Book Interior

Why colophons are the perfect finishing touch for your book

If you’re into fonts, you may often pick up books and wonder “What font is that?” Movies and television shows, some of our most consumed media, have end credits. So why shouldn’t a book have credits outlining all of the technical aspects of the book?

Some publishers (the better ones, if you ask me) recognize that book lovers such as myself are curious to know what fonts their favourite editions are using. The answer to this is the colophon.

Historically, a colophon ( taken from a latin word and meaning “finishing touch”) referred to any pages with a publishers imprint or emblem. Medieval colophons would have information like the exact date and time the scribe completed it. (When you get frustrated with writing, try imagining transcribing an entire book by hand – our medieval counterparts had a rough go of it).

A screenshot of a medieval manuscript showing an example of a colophon

Artist’s colophon and arms of Castile-León, from the Hebrew Bible illuminated by Joseph the Frenchman, Spain, 1299-1300. Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment (Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Lisbon). A new page of the Bible will be displayed each week for eight weeks starting today. (from TabletMag –  Read the article here)

In modern practice, a colophon refers to a page (usually at the back of the book) that outlines the font used and who created it. The publisher information mostly appears at the front of a book now, on it’s own page. A colophon can also include paper type, binding process, the cover material or ink used.

 

I particularly enjoy the colophon in a Haruki Murakami book (the round, sculptural typography above). The whimsical geometry perfectly fits into Murakami’s style of writing and genre of speculative fiction. The colophon is a way to express the craft that went into creating your book – even if we’re not handwriting our books by candlelight anymore.

Have you ever noticed the colophon in a book? Ever since I saw one (what book that was, I’ll never remember) I always look to see if the book I’m reading has one. More often than not it doesn’t, but I love the idea of shouting out the fonts, typesetters and other design choices.

 

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