Book format

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Various editions of the same work from the 17th century in the formats 16 °, 12 ° and 8 °

The book format indicates how many sheets a letterpress printer can produce from a sheet of paper , which is traditionally based on the dimensions of a Roman sheet of parchment . An unfolded sheet is known as an atlas format, double or large folio. If you fold a sheet the first time, you get the folio format (2 sheets), if you fold it a second time, you get the quarto format (4 sheets), etc. The size varied depending on the availability of the skins that were processed into parchment.

Formerly letterpress

In the book printing of the 15th – 19th In the 20th century, the format was also specified according to the number of folds on the sheet of paper. However, the size of the paper sheet fluctuated regionally according to the respective measurement system. Sheet sizes between 20 × 30 and 30 × 40 cm were common. In addition, the size of the book varied depending on the amount of trimming after binding. The ratio of height to width differs depending on the type of folding. With the formats 6 °, 12 ° and 24 ° the width in relation to the height is narrower than with the formats 2 °, 4 °, 8 ° and 16 °.

Common traditional book formats
abbreviation Surname leaves pages Combing Back height
02 ° Folio 02 04th horizontal approx. 32-35 cm
04 ° quart 04th 08th perpendicular approx. 23-26 cm
08 ° Octave 08th 16 horizontal approx. 18-20 cm
12 ° Duodec 12 24 perpendicular approx. 13-17 cm
16 ° Sedez 16 32 perpendicular
18 ° Octodec 18th 36
20 ° Vigesimo 20th [0]40
24 ° Vigesimoquart 24 48 horizontal

For old prints (published before 1800) it is recommended to use these old book formats for the size specification.

In the case of landscape formats, a “landscape” is placed in front: landscape 8 °, landscape 2 °. Formats noticeably deviating from the standard can be identified by placing “large” and “small” in front: large 2 °, small. 8 ° etc.

Format definition

The easiest way to determine this is by counting the layers, since a sheet yields a layer that z. B. in quart format 8, in duodec format 24 pages (see table above). The layers were marked with letters and the individual sheets of the layers with Roman numerals, so that e.g. B. in quarto format the sheets of the first layer are labeled A, A II, A III and A IV; however, mostly only the first (front) half of the leaves was labeled. However, it can also happen that two layers have been made from one sheet, so that, for example, a duodec band contains only six sheets per layer instead of twelve.

The direction of the paper comb can also be used to determine the format. The so-called web or transverse ribs (these are the ribs at a distance of approx. 2.3 cm, which are at right angles to the close-lying ribs or longitudinal ribs) at 2 °, 6 °, 12 ° (mostly) and 16 ° vertical, at 4 °, 8 ° and 24 ° horizontal (based on portrait formats).

Normal formats according to the Prussian instructions

Since 1883 efforts were made in Germany to standardize the bow sizes. Twelve normal formats were created, of which the number 1 was unbroken or in plano 33 × 42 cm. For the bibliographic description of books, the Prussian Instructions (PI) were created, which stipulated standardized book sizes. The old terms Folio, Quart, Octav, etc. were adopted, but defined completely differently. Only the height of the spine was used for classification, regardless of the arch folds and proportions. The background was the space-saving arrangement of books of equal height on the shelves.

In general, one can say that the formats according to PI are considerably larger than according to the traditional definition. An octave band according to PI is up to 25 cm high and thus includes quart, octave, duodec and all smaller formats according to traditional understanding. Different rules applied in other countries.

The size of the finished book varies with different printing, binding and cutting techniques. Therefore, the German Library in Frankfurt a. M. created a guideline:

abbreviation Surname Spine height
gr. 2 ° Large folio over 45 cm
2 ° Folio 40-45 cm
gr. 4 ° Large quart 35-40 cm
4 ° quart 30-35 cm
Lex. 8 ° Lexicon octave 25-30 cm
gr. 8 ° Major octave 22.5-25 cm
8 ° Octave 18.5-22.5 cm
kl. 8 ° Small octave 15-18.5 cm
16 ° Sedez 10-15 cm
Specification in centimeters <10 cm

If the width of a book is greater than the height, we speak of landscape formats, e.g. B. "across 8 °".

Today's rules

Today, libraries in German-speaking countries mostly use the rules for alphabetical cataloging (RAK) created in 1976 , which are based on the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD). According to this, the height of the book spine is recorded in centimeters during cataloging without specifying a format category. In addition to the height, booksellers and antiquarians often also specify the width of a book or a format category. The latter also applies to some foreign regulations.

Especially in letterpress there are enlargement and reduction factors in front of the fold due to the folding (English only for English-speaking areas):

factor Surname (English) abbreviation
8th double quad
4th Quattro quad
2 double
1 Plano plain
1/2 Folio folio fo f
1/4 Quarto quarto 4to 4 °
1/6 Sexto sixmo 6to / 6mo 6 °
1/8 Octavo octavo 8vo 8 °
1/12 Duodecimo twelvemo 12 mo 12 °
1/16 Sextodecimo sixteenmo 16mo 16 °
1/18 Octodecimo eighteenmo 18mo 18 °
1/24 Vincesimo / Vigesimo quarto twenty-fourmo 24mo 24 °
1/32 Trigesimo-segundo thirty-twomo 32mo 32 °
1/48 Quadragesimo-octavo forty-eightmo 48mo 48 °
1/64 Sexagesimo quarto sixty-fourmo 64mo 64 °

See also


  • Lexicon of the entire book industry. Volume II. 2nd edition. Stuttgart 1989
  • Gerhard Dünnhaupt : Personal bibliographies to the prints of the baroque. 2nd Edition. Stuttgart 1990
  • Meyers Konversations-Lexikon. Volume 5. Leipzig and Vienna 1896, p. 290

Individual evidence

  1. Gottlob Heinrich Heinse: Encyclopedic dictionary or alphabetical explanation of all words from foreign languages ​​that are accepted in German. Volume 10, Wilhelm Wedel, Zeitz / Naumburg 1803, p. 9.