There is some divergence in the technical definition of the flyleaf. Several sources (Suarez & Woudhuysen 2:700; Glaister 159; Marks 34) define it as the free leaf of a book’s endpaper. However, another definition suggests that the term applies strictly to a binder’s blank leaf following the free front endpaper, or preceding the free back endpaper (Carter & Barker 105), but is often used in the first sense.
Beginning with the latter definition, it is important to distinguish the flyleaf, which is supplied by the binder, from blank pages which originate from the printer and are found at the beginning or end of a book. Missing printer’s blanks are recorded by the bibliographer and the book-collector, whereas missing binder’s blanks do not carry equal significance since they are not part of the text block that was created by the printer.
There are a number of ways to distinguish a binder’s blank (such as a flyleaf) from a printer’s blank. A binder’s blank (fig. 1) will almost certainly come from a different paper stock to that used in the text block, so it should be possible to observe a difference in the quality or texture of the paper, the direction of the chain-lines, or the watermark. The flyleaf, according to this definition, is a single leaf that is inserted after the free front endpaper or before the free back endpaper, and consequently, it will not have a conjugate leaf. If the blank leaf is conjugate with a leaf of the text, it is part of the text block, and is a printer’s blank.
When the term is used to refer to the free endpaper (fig. 2), the flyleaf is the leaf that is not pasted to the inner surface of the book cover. The endpapers are supplied by the binder and serve the purpose of strengthening the book and protecting the opening and closing leaves of the text block. The practice of protecting these leaves with additional paper can be seen as early as the seventh century (Suarez & Woudhuysen 2:700). They are sometimes decorated: marbled endpapers can found in books bound from the seventeenth century onwards (Carter 91). Again, since they are not part of the text block proper, they are not included in the collation formula for a book, but are often identified in the bibliographical description.
Since flyleaves, by either definition, are the preserve of the binder rather than the printer, their influence on the text is negligible. However, they are a feature of the history of bookbinding. In addition, scrap paper was occasionally used to produce endpapers, and leaves from manuscripts or damaged books are sometimes found serving this purpose. The flyleaf was also a common location for an owner’s signature or bookplate (as in fig. 2), or a message to a recipient, and these can assist in studying the provenance of a book. Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia (1785) was originally printed in a limited edition of two hundred for private distribution. The author wrote a note on the flyleaf of each presentation copy warning his friends “not to communicate the book to anyone who could not be relied upon to protect it against publication” (Carrière 6). The back flyleaf was also the site of readerly annotation, where indexes were sometimes written by readers before the convention of the printed index, and where Michel de Montaigne would write a summary after he had finished reading a book, in order to “spare himself the trouble of rereading” (Jackson 37).
Carrière, Joseph M. ‘The Manuscript of Jefferson’s Unpublished Errata List for Abbé Morellet’s Translation of the Notes on Virginia.’ Studies in Bibliography 1 (1948-49): 3-24.
Carter, John, and Nicolas Barker. ABC for Book Collectors. 8th ed. Oak Knoll: New Castle; London: British Library, 2004.
Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall. Encyclopedia of the Book. 2nd ed. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2001.
Jackson, H. J. Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
Suarez, Michael F., and H. W. Woudhuysen. The Oxford Companion to the Book. Oxford: OUP, 2010.
Moore, Thomas. The Loves of the Angels. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1823.
Contributed by Justin Tonra.