookselling flourished. Arch-bishop Laud, who was no friend to booksellers, introduced many arbitrary restrictions; but they were all, or nearly all, removed during the time of the Commonwealth. So much had bookselling increased during the Protectorate that, in 1658, was published A Catalogue of the most Vendible Books in England, digested under the heads of Divinity, History, Physic, Sc., with School Books, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and an Introduction, for the use of Schools, by W. London. A bad time immediately fol-lowed. The Restoration also restored the office of Licenser of tbe Press, which continued till 1694.

In the first Copyright Act (8 Anne, c. 19), which speci-ally relates to booksellers, it is enacted that, if any per-son shall think the published price of a book unreason-ably high, he may thereupon make complaint to the arch-bishop of Canterbury, and to certain other persons named, who shall thereupon examine into his complaint, and if well founded reduce the price; and any bookseller charging more than the price so fixed shall be fined £5 for every copy sold. Apparently this enactment remained a dead letter.

The modern bookselling trade divides itself into the seve-ral branches of publishing and wholesale bookselling, and the retail, the old or second-hand, and the periodical trades. Publishing is confined to a few of the larger cities, London naturally taking the lead, followed by Edinburgh, Glasgow, Oxford, Manchester, Liverpool, Cambridge, Dublin, and a few other places ; while purely wholesale dealers are to be found in the large towns only. In Great Britain, and especially in Scotland, booksellers are located in every small town ; but in Ireland there are very few, except in the chief cities. Formerly the retail booksellers were ex-pected to demand the full retail price of a book, and make no greater reduction than discount for ready money ; but this restriction has been discontinued as contrary to the spirit of free trade. The trade in old or (they are some-times called) second-hand books is in a sense a higher class of business, requiring a knowledge of bibliography, while the transactions are with individual books rather than with numbers of copies. Occasionally dealers in this class of books replenish their stocks by purchasing remainders of books, which, having ceased from one cause or another to sell with the publisher, they offer to the public as bargains. The periodical trade is entirely the growth of the present century, and was in its infancy when the Penny Magazine, Chambers's Journal, and similar publications first appeared. The growth of this important part of the business has been greatly promoted by the abolition of the newspaper stamp and of the duty upon paper, the introduction of attractive illustrations, and the facilities offered for purchasing books by instalments.

The history of bookselling in the New World has yet to be written. The Spanish settlements in America drew away from the old country much of its enterprise and best talent, and the presses of Mexico and other cities teemed with publications mostly of a religious character, but many others, especially linguistic and historical, were also published. Bookselling in the United States was of a somewhat later growth, although printing was introduced into New York as early as 1673, Boston in 1674, and Philadelphia in 1683. Franklin had served to make the trade illustrious, yet few persons were engaged in it at the commencement of the present century. Books chiefly for scholars and libraries were imported from Europe ; but after the second war printing-presses multiplied rapidly, and with the spread of newspapers and education there also arose a demand for books, and publishers set to work to secure the advantages offered by the wide field of English literature, the whole of which they had the liberty of reaping free of all cost beyond that of production. The works of Scott, Byron, Moore, Southey, Wordsworth, and indeed of every author of note, were reprinted without the smallest payment to author or proprietor. Half the names of the authors in the so called "American" catalogue of books printed between 1820 and 1852 are British. By this means the works of the best authors have been brought to the doors of all classes in the cheapest variety of forms. In consequence of the war with the Southern States, the high price of labour, and the restrictive duties laid on in order to protect native industry, coupled with the frequent intercourse between the two countries, a great change has taken place during the last few years. Books printed and bound in Britain are greatly appreciated, and American publishers, in the absence of an international copyright, make liberal offers for early sheets of new publications. Boston, New York, and Philadelphia still retain their old supremacy as bookselling centres.

In Australia the sale of books is not large at present; there are, however, indications of a great increase. The booksellers there as in Canada, although supposed to be bound by the copyright law restricting the sale of any but genuine editions, avail themselves of American and other reprints, in which the authors have little or no interest.

In the course of the 16th and 17 th centuries the Low Countries for a time became the chief centre of the bookselling world, and many of the finest folios and quartos in our libraries bear the names of Jansen, Blauw, or Plantin, with the imprint of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leyden, or Antwerp, while the Elzevirs besides other works produced their charming little pocket classics. The southern towns of Douai and St Omer at the same time furnished polemical works in English.

Germany, the birthplace of the art of printing, is still the first bookselling country in the world. There, dis-tributed over 786 towns, are 3473 publishers and book-sellers, Leipsic being the centre to which they all look, all of any consequence having an agency there, where their books are collected, and their own publications distributed. In Leipsic there are 105 commission-agents for 4202 booksellers, of whom 1143 carry on business in Austria, France, Eussia, Holland, America, and England. The book exchange has 115 members who transact business there. The other centres of the German book trade are Stutt-gart, with 16 agents for 542 booksellers; Vienna, with 31 agents for 475; Berlin, with 29 agents for 305; and Prague, with 18 agents for 98. The great book fair at Leipsic is held every year immediately after Easter, and is attended by booksellers from every part of the world.

In France the press is still shackled, and every book and pamphlet must be registered before publication; but not-withstanding this booksellers flourish, especially in all the large towns, and some of the finest illustrated works of the day are issued from the French press. In Italy book-sellers are few, and in Spain they can hardly be said to have any existence at all.
From the English Catalogue of Books for 1874 it appears that there were about 4500 books published in Great Britain and Ireland during that year. This number in-cludes new editions of works previously issued, as well as the principal books published in the United States.
The values of books exported and imported during 1874 are given in the official returns as follows :—

== TABLE ==

Much interesting information on the book trade will be found in Charles Knight's Biography of William Caxton, and in the same author's Shadows of the Old Booksellers, 1865. See also History of Booksellers, by Henry Curwen, 1873, and Bilder-Hefte zur Geschtchte des Bûcherhandels, by Heinrich Lempertz, Cologne, 1854.


See Montfaucon, Pal. Orœc. p. 34. There are several specimens in the British Museum.
For more on this subject see Caneparius, De Atramentis cujus-cumque generis, London, 1660 ; Beckmann's History of Inventions; and Becker's Cliaricles and Gallus.

Origines de l'imprimerie de Pans, p. 370. 5 Notes and Queries, 3d séries, ix. 83,

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