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WWP Training Materials

Encoding forme work

On press figures

Note: about the picture!

The Sample Pages image you saw on the introductory page of this tutorial is not a true copy of the actual pages in the actual text; there is no press figure on that particular page of the actual text. Insofar as press figures (and catchwords) are concerned, the picture is a fabrication for the purpose of instruction.

What is a press figure?

A press figure is an arabic figure or other symbol (often near the left or center, always at the bottom of the forme) placed on one or more pages (usually those not already having signatures). The purpose of each press figure was to identify the individual pressman who worked on that forme either to keep track of his own wages or so that the master printer could identify the culprit in the case of bad workmanship.

How do I distinguish between press figures and signatures?

In our older texts, it's fairly easy to tell them apart because press figures are usually arabic numerals or other symbols (asterisks, etc.), whereas signatures are almost always alphabetic. However, early 19th-century American books often use numerical signatures, so it's important not to mistake these for press figures. In addition, some early English books use non-alphabetic characters as signatures, particularly for front matter (for instance, the printer might have added a section before signature A and signed it with an asterisk).

The best way to distinguish between press figures and signatures is to look for the characteristic collation pattern that signatures make. Signatures typically fall at regular intervals, in a clear sequence: they usually start with an A or a B and go up through the alphabet (or, in American texts, they may start with a 1 and go up in sequence). They also usually include an additional number indicating the leaf:

Press figures, on the contrary, do not usually form a regular sequence, and they occur much less frequently. For more detail, see entry 80 in the markup database.

Where are press figures found?

An example

From Poems on Several Occasions by Elizabeth Carter (pictured here):

   <mw type="pressFig" rend="align(left)">7</mw>
   <mw type="catch" rend="align(center)break(no)">Make</mw>
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This document last updated Thursday, 22-May-2014 13:40:21 EDT