The Colophon

In my last post, I slid in a remark about the book’s colophon. What better time, then, to talk about colophons. Adrian Wilson defines the term in The Design of Books:

Properly the word colophon refers to the inscription, appended to those books in which publisher, printer, and designer have special pride. They may wish to include in the colophon the identification of the book’s type, paper, ink, and binding materials, to credit the manufacturers of these materials, and sometimes to proclaim the edition size to distinguish it from the mass product. (page 64)

I appreciate Mr. Wilson’s elegant description of the colophon and his point that it should be used as a mark of distinction, of “special pride.” Personally, I would love for every book to have a colophon, as I am always curious about the paper, binding, type—especially the type.

Adrian Wilson’s book bears the following colophon:

This book has been designed by Adrian Wilson, San Francisco.
The types are handset Palatino and Linotype Aldus, designed by Hermann Zapf, and set by Grant Dahlstrom/The Castle Press, Pasadena, California.
The printing and binding is by Mallory Lithographing, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Another fine example of a colophon appears in a graduate student portfolio for the Masters in Writing: Book Publishing.

Text is set in Minion Pro and titling in Avenir LT Std.
Minion Pro was designed by Robert Slimbach for Adobe Systems in 1990. Slimbach intended this tight and compact typeface to be a replacement for Times New Roman.
Avenir LT Std. was designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1988 for Linotype Library. Frutiger based Avenir on the 1920s typeface Futura. His modifications humanized what he considered to be a cold typeface.
Created in InDesign CS2 and Photoshop CS2.

Wow. Note, among other details, the differences in how these two books were produced. The 1993 work was hand set (though I have the feeling that was rare and luxurious for a book produced in 1993). The 2007 portfolio springs from InDesign and Photoshop, ubiquitous and useful design software.

Where does one find a colophon? That depends on the kind of colophon one is looking for. Because—I ought to have mentioned this sooner—there are two. In addition to the kind of colophon discussed so far, The Chicago Manual of Style points out: “The publisher’s name is often shortened or replaced by an emblem or device known as a colophon or logo” (1.110, page 36).

The first kind of colophon, the one that describes a book’s design and production, generally appears on the last page of the book. The second kind, the publisher’s mark, appears more openly on the book’s spine or possibly on the front cover. The Chicago Manual of Style has a colophon (the first kind) of its own. Pull your copy off the shelf (or stop at your local library or independent bookstore) and have a look. It is, properly, in the very back, on (unnumbered) page 957.

There is so very much more to learn about the colophon. It is one of the many delightful details belonging to books. If you have any favorite colophons, quotations about colophons, or readings on colophons, I would love to hear them.

. . .
Gaterud, Abbey. (2007) Everything Will Be Alright, for the Masters in Writing: Book Publishing and Ooligan Press, Portland State University, Portland, OR.

The University of Chicago Press. (2003) The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. Chicago.

Wilson, Adrian. (1993) The Design of Books, foreword by Sumner Stone. Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

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One Response to “The Colophon”

  1. Best of the Blog, 2009 « Karen edits. Says:

    […] The Colophon I like colophons. I like the word colophon. Good times. […]


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