24 May 2011

Printer's Key: for Writers, Readers, and Collectors

by Carrie Bailey

Opposite the title page in almost every book printed after the middle of the last century, on that one page with the publishing and copyright information...yeah, you know the one...where you look to find the information you need to cite your sources in a bibliography... lie the perplexing and seemingly pointless series of numbers called the "Printer's Key." Unless you're an avid book collector or a neurotic book scholar, should these numbers mean anything to you?

Maybe, but truth be told, even self-publishers and the most artistically distracted of writers benefit from knowing more about their the industry (keep reading if you buy that argument, if not here's a link to the Peevbody Award in case you happen to know a struggling artist who could use a boost).

Here's an example of a copyright page for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:



The copyright page is always on verso meaning on the left hand side and situated opposite from the title page. The numbers at the bottom are the printer's key also called a number line. Generally, the first printing starts with "10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1" with the lowest number indicating the number of the printing.


In this Harry Potter book, the numbers "03 04 05 06 07" are also included and indicate the year of publication with their lowest number. In this case, it is 2003. These numbers identify the print run of the particular edition rather than the edition itself, which is usually stated on the copyright page as well.


For book collectors, the first printing tends to hold the most value. Something to think about when browsing through yard sales this summer?


6 comments:

  1. by Carrie Bailey Opposite the title page in almost every book printed after the middle of the last century, on that one page with the publishing and copyright information...yeah, you know the one...where you look to find the information you need to cite your sources in a bibliography... lie the perplexing and seemingly pointless series of numbers called the "Printer's Key." Unless you're

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  2. As a writer and self publisher I should know this about the 'Printer's Key' I've looked and looke and even in CMS- Chicago Manual of Style- and it was not clear at all. I had an idea but to see it explained plainly is something that I like. thank you. You have won a follower!

    BTW. I hate Blogger.com It makes it so hard to comment many people just don't do it.

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  3. And of course as soon as I complain-- I posted first try. Do you think someone is listening, lol

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  4. I'm listening. I know exactly what you mean, too. I'm planning to move the site from Blogger soon, but it was excellent to get started on and for new bloggers.

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  5. Thanks For Sharing This Article.

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  6. Apparently, I'm way behind the times! This video was my introduction to Julian. I'm going to have to check out some of his other stuff. Glad it made you smile!

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