The term colophon comes from the ancient Greek Κολοφών meaning ‘summit’ and in terms of bibliography refers to the note at the end of a book containing information such as the name of the work, author and printer, as well as the place of printing and the date. (Carter, 1952). Often in texts before 1500, the colophon was the only area of reference for this information within the book, before the implementation of the title page. John Carter notes in ABC For Book Collectors how during the transitional period when both were in use, discrepancies may be found between the two. Confusion can often arise when information which may often be displayed within the colophon is instead placed upon the verso of the title leaf, or on the title page itself, creating confusion as to the inclusion of a colophon within different texts. The modern incarnation of the colophon derives from organisational markings upon literary stone tablets in the early Babylonian/Canaanite regions of the near east around modern day turkey and the Mediterranean. These Incunabula colophons focused mainly on cath-phrases (Wiseman, 1985) or other individualistic areas of the work which would make them easily catalogued for later investigation. Scholars such as P.J. Wiseman based his study on the origins of the book of genesis upon the colophonic references to the tablets authors.
The colophon later developed to assimilate with the imprint page more often noted in modern works. The colophon’s primary purpose in more modern texts in terms of the provision of information is in providing the reader or inquirer with the text’s edition. After an initial decline in their use during the 16th century, colophons began to reappear in the 19th century, often containing far more detailed information on the books physical conception, such as the number of copies in an edition, number of words and charters and even ink levels in some cases. Figure.1 shows an example of a colophon in which the number of copies within the edition is certified, along within a sanctioned location for the individual marking of each copy, as well as an (optional) authors signature.
Figure.2 focuses more so upon the details of printer information such as name and location , as well as authorship and the date of manufacture (down to the month). The most detailed example of the modern colophon, this example includes practically every morsel of information about the book’s creation. Font size, computer programs where graphs and images were developed, as well as the third stanza’s description of exact print methods and paper types are all included. The fourth stanza in the book’s colophon gives exact word, page, character and illustration number for exact reference.
While the practice of including such detailed information about the text’s creation is not always included in modern books due to the distribution of textual information over the cover and the title page, along with efforts to save money on most paperback editions, the inclusion of colophon has been a staple in books since its inception. Indeed, at the incunable time of book making, a reader would turn to the book’s final page, to the colophon for basic information such as authorship, printer and printing location, a tradition which has been swapped on the most part for title page information as well as publisher and author information on the covers of many texts. Very often, the page dedicated to the colophon of a work also contained some form of art work, the publishers imprint, or a small artistic piece such as that in Figure.3. The Colophon for the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) includes a small piece of text about the author, publisher and printer, whilst also including a piece of art centred around the letter B, and a small drawing of Dorothy and her dog Toto. The absence of a square around the colophon is one indication that this is the second state of the book. The seahorse signature in the lower right corner is the trademark of the illustrator W.W. Denslow.
Carter, J (1952) ABC For Book Collectors. 2nd edition, Oak Knoll Press, London.
Tanselle, G (1988) ‘Bibliographical History as a Field of Study.’ Studies in Bibliography , Vol. 41, 1988.
Wiseman, P. J (1958). Creation Revealed in Six Days: The evidence of Scripture confirmed by Archaeology. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott.
Erasmus. Against War, printed by the Merrymount Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 1908, colophon on last page of volume. Web page accessed 19/10/2012
La Fee Verte (2006) Nepenthes Press. Web page accessed 20/10/2012.
Contributed by Stephen Reid.