Development of the Printed Page

Irvin Department of Special Collections

About the Collection
The images in this collection have been created from a portfolio of book and manuscript leaves that was compiled and sold by The Society of Foliophiles in 1964. The collection was released in an edition of 20 sets that each contained 135 examples, and was titled “The History of the Written Word.” By using actual leaves chosen from the entire corpus of printing in the West, from its beginnings in the mid-fifteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, the collection was meant to trace the history of page layout, design, and typography. Manuscript leaves, both medieval and from the early modern period, were added to show printing’s antecedent textual traditions, as well as the close relationship between manuscripts and the design of early printed books. Additional later manuscripts, including several non-Western examples, demonstrate that the advent and quick adoption of printing throughout the world did not necessarily mean the immediate end of all varieties of manuscript production.

This set, acquired by the University of South Carolina many years ago, is a particularly good example of a now-questionable practice. “Leaf books” or portfolios containing examples of printed pages were popular earlier in the twentieth century and are still occasionally created today. The bibliography of a fine press, for example, will often be printed in a deluxe edition containing a few sample leaves from the press’s output. To create a large collection like this one, however, requires the breaking up of many individual books and manuscripts. Once commonplace amongst collectors, the practice is frowned upon today as destroying the historical integrity of a rare volume. Unfortunately, the demand for single leaves is still high, and books continue to be broken up for sale, especially if they contain collectible prints, maps, and color plates.

The Foliophiles intended this set to be purchased by libraries and cultural institutions for use as a ready-made study collection. For libraries without significant rare book collections, the set would likely have appeared very attractive. For a collector, it would have been an opportunity to own a set of leaves from books that would otherwise have taken a lifetime to assemble.

We do not know the original condition or provenances of the books used by the Foliophiles in assembling this collection. It is our intention in digitizing this set to expand its potential as a teaching tool. For those interested in the history of printing and the history of the book, this collection’s images may provide a good starting point and set of comparative examples. The images have been scanned at a sufficiently high resolution that close examination of page layout, typography, ornament, and marginalia is possible. The collection includes examples from a wide geographic range and from many of the most historically significant printers and presses. The works themselves are also diverse, from early printed editions of the classics and literary works, to theology, histories, accounts of travel and voyages, and official state and legal documents.

We have supplemented the original Foliophiles set in this digital collection with several leaves from the collections of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of South Carolina. Among them are additional leaves from important works in the history of printing such as the first edition of the King James Bible, and several of the first images depicting American Indians in Virginia. We hope that this collection will be useful as a set of textual examples for teaching the history of the book, communications, typography, graphic design, and illustration, and we welcome comments and questions from its users.

Thanks to Rare Books and Special Collections, especially Jeffrey Makala, for organizing and preparing this collection of early printed pages for digitizing. The project could also not have been completed without the work of Tony Branch from the Systems Department, Kate Boyd, Lauren Glaettli (2005, MLIS Library Science) and Kevin Gilbertson (2005, MLIS Library Science) from the Digital Activities Department, and Douglas King of Cataloging.

Creating the Digital Collection
This collection of 152 images was scanned on a flatbed UMAX PowerLook 2100XL scanner, using MagicScan and then SilverFast scanning software. Lauren scanned the images as color TIFFs at 24-bit and 300 ppi, except for a few manuscripts where the ink had chipped off or faded and needed a little more clarification. She scanned those at a slightly higher 396 ppi. From the TIFFs she created high quality JPEGs, which were then uploaded to CONTENTdm and compressed as JPEG2000s at that time. The TIFFs will be maintained as the archival masters on a SAN server, backed-up to DVD and tape.

Kevin created a home page for the collection, and Jeff created an excel spread sheet for the metadata, as well as writing the introduction for it. The metadata records follow the Western States Best Practices Dublin Core format and were uploaded as a tab delimited file at the same time as the images. Kate uploaded the images to the CONTENTdm database. Tony Branch is the systems administrator for the CONTENTdm database and helps to manage the computers and scanners in the Digital Activities Department.

Media Types