At the most basic level, a half-sheet refers to a sheet of paper that is half the size of what is considered to be a normal sheet. Because the normal size of a sheet is subjective to each printer, the size of a half-sheet is therefore also subjective (Glaister, 213). Half-sheets are commonly found in small 18th century books, but are also found in earlier and later publications as well. To create half-sheets, printers would employ half-sheet imposition, where ink would impose several pages on a full sheet of paper that which would later be cut in half and bound (Suarez and Woudhuysen, 777).
Overall, the term “half-sheet” is crucial to understand because it is a tangible part of books and because it has bibliographical significance both historically and practically. First, many smaller books in the 18th century were comprised of half-sheets. Therefore, when examining an 18th century book, it could potentially be useful to consider the possibility of its creation through half-sheet imposition. In addition, more commonly printed products like lottery bills, play bills, and most smaller advertisements were printed using half-sheets. So when handling a half-sheet comprised piece of media, considering whether the item has a commercial background may be useful. Half-sheets were used for printing during this time for books and other printed publications because the half-sheet imposition process that created the half-sheets was faster than simply printing on full sheets. With half-sheets’ use expediting the printing process, mass production was able to take another step forward. Because more books would be entering the market, it is safe to assume books printed in half-sheets were meant to have a mass audience. Also, because time was saved by using half-sheets, the cost of labor went down, making half-sheets an attractive and cost-efficient option for printers (777). The use of half-sheets also changed the visual appearance of books. With half-sheets, a book would be smaller, but also longer and require double the amount of quires in the book, making the book thicker, width-wise (777). This change in visual appearance of books should be considered by bibliographers, because the appearance of the book in question had the potential to change its impression on its audience.
Half-sheets are typically referenced in scholarship surrounding the half-sheet imposition process. This makes logical sense, considering the half-sheet imposition process would be impossible without the use of half-sheets in printing and creating books. In William Bond’s article, “Imposition by Half-Sheets”, Bond begins by explaining what a half sheet is and how its use allowed inner and outer formes to be created at the same time. Then, he states that although half-sheets were predominantly used in smaller, 18th century books, there is fairly solid proof of their use in the 16th century as well. Bond then discusses the details of a page peculiarity in Churchyard’s Chippes by Thomas Marshe in 1575 (Bond, 163). By examining errors in page numbering, he is able to predict that half-sheet imposition was used even at this early time, especially because it would be more economical than using full-sheets (166). And because Marshe was employing half-sheet imposition, Bond concludes that it is fairly safe to assume his peers were also using half-sheets as a cost-saving measure (167).
Flashing forward a few centuries, in Oliver Steele’s article “Half-Sheet Imposition of Eight Leaf Quires in Formes of Thirty-Two and Sixty-Four Pages,” Steele explores the physical characteristics that determine the use of half-sheet imposition in modern books, specifically the edges of unopened or semi-unopened books and books that contain partially uncut pages. He examines the 1919 edition of Juergen, paying close attention to the texture of the edges of the pages, whether they are smooth and machine cut or roughly cut (Steele, 274). From these observations, Steele concludes that the sequence of machine cut and rough cut edges is explained by the use of half-sheet imposition of eight-leaf quires in the forme of thirty two pages in the printing process (275). He then moves onto examining the 1907 edition of Gallantry and its sequence of rough versus smooth, machine cut pages, which leads him to asset that it was printed using half-sheet imposition of eight leaf quires in formes of sixty four pages (276). Steele finishes by establishing that although formes of thirty two and sixty four pages were common printing schemes, there are many other schemes to explore in the future (277).
Bond, William H. “Imposition By Half-Sheets.” The Library S4-XXII.2-3 (1941): 163-67
Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall. Encyclopedia of the Book. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 1996. Print.
Steele, Oliver L. “Half-Sheet Imposition of Eight-Leaf Quires in Formes of Thirty-Two and Sixty-Four Pages.” Studies in Bibliography, Vol. 16, (1962): 274-278.
Suarez, Michael Felix., and H. R. Woudhuysen. The Oxford Companion to the Book. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.
Lady Wilde. Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland. London: Ward and Downey, 1890. Print.
Contributed by Rachel Schnalzer.