Pet Book #6: Format

Looking at the physical makeup of my Pet Book, Kingsley’s The Water Babies, like other items in the same Classics for Children collection, is a small book with no visible chainlines and a lack of signatures throughout the text. Because of the lack of printing queues as clues about the format, I am reserved in wanting to guess what type of format it is, but I would guess that it is a quarto based on the size of the book itself. The lack of printing queues about formatting is rather frustrating, but also adds an extra layer of thought that must be considered when talking about the text. How much of what we know about the text, as a result of this lack of cues, must be based off general knowledge about printing in the 19th century and assumptions made by looking at the book?

When thinking about my Pet Book in terms of its formatting, I was mainly concerned more with its format as a text within a series of books printed by the publishers, Ginn & Company. I was mainly curious about the formatting of the physical book itself in terms of the cover art, the size and font used, and the ways in which those physical attributes impacted the way that the book was read and perceived by individuals who might own the entire Classics for Children series, or just one or two of the books printed within the collection.

TWB cover

Some quick Googling lead me to eBay, where various different users have placed some of the works from Ginn & Company’s Classics for Children up for purchase (including my Pet Book!). By and large, from what I could tell by looking at a few of the samples that I found, including Scott’s Lady of the Lake by Edwin Ginn and Kingsley’s Greek Heroes, the only difference in cover formatting was that on the back of Scott’s Lady of the Lake, published in 1891, the titles of books are underlined rather than italicized, as they were on the back of Kinglsey and Tetlow, who were published in 1888 and 1884 respectively.

There is an inherent value in the idea of a book cover and the aesthetic way that the book is presented to readers. While on one hand, some may have preferred to have all of the covers of the collection nearly identical in order to create a cohesive visual experience when observing their collection all together, it also creates some uneasiness and ambiguity in looking at a book and not being able to tell it apart from another because the cover art is identical in every way besides the book’s title and author. Our experience with the text is ultimately impacted directly by the size of the book, the feeling of the cover and the paper, and the visual elements of the artwork.

While this idea does draw largely upon some of the ideas presented by Fleming from last week’s focus on imagery, it also plays heavily onto the ideas from Alberto Manguel’s “The Library as Shape.” Though he focuses on the physical space of a library and the way that it can change our relationship to texts, I think his ideas can be generalized not only to the space in which books are kept but to the space of books themselves.

He writes, “books lend a room a particular identity that can, in some cases, usurp that of their owner” (p. 3). What would we think if we walked into someone’s study and saw the Ginn & Company Classics for Children lined along their wall? The books are thin and a mousey brown color, with the titles simply written in small print at the top of the spine. Would we marvel at the fact that they had the full collection lined up together creating some sense of cohesiveness and order, or would we rather wonder why they had the same copy of such a similar book over and over again along their selves? On one hand, we could consider them a dedicated collector, but on the other, we could argue that the formatting of the book in such a carbon copy way based on a template used for other books in the same collection takes something away from it and thus lessens our experience with the text.

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