Pete Llewellyn Copyright 1997 by Pete Llewellyn
Summer 1997

The modern colophon is defined as "an inscription placed at the end of a book or manuscript, usually with facts relative to its production". 1 Although becoming increasingly rare, modern colophons used today in books written in English commonly contain the name of the typeface and the size of the font. In some books written in other languages the colophon still enjoys wider usage in regard to giving the reader information about the printer of the book and related information. Earlier in history the colophon could contain a great deal more information about the manuscript or book, as well as facts relative to the production of the book. The earlier uses of the colophon included such items as the title of the document or book, the author's name, sometimes biographical information about the author, information about the printer, where and when the document was produced, warnings, curses, verification that the work is a true copy, or a blessing on the reader.2 Later, written or drawn with, or in the proximity of the text, the colophon sometimes also included a "device." A "device" is a symbol or design which could be an animal, a stylized letter or other symbol. The use of the device was often a symbol of the printer of the book. When a printer started working in a new area, he often utilized the colophon as a means of advertising.3 Today, some publishers use the terminology of colophon to describe what is in actuality a device. " This is not, however, thought to be the proper use of the word "colophon".
DERIVATION OF THE WORD "COLOPHON" The word "colophon" is derived form the Greek word kolophon, which is translated as the summit, the top, the end or the finishing stroke.4 Colophon was the name of a small city near Ephesus, which is located in the northwest corner of present day Turkey. There are at least two versions of how "Colophon" developed to mean the summit, crest, or finishing touch. The first version of the derivation comes from the idea that the calvary of the town of Colophon was known to be very efficient in the art of war. From this reputation grew a Greek maxim "to put the colophon to it" or "to put on the colophon", which meant to finish something, including a battle or other work. The second version of the derivation of the word states that because the Smyrnaeans were allowed into the city of Colophon, that the people in Colophon were allowed a vote in the Panionium (the congress of the twelve Ionian cities ), and that their vote enabled them to "turn the tide" on important matters of the day. Another authority states that the above explanations were invented to explain the use of the word, and that both of the above explanations may be erroneous. They suggest that the word, as translated from Greek, simply translates as "crest".5 Whatever explanation is correct, this word later was used to designate the name of the final word or statement in a book or printed manuscript. The colophon is not popular today as title pages have taken over supplying much of the information that was previously put in the colophon. As the title page came into use, the colophon was found to be redundant when the title of the work was placed on the cover of the book.6
An example of a colophon from Greece (circa 78-77 BC), where a major use of the colophon was to validate that copied text is authentic, or that the translation is true, is as follows: "In the fourth year of Ptolemy and Cleopatra Dositheus, who said he was a priest, and Levitas, and Ptolemy his son, deposited the preceding "Letter of Purim," which they said really exists and has been translated by Lysimachus (son of) Ptolemy, (a member) of the Jerusalem community".7 As an example the difficulty of copying a book correctly, I have included below a sampling of margin notes which show how difficult and tedious this work was to the scribe. After reading some of these notes, it is clear why some of the colophons urged a curse to those who would change or alter the text in any way. Examples are as follows: "Thin ink, bad vellum, difficult text", "Now I've written the whole thing: for Christ's sake give me a drink." "Let the copiest be permitted to put an end to his labor", and "Thank God, it will soon be dark." With darkness came a reprieve from work for those who wrote and copied the works. Work ceased in the evenings for the monks doing this work, as fear of fire in the monasteries was high, and the scribes would have had to work with candles. The scribes often wrote for six hours each day, and the scribe who wrote the above comments were clearly happy to see the work day come to an end.8 A colophon from Adamnan's Vita Columbae contains a warning to those who write and copy to books to be careful and caring. The colophon is as follows: "I beseech those who wish to transcribe these books, yea, rather, I adure them by Christ, the judge of the world, after they have them diligently transcribed, carefully to compare and correct their copies with that from which they have copied them, and also to subjoin here this adjuration. Whoever readeth these books on the virtues of St. Columba, let him pray to the Lord for me Dorbene that after death I may possess eternal life"9 This colophon enforces the notion that the work was taken very seriously and was considered very valuable. A colophon used as a curse is found in a codex written by Moshe Ben-Asher in the year 827 in the Near East. The colophon states: "I, Moshe Ben-Asher have written this codex of the Scripture according to my judgment, as the very good hand of my God was upon me" He continues "Whoever alters a word of this code, or erases one letter or rips off one leaf, may he have neither pardon nor forgiveness, neither let him behold the beauty of the Lord, nor let him see the good that is reserved for those who fear Him. He shall be like a woman in impurity and like a leprous man who has to be locked up so that his limbs may be crushed, the pride of his power broken, his flesh be consumed away that it cannot be seen and his bones corroded to unsightliness. Amen."10 Here is an example of a curse, (rather a grim curse, I think) again showing that books were valued highly by the writer and that the destruction or mutilation of the books was considered a grievous mistake. A colophon written in Barcelona, which closely resembles those curses of the middle east, shows how the Muslim influence affected Spanish literature. One of these colophons is as follows: "From him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand, and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever."11 I have included this colophon to illustrate how the use of colophons can be of use for historians to trace invasions, migrations and movements of people throughout history. The invasions of the Moors, and their Muslim influence are clearly demonstrated by the similarity of the two above colophons. Three more colophons demonstrate how researchers may use colophons in their work. Information is included in the colophon which may not be available elsewhere. Three are given here: "Anba Yuannis al-Tukhi, the 103rd patriarch, was consecrated on Sunday, 9 Baramouda, 1392 A.M." (1676 AD) "In 1394 A.M. (1677-8), the inflation (or famine) was great." "In the same year: it was proclaimed that two bells would be hung on the neck of the Christians and a (single) bell on the neck of the Jews when entering the (public) baths, and that each one of the Jews and the Christians (must) dye their turbans, and not wear garments made form felt (or goukh) or wool. It was also stated that no one of the Moslems (shall) walk bare-footed or enter a mosque except (wearing) wooden-clogs (or Qubqab), and everyone who hears the call to prayer and does not enter the mosque for prayer would be punished. It was also proclaimed that women would not wear veils, and Christian women are not to wear white cloths. And the clothing of the Christian shall be, in general, black."12 According to one authority,13 the history of printing began with Fust and Schoeffer's Psalter, and this is the first book to have the name of its makers and the production date mentioned in colophon. The colophon is dated August 14th, 1457. Also listed in this book is the first recorded use of a device used at the end of a book. Fust and Schoeffer printed a Bible in 1462, in which they placed their device in the book accompanying their colophon. Perhaps the simplest colophon which I could locate is in one the books in my own library. In Olla Podrida, The Pirate, and the Three Cutters, written by Captain Marry and published in 1846, the colophon simply states: "Turnbull and Spears, Printers Edinburgh".14 This colophon illustrates how the colophon was becoming less important as the title page gained prominence in publishing. In Great Cases of Sherlock Holmes, another book from my library, (circa 1987), a colophon is included which could have been written very early in the history of colophons. The colophon includes the title of the book, information about the designer, illustrator, author and the history of the typeface. The type of paper is described. Also included in this colophon is an example of the type of bravado which was included in some of the early colophons, utilizing adjectives like "dash" and "precision". It is included here: "This Franklin Library edition of Great Cases of Sherlock Holmes is set, appropriately, in Baskerville, a classic typeface designed in the eighteenth century by the English stonecutter and printer, John Baskerville. The book was designed by Jane Heelan. Mitchell Hooks' illustrations interpret highly dramatic moments in Conan Doyle's stories with dash and precision. The maps are the work of Dr. Julian Wolff. The acid free paper is 60 pound Franklin Library 1854 Cream, made to archival standards by the S.D. Warren Paper Company of Cumberland Mills, Maine. The book was printed by R.R. Donnelly & Sons, Co, Chicago, Illinois,"15 I have included this colophon here to illustrate that some modern book producers are still publishing books containing colophons. The Franklin Press is a subsidiary of the Franklin Mint, which produces modern facsimiles of historical documents and other collectibles. The most modern use of the colophon I have found is by publishers who put up pages on the World Wide Web. An interesting history of what the Houghton Mifflin Company designates as their colophon is given on the Houghton Mifflin Web Page. Houghton Mifflin has taken some liberties by calling this design a colophon. The design which they call their colophon is technically a device. The history gives the a picture of the early design and the name and dates of the designer, and the history of the changes of the colophon up to today's use of the piper sitting on a leaping dolphin. The piece states that the piper plays an "inspirational tune", and that the dolphin "represents swiftness", "has grown increasingly vigorous and playful. We know it today to be a friendly creature of great intelligence, and as such it is an appropriate symbol for the may kinds of communication Houghton Mifflin seeks to make accessible to the public."16 After studying this article, I find it to be more of a public relations piece for the company than a history of the colophon. The colophon is an interesting piece of the history of book publishing. Researchers have used the colophon to study history and to clarify dates of events. Authors and publishers and printers have used the colophon for informational purposes, bragging, and promotion of their publications, and some modern day publishers, including those on the World Wide Web still continue the tradition for similar purposes. This document has been typed in Times New Roman typeface, and is presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements in INFO 668, The History of the Book, a course offered by Drexel University in the Summer of 1997. 1 Websters World Dictionary World Publishing Company, NY 1964 2 Pollard, Alfred W. An Essay on Colophons Burt Franklin Publishing Company, 1905 3 Carter, John. ABC's for Book Collectors Oak Knoll Publishing, New Castle, 1995 4 Pollard, Alfred W. An Essay on Colophons Burt Franklin Publishing Company, 1905 5 Devine, A.M. and Theodore Low. A Treatise on Title Pages The Century Company, New York 1902 6 Arvin, Leila. Scribes, Script and Books American Library Association, Chicago 1991 7 Ibid. 8 Diringer, David. The Book Before Printing Dover Publications, New York 1982 9 Avrin, Leila. Scribes, Script and Books American Library Association, Chicago 1991 10 St. Shenouda Coptic Newsletter World Wide Web 1997