Page numerals came into effect in the 16th century and became an essential component in organizing reading material. Essentially, page numbers act as form of communication between the reader and the author. The reader can follow the sequence of events and understand the writer’s thought-process. It is important to recognise the forms used to identify pages before page numerals came into practice. Pagination is a sequence of numbers used to identify the pages of a book. These are known individually as page numerals, collectively as pagination. Pagination was not in common use until the mid 16th century, prior to which only the recto of each leaf had been numbered i.e. foliated. (Carter; Glaister). In ‘The First Folio of Shakespeare’ by Peter Blayney, the reader notices that pages were not numbered during the hand press era. “The first seven pages were set in numerical order while the last five pages were set in reverse”. Compositors employed “catchwords” to form coherency and flow. The final word on the recto side of the leaf became the first word on the verso side. A Blind Folio: a leaf in the prelims of a book which has no page numerals printed (or written on it) show that in printing mistakes are often made and page numbers are out of sequence (Glaister). A gathering of leaves were bound together in the manuscript, each sharing the same signature mark. In printing copies of manuscripts order is required to compile the pages together.
Foliation meant that the number of leaves depended on signature marks as opposed to page numerals. It was the forerunner of pagination, whereby only the recto sides of leaves in manuscripts or early printed books were numbered, usually in roman numerals. Leaf numerals were printed as early as 1470, Johannes da Spira of Venice being the first printer to do this (Glaister). A gathering of leaves were bound together in the manuscript, each sharing the same signature mark.
Signature marks helped readers to locate different passages in the text and gave order to the events as they unfolded. A signature mark was denoted by a letter (or in some modern books, numerals) printed in the tail margin of each gathering of a book, as a guide to the binder in assembling them correctly (Carter).
In the 1600s, greater accessibility to the written word for all classes now prevailed. Reading material was now no longer solely the privilege of the wealthy. Books were being produced en-masse and significantly more cheaply. This transformation runs parallel to what’s happening to the written word in the modern era.
In discussing page numbers presently, it is evident that a large majority of people read books on-line. In looking at one of the latest inventions, The Kindle App, the layout of the pages contrasts significantly with that of a book. The Kindle app is a tool which allows people to read books on any device: The computer, tablet, iphone and blackberry. Through downloading the Kindle app onto any of the above devices, people can read any book in any location around the world. There are many differences between the kindle e-book and the physical book. The Kindle e-book displays ‘location’ numbers rather than page numbers. Location numbers on this device are easily accessed. For citation purposes reading books on-line can often prove difficult. “As the different font sizes change, so too would the page number” (Business Daily Technology).
The computer company, Amazon, recognised the urgent need for page numbers and invented “location numbers, which correspond to the bits of text on the screen, consistently on any screen and at any time size- not paper page numbers’’ (Business Daily Technology).
Business Daily Technology (New York Times).
Carter, John, and Nicolas Barker. ABC for Book Collectors. 8th ed. Oak Knoll: New Castle; London: British Library, 2004.
Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford: OUP, 1972; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.
Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall. Encyclopedia of the Book. 2nd ed. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2001.
Tanselle, G. Thomas. Bibliographical Analysis: A Historical Introduction. Cambridge: CUP, 2009.
Blayney, Peter. ‘The First Folio of Shakespeare.’
Contributed by Niamh Conaty.