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Page sizes in the 18th century

July 9, 2012

The books from the 18th century are often described by the size of the paper they were printed on. Printers would start with a large sheet of paper called a broadside, then fold/cut the paper down to various sizes depending on the desired size of the finished book. What is known as a “folio” book results when the broadside is folded/cut in half resulting in four printed pages in this largest sized book. The “quarto” book is made by folding this same large sheet of paper in half twice and cutting it. This results in eight printed pages in the quarto book. You might also hear books called “octavo”. The octavo book results from the broadside being folded over and over until the end result consists in sixteen smaller printed pages. You may sometimes also encounter a “duodecimo” edition which gets twenty-four printed pages cut from the broadside. As I said, each of the different sized book pages first originates from a single large sheet of paper that is folded in half then cut. These two sheets can be then folded in half and then cut again, and so on and so on until the desired sized book is achieved. The octavo book pages measure around 8” x 5”. This is roughly a quarter of the size of the large folio books that are found on church lecterns and other places where large print books would be easier to read due to their larger font. To review: Folio books have one fold; Quarto books have two; Octavo books have three; Duodecimo books have four folds and Sextodecimo books have five. Each fold/cut produces four pages on which to print on, but the pages are different sizes. The folio gives four printed pages; the quarto gives eight; the octavo gives sixteen; the duodecimo gives twenty-four; and the sextodecimo gives thirty-two pages – all originating from one large individual sheet of paper. Our 1733 New Testament and our 1734 Book of Common Prayer are both approximately a quarto. However, due to the size of modern laid paper, but mostly because of the constraints of our printer, our mentioned books are reduced in size by about ten percent.

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