. The ancient printers, or at least those of the fifteenth century, had only very small presses, and two folio pages, little larger than two pages of foolscap, formed the largest surface they could print. It is probable, also, that the system of laying down pages, or “imposing” them, that we now have was not then known. Their mode of procedure was as follows: They took a certain number of sheets of paper---three, four, five, or more---and folded them in the middle, the quantity forming a section. Three sheets thus folded or “quired” are called a ternion; four sheets a quaternion, and so on. Hence the first sheet would contain the first two pages of a ternion and the last two pages---that is, pages 1 and 2, and 11 and 12. The second sheet, lying inside the first, would contain pages 3 and 4, and 9 and 10; the third sheet having pages 5 and 6, and 7 and 8. If the reader will take three slips of paper and fold them in the same manner, marking the number of the pages, the process will be easily understood. It is obvious that when a system of this kind was adopted, there was danger lest the loose sheets should become disarranged, and not follow in their proper order. To obviate such an acci­dent there was written at the bottom of the first page of each leaf a Roman numeral, as j, ij, iij (1, 2, 3), and so on. This plan was originally adopted by the scribes, and the printers merely imitated it. But the book being made up of a number of quires, there was a danger lest the quires themselves should become disarranged. To prevent this there was at the foot of each page written a letter of the alphabet. The first sheet would bear the letter a, the second b, and so on. When these two indications were present the binder could never be in doubt as to the order of the dif­ferent sheets. The first page of the book was marked a j, the third page a ij, the fifth page a iij, and so forth. The next quire presented the letters b j, b ij, b iij, and so on. These indications at the feet of the pages are known as signatures. When the page bears one of them it is said to be “signed,” and where there is no mark of the kind it is said to be “unsigned.” In the earliest books the signa­tures were written with a pen, and the fact that many copies that have been preserved do not now bear signatures is because they were written so close to the margin that they have since been cut off while the book was being rebound. It was many years after the invention of typography that signatures were printed along with the matter of the pages. The earliest instance we have of the use of printed signatures is the “Præceptorium Divinæ Legis” Of Johannes Nider, printed at Cologne, by Johann Koelhof, in 1472.

Taken from Gesta Typographica by Chas. Jacobi, 1897, page 11.

The first iron printing-press


Gothic Letters


Etienne Dolet



The first cylinder printing-machine

The first steam printing

Capitals and leads

About the Letters J and W

The Scriptures were first written on skins

The first iron printing-press


Gothic Letters

Type Founding in Europe

Pica Type

Long Primer



Newspapers were first printed

[The Vatican’s Printing Press]


Richard Pynson