I was studying this book and it surprised me that the bottom right of every page includes the first syllable (?) of the next page's first word. An example below (Leges, Quif):

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Following my curiosity, I searched other Latin books and found the same pattern in many of them (e.g here, here, here, or here) but not all (e.g. here, here, or here).

My questions:

  1. Does this printing style have a name?
  2. How widespread could we say it was? (perhaps a time-period?)
  3. What was its function?
  • Please advice on proper tags. I had to create two :/ – luchonacho Aug 9 '17 at 12:12
  • 1
    Not just Latin, but English too. See for example editions of Jane Austen in the 19th century. – Alex B. Aug 9 '17 at 13:01
  • Just a heads up, that's not Quif-, but Quis-. The latter isn't an f but a medial s. First line on the verso e.g. isn't fignum but signum. – C. M. Weimer Aug 9 '17 at 14:11
  • @C.M.Weimer :o so this is always written with s when using (modern) Latin alphabet? – luchonacho Aug 9 '17 at 14:15
  • Some tags to consider: orthography, typography, new-latin. Perhaps "print" could be renamed "printing"? This older question is related to the two types of S. – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 9 '17 at 17:49
up vote 15 down vote accepted

It is called a catchword and is common in manuscripts and in early printed books. Usually it appears only on the verso (even-numbered pages) and it allows the bookbinders to make sure that nothing is missing and that the pages are in the right order. Sometimes a catchword will appear (as here) also on the recto (odd-numbered page), for purely aesthetic purposes.

This means that in manuscripts in left-to-right scripts (like Latin) the catchword will normally be on the left-hand page, while in manuscripts in right-to-left scripts (Arabic, Hebrew etc.) the catchword will be on the right-hand page, as here: http://epapers.bham.ac.uk/119/162/Page_159.jpg

I have seen the Latin “vox reclamans” used in this sense, but am not sure whether this is already a mediaeval or only a humanistic usage. In French you say réclame.

This 'typesetting leader' was widely in use from early printing times but was not universal, as your examples indicate. In English, it occurs, for example, in Gibbon's History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire and, as @Alex B comments on your question, it certainly carried on, in English at least, well into the nineteenth century.

As @fdb says, it is nothing more than a printer's checking device; it was once quite common, too, to buy a book as uncut or unbound papers — when it could be used as a sorting guide — either because the purchaser couldn't afford the cased version, or because he was rich enough to pay for a special binding to suit his personal taste.

It's hard to put a date for its extinction: I remember seventy years ago being given textbooks from the early twentieth-century — not in Latin, but in both English and French — which used the same device, but I should think that by that time it was at its last gasp.

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    My understanding is that it was not only for the purpose of checking the page order, but also to help the reader make the transition from page to page in reading (which would make it desirable for the recto as well as the verso). – varro Aug 9 '17 at 18:30
  • @varro, especially in music. – Hugh Aug 9 '17 at 21:58

I've even seen this in old books written in other languages as well (including Dutch, English and French). It's a thing they used to do, but usually stopped doing many years ago (it would be great if someone knew around what time this was, I suppose it has something to do with the (semi-)automation of printing).

The reason you see it more in Latin books is because relatively speaking more Latin books are this old.

  • Could you try to gear your answer more specifically to the OP's three questions? It's definitely interesting information to know that this is not restricted to Latin. – brianpck Aug 10 '17 at 13:32
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    @brianpck Honestly, I think the other answers cover the remaining angles pretty well. Rehashing the same information again wouldn't do much good. Do you have anything specific in mind which would improve this answer? – Mast Aug 10 '17 at 16:00

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