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Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Nuts and Bolts: printer's key or number line.

At this beginning of the year, here's something that comes at the beginning of books.

Now, you know that page where they have all the stuff about the date of first publication, and the publisher, and the copyright notices, and the printer

Yep, that's right: that page with the small writing everyone always skips.

Well, under the International Standard Book Number, which looks something like this:

ISBN: 978-0-19-275711-1

 there's often a string of numbers counting down from about ten to one. 

Sadly this isn't, as you might think, a thrilling countdown to the excitements of the book following (apart from anything else, some of the lower numbers may be missing) but instead show the number of printings of the book there have been.*

Sometimes the numbers start with the number one on the left and go upwards, and sometimes the numbers are jumbled up. In all cases, it's the lowest number that tells you how many printings there have been. This line of numbers is called the printer's key or number line.

If the book does happen to be a first edition then you can find this out by reading the rest of the writing on the page; and if its also a first printing (that is, the string of numbers includes a 1) then it's either a book that might be valuable; or it's one that basically no one wanted to buy; or it's one the publishers thought it would appeal to the masses but, unfortunately, didn't.

There may also be a separate series of numbers: 18 19 20, for example, or 01 02 03, that gives an indication of the year the printing was carried out.

So we'll be able to tell if 2019 is a vintage year for printers, won't it? 

Word To Use Today: print. This word comes from the Latin premere, to press.

*This is different from the number of editions. A new edition will have a different cover, or a different text, or a different publisher. This is just the number of times a print run that particular edition of the book has been ordered from the printer.


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