The half-title is a variable feature of books that consists of a leaf in which the title of the book has been printed on the right-hand page, and which is situated just before the title page (Fig. 1). It is considered to be part of the preliminary leaves, along with the title, the list of contents, preface, etc. Sometimes it contains the series title, editor, volume number, and rarely the price. However, these are more usually found in the title page itself. During the 16th and 17th centuries, they were occasionally signed. In addition, the verso of the half title can include a list of other books of the series or by the same author, but it usually left blank (Carter & Barker) (Fig. 2).
At first, half titles were an additional blank page before the title page that had two functions: first of all, since the book was kept in folder sheets before being sold, and therefore, exposed to all kind of damage, it served to protect the book. This was so because book binding was a completely different activity, and it was usually the one who bought the book who ordered the binding to an actual bookbinder. Secondly, it was an easy way to identify the book, taking into account that there were plenty of books saved in folder sheets in the same room and that the actual title page was no longer visible (Hollick, Richard). However, the addition to that identification as a convention didn’t begin until the second half of the 17th century.
Half-titles have been named in diverse ways. They are also called fly-titles by some American bibliographers. This term derives from the fly-leaf, which is not part of the gathering of the book, but of the binding itself, and which usually precedes the fly-title (Kane, Kathyrin). Sir Walter Greg, a 20th century bibliographer, also uses the term half-title indistinctly, to refer to fly-titles and sometimes even to cover divisional titles, which are something completely different, since they separates the text in segments, identifying those sections (Carter & Barker). However, according to Suarez, fly-titles are defined as second half-titles that may be found after the preliminary leaves when they are too extensive.
Apart from that, the term “bastard title” is broadly accepted as a synonym of half-title, but apparently its use is restricted only to old-fashioned printers. Half-titles present a lot of problems to bibliographers since they were usually removed by binders in order to sell them back to the mill and get some money back (paper was expensive at that time). Taking into account that half-titles are the first leaf of the first gathering in the book, it is usually easy to tell whether there is a half-title missing or not. But half-titles were sometimes printed on a final blank or other leaf, so what finally tells us if there should be a half-title or not is the comparison with other copies (Carter & Barker).
Suarez, Michael F., and H. W. Woudhuysen. The Oxford Companion to the Book. Oxford: OUP, 2010.
Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall. Encyclopedia of the Book. Second edition. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2001.
Carter, John, and Nicolas Barker. ABC for Book Collectors. 8th ed. Oak Knoll: New Castle; London: British Library, 2004.
Hollick, Richard. 6 Nov. 2010.
Kane, Kathyrin. 27 July 2012.
Adiga, Aravinda. The white tiger. London: Atlantic books. 2008.
Contributed by Rosa Cano Lorente.