The preliminary pages of a book, also known as ‘preliminaries’, ‘prelims’, or ‘front matter’, are the leaves of the book which precede the text, or the body of the book itself. The introductory matter which constitute the preliminaries, are usually the last to be printed, and are from their variable composition liable to the many irregularities of pagination, signature, and make-up (Carter 172). In regards to pagination, as Bowers recalls, blank leaves or pages, unnumbered leaves and pages, and all parts of a sheet which went through the printing press and were bound together in the gatherings, are treated as if they were numbered, otherwise, a separate account is made of them. Preliminary unnumbered leaves not included in the printer’s system of numeration, are noted by italicized total in square brackets (Bowers 273). Bowers also notes how the general problem of unnumbered pages was of less consequence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when reference was generally made to signatures, while it was most important in the eighteenth century and after (Bowers 273).
Thus, blank leaves which serve a fundamental purpose to the first gathering, account for bibliographical purposes as part of the preliminaries, but they are not always recognised in pagination, which is customarily in roman numerals, and thus, is distinct from the main body of the text (Carter 173). Henceforth, while each page of the preliminary is counted, no folio or page number is expressed, or printed, on either display pages, or blank pages.
McKerrow notes how the number of leaves in a gathering is shown by the superior figure (McKerrow 155). When discussing the preliminary leaves, in this sense, there is often a difficulty, as these particular leaves are sometimes signed by characters which may not be represented in modern founts of type. As he advises; “in such cases it will be well not to strive after too minute accuracy, but to use any fairly similar character which is available”. (McKerrow 157).
What comes to be included in the preliminaries, as well as the sequence of presentation is dependent upon the practice of different publishers. Every book is unique, and one book may not necessarily contain, even need, in the prelims what another book may have. Even different editions from the same author may easily contain different styles of prelims.
However, the following order of preliminaries, Glaister believes, is quite common to many books: half-title, frontispiece, title-page, imprint and copy right, list of illustrations, foreword, preface, acknowledgements, introduction (if not part of the first chapter), and corrigenda (Glaister 389). Thus, “preliminaries” is perhaps one of the more broader terms in the studies of bibliography, as many other important definitions which are listed above, combine to create the preliminaries of a book.
This in turn, again reflects its importance in the book production process: every book, regardless of its presentation and sequence, will usually contain prelims, and can constitute of a number of leaves of a book. It can also give the reader of a book an initial opinion of the book’s forthcoming text. For example, from the preface which is contained in the preliminary, one can determine some of the interests and qualities of the author, which may feature in the book’s body.
Below are pages from the preliminary of a book, containing the half-title, full-title, copyright, the dedication, table of contents, and the author’s preface.
Bowers, Fredson. Principles of Bibliographical Description. Winchester: St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1994.
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. Second edition. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2001.
McKerrow, R. B. An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students. Oxford: OUP, 1927; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1994.
Moody, T.W., and Martin, F.X. The Course of Irish History. Cork: Mercier Press, 2001.
Contributed by Gemma McWalter.