Early print features: navigating an errata list

 Last week, I highlighted our oldest book in veterinary medicine. I cut this section from that post for length, but thought it would be of interest to readers who may want to learn more about errata lists in early printed books.

During the printing process, the people that set the type, known as compositors, would occasionally make mistakes–as would anyone who had to set type in mirror-image! If these mistakes were not caught before the sheets were printed, printers would often include lists of errors, errata lists, so that readers could correct the text themselves. Here is an example of a corrected error:

Midway down the page, handwritten in the margin is "+ pugnabis"

Marginal correction made to the text.

Pictured below is the errata list from Jean Ruel’s Veterinariae medicinae libri II, printd by Simon de Colines in Paris in 1530. He has titled his list, Erratorum Recognitio, or recognized errors:

First line reads (in Latin): Repone pro purgabis, pugnabis. folio 2 pagina 2 versu 23.

List of printing errors included by the printer in the back of the book.

Let’s take a look at how a reader understood this section. The first listed error reads, “Repone pro purgabis, pugnabis. folio 2 pagina 2 versu 23,” or, Replace for purgabis, pugnabis. Leaf 2, page 2, row 23. The word “leaf” in this instruction brings me to an aside about the difference between foliation vs. pagination. Foliation means that the leaves in a book are numbered; in other words, if you open a book, the page on the right will have a number, but not the page on the left. Pagination means that every page is numbered. This is what we are used to seeing in books today. Early books, however, were often foliated, which is the case here:

Book opening illustrating foliation. The page on the right is numbered “2.” The page on the left has no number.

So, looking again at the instruction, “Leaf 2, page 2, row 23,” leaf 2 refers to the 2nd leaf of the text, the one that has a number “2” in the upper right corner. Then it indicates, “page 2.” Page 1 would be the side of the leaf that has the number on it, or the right side of the page when the book is held open. Page 2 is the other side of the leaf. Sometimes this is referred to as recto and verso, in which verso refers to the reverse side of the leaf. So here, after finding leaf 2, the reader turns the page for page 2 of that particular leaf.

The next item in the instruction is the row number, row 23 here. Starting from the top line of text on the page, count down the number of lines until you reach row 23. This count will include the line for the chapter heading seen on the page. (Confusingly it does not include the running head at the very top of the page that gives the book’s title.)

Numbers added to the rows on the page. (click for larger image)

So, to recap: for this error, the reader turns to folio 2, turns over the page, and counts down 23 lines. There we find the error, “purgabis.” The reader has marked the word with a small cross, and in the margin given the correct word, pugnabis. This reader petered out after several corrections. After trying the process out on the page pictured here, you may understand why.

A "+" above the word "purgabis" printed in the text to match the handwritten correction "+pugnabis" in the margin.

Close up of marginal correction.

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