Bibliography for Beginners: Part 1 References

David Armstrong

David Armstrong

Bibliography is the study of books as material objects. One father of modern bibliography, Sir Walter Greg, referred to it further as “the science of transmission of literary documents. As booksellers, bibliography takes on other aspects, including the description of condition. Bibliographies, or, more properly, books which are bibliographical, fall into five general categories:

i) enumerative the simple list. Included are checklists by author, geographical region, publisher, etc. These are often most useful in cataloging and recommending titles to customers. Many price guides also fall into this category.

ii) descriptive listing, sometimes excruciatingly, the details of the ultimate copy of book in question, to which all others can be compared. These are invaluable in determining a collectible books primacy (which edition was published first.)

iii) sociological book history; books as cultural artifacts and how they reflect society. Often cited as grounds for a books importance.

iv) literary examine individual copies of a book in order to study the evolution of the text as it travels from author to edition.

v) analytical primarily concerned with the physical history of books and the methods of their production.


In each of these categories thousands of books, of various quality, have been published, and many include aspects of more than one kind of bibliography. In addition, magazines and library catalogs can be a wealth of bibliographic riches. But where does one start, in a science about which literally thousands of pages have been written? Quite simply, with books. In bookselling, it is usually the first three categories of bibliography which are the most useful. In addition, it is useful to have bibliographical manuals on ones reference shelf. One word of warning: books about books are expensive, but they are also invaluable. In many ways, a booksellers success is a reflection on his or her ability to skillfully use bibliographical material.

Learning About Bibliography

Over hundreds of years, bibliography has become akin to a science, complete with its own methods and notation. While it can seem arcane to one unfamiliar with it, there are several excellent texts available.

For 72 years, R. B. McKerrows An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students has been a bibliographic standard. McKerrow (1872-1940), an amateur printer himself, as well as an editor of 16th and 17th century literature, wrote understandably and clearly, including details of the methods of handpress printing, bibliographical techniques, and typographical history. His book is still in print (ISBN 1-884718-01-9).

Fredson Bowers (1905-1991) published an extremely detailed book, Principles of Bibliographical Description, in 1949. Since then it has held its place as an important manual for bibliographers.Throughout his life, Bowers was involved in a number of scholarly publications, including the foundation of Studies in Bibliography (see below) in 1948. His Principles is exhaustive, although, like McKerrow, focused on the handpress period. His discussion of state, edition, and issue is definitive, and his methods of collation and description include every possible variation. This book is also still in print (ISBN 1-884718-00-0).

Of real interest to modern booksellers, many of whom may never come in contact with incunables, is Philip Gaskells A New Introduction to Bibliography. A Cambridge scholar, the author discusses the history of book production and its materials in both the hand- and machine press periods, including methods of illustration and cloth types used in binding. This book (ISBN 1-884718-13-2) is a vital reference work.

In addition to bibliographic manuals are glossaries of book terminology. John Carters ABC for Book Collectors (ISBN 1-884718-05-1) is a light-hearted but excellent look at terminology from a booksellers point of view. From Yale conservationist Jane Greenfield comesABC of Bookbinding (ISBN 1-884718-41-8). With over 3,000 definitions, the huge Encyclopedia of the Book, by Geoffrey Ashall Glaister, covers book terminology as well as much information on the book trade.

A vital source for bibliographical study and technique can be found in the venerable Studies in Bibliography, published by the University of West Virginia. Presently comprised of 50 volumes, they are available virtually on the worldwide web; this edition is completely indexed and features an excellent search engine.

Also important to the form of bibliography most commonly used by booksellers are guides to the identification of first editions. The most exhaustive work on the subject is First Editions: A Guide to Identification, by Edward N. Zempel and Linda A. Verkler (Spoon River Press, 3rd edition, 1995, ISBN 0-930358-13-9). This work lists statements by nearly 3,000 publishers as to their methods of edition designation over the years. Not to be forgotten are the two useful manuals A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions (ISBN unavailable) and Points of Issue: A Compendium of Points of Issue of Books by 19th-20th Century Authors, both written and published by Bill McBride (ISBN 0-930313-04-6). Both are small, but extensive.

An extensive bibliography of bibliographical texts can be found on the website of the Bibliographical Society of Canada. Be given fair warning: this list is not for the faint of heart. Many of the references are obscure, and represent serious works by professional bibliographers.

While method is important, bibliographies themselves are an excellent resource for booksellers. But what makes a good bibliography? Where can they be found? And how can can they be used effectively?

A Bibliography, or Just a List?

As mentioned in the introduction, bibliographies take on many forms. From check lists to price guides to fully-fledged descriptive bibliographies, they continue to be published by the score. While there is no definitive list of bibliographies, the bookseller is not left without hope. Bibliographies of bibliographies are not uncommon, often indexed by topic and author. Additionally, such books as Patricia & Allen Ahearns Book Collecting 2000 list useful and credible bibliographies (in the case of the aforementioned, some 43 pages.)

When it comes to quality bibliographies, there are a few points for which to watch. In the decision whether or not to cite a particular bibliography, ask yourself the following questions: Is the author qualified, perhaps being connected with an institution? Does he or she use standard bibliographic notation? Do they include collation details and a list of copies examined? Has the bibliography been published by a recognized publisher, or is it self-published? If in doubt, refer to it privately and cautiously; it will only erode your own credibility if you cite it.

Following is an example entry from one of the finest bibliographies to be published, Dr. Carl Spadonis A Bibliography of Stephen Leacock (ECW Press, 1999, ISBN 1-55022-365-8). The author is the Research Collections Librarian at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and a long time member of the Bibliographical Society of Canada. This particular book deservedly netted him the BSCs Tremaine Medal for excellence in bibliography.




A92a first edition:

[in brown] CANADA | THE FOUNDATIONS | OF ITS FUTURE | by STEPHEN LEACOCK | [illustration within a semi-circle in brown and black of smokestacks, a train, boat, car, airplane, skyscrapers, forests, farm land, and a hydroelectric power station; centered at the base of the semi-circle is a brown leaf within three circles, and below that a rule] | Illustrated by Canadian Artists | [brown rule] | PRIVATELY PRINTED IN MONTREAL, CANADA | MCMXLI
18 210 38 410 58 610 78 8-1010 118 12-1610. i-xvi, xvii-xix, xx-xxi, xxii-xxiii, xxiv-xxvi, xxvii-xxx, 1-3, 4-10, 11-12, 13-20, 21-22, 23-27, 28-31, 32-46, 47-48, 49-52, 53-54, 55-58, 59-60, 61-66, 67-68, 69-70, 71-73, 74-78, 79-80, 81-84, 85-86, 87-95, 96-99, 100-104, 105-106, 107-112, 113-114, 115-120,121-123, 124-128, 129-130, 131-138, 139-140, 141-147, 148-151, 152-162, 163-164, 165-170, 171-172, 173-176, 177-179, 180-186, 187-188, 189-194, 195-196, 197-199, 200-203, 204-210, 211-212, 213-216, 217-218, 219-222, 223-225, 226-228, 229-230, 231-234, 235-236, 237-240, 241-243, 244-250, 251-252, 253-257, 1-13 pp. (150 leaves). 257 × 179 mm.

CONTENTS: pp. i-ii blank; p. iii half title; p. iv blank; p. v title; p. vi A PRIVATE AND LIMITED EDITION | COPYRIGHT | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED; p. vii dedication by the House of Seagram with the House’s coat of arms in brown; p. viii blank; pp. ix-xv introduction dated October 1941; p. xvi blank; pp. xvii, xviii-xix table of contents; p. xx blank; pp. xxi, xxii-xxiii list of illustrations; p. xxiv blank; p. xxv list of maps; p.xxvi blank; pp. xxvii-xxx author’s foreword; p. 1 blank; p. 2 illustration; pp. 3-250 text (pp. 14, 22, 29, 54, 60, 68, 71, 80, 86, 97, 106, 114, 121, 130, 140, 149, 164, 172, 177, 188, 196, 201, 212, 218, 223, 230, 236, and 241 blank); pp. 251-252 blank; pp. 253-257 index; p. 1 blank; p. 2 illustration of the House of Seagram; p. 3 blank; p. 4 biographical information about Leacock with a photo of him; p. 5blank; p. 6 information on the artists who executed the illustrations; p. 7 blank; p. 8 information about the printer, the Gazette Printing Company; pp. 9-13 blank.
Colour illustrations (with tissue guards) on pp. 2, 30, 72, 98, 122, 150, 178, 202, 224, and 242. Black-and-white illustrations on pp. 11, 21, 47, 53, 59, 67, 79, 85, 105, 113, 129, 139, 163, 171, 187, 195, 211, 217, 229, 235, and 259. Maps on pp. 14, 44, 91, 108, 143, 157, 192, 208, and 237. There are also many other illustrations in brown for chapter headings and chapter endings by A. Sheriff Scott.
Artists represented: James Crockart (pp. 229, 235); Charles W. Jefferys (pp. 30, 53, 59, 67, 79, 85); Ernest Neumann (pp. 105, 259); H.R. Perrigard (pp. 150, 171, 195, 224); W.J. Phillips (pp. 163, 187, 217, 242); Stanley Royce (pp. 21, 47, 72, 139); A. Sherriff Scott (pp. 2, 11, 98, 178, 211); T.M. Schintz (p. 202); F.H. Varley (pp. 113, 122, 129).

TEXT: chapter I The Empty Continent; chapter II The Colonial Era 1534-1713; chapter III British America and French Canada 1713-1763; chapter IV The Foundation of British Canada 1763-1815; chapter V The Middle Period: Ships, Colonies, Commerce 1815 -1867; chapter VI The New Dominion Struggling into Life 1867-1878; chapter VII Bitter Times 1879-1896; chapter VIII The Opening of the Twentieth Century 1896-1914; chapter IX Canada as a Nation; chapter X Canada as a Future World Power.

BINDING: There are two binding variants: (1) the deluxe “edition” in red padded leather, gilt tooling on the inside edges of the boards, two signets, all edges gilt. Stamped on the upper board in gilt: [first line in tooled typed] CANADA | The | FOUNDATIONS | OF ITS FUTURE | [Canadian coat of arms with motto in colour mounted within a rectangle] | STEPHEN LEACOCK. Stamped in gilt down the spine: CANADA [illustration of leaf] LEACOCK. Within a plastic bag and enclosed within a red cardboard box; encased in a pictorial card box with flaps similar in design to the endpapers and finally within another plain cardboard box with flaps. (2) light blue buckram, quarter-bound in dark blue buckram, the latter with a vertical rule stamped in gilt on both boards. Enclosed within a blue cardboard box and apparently with a protective glassine wrapper. Stamping on the boards is the same as in (1) except the second, third, and fourth lines on the upper board are black. For this binding variant Samuel Bronfman’s signature is reproduced in facsimile on p. xv; Leacock’s signature in facsimile is on p. xxx.

Both binding variants have the same endpapers: a black-and-white illustration by Neumann of people at work — mining, fishing, farming, etc. Title-page decoration and cover design by Perrigard. Layout and typography by John W. Morrell.

NOTES: Acting on behalf of Samuel Bronfman of the Distillers Corporation — Seagrams Ltd., John Bassett, the president of the Gazette Printing Company and the Montreal Gazette, invited Leacock on 16 July 1940 to write a book on the historical development of Canada. “The idea sounds attractive and happens to be a thing that I have long wanted to do,” Leacock replied by telegram on 18 July 1940. He was paid $5,000 to write the book. He met with Seagram’s representatives during the late summer of 1940 at Old Brewery Bay, his home in Orillia, ON. On Leacock’s instructions, an art advisor, A. Sheriff Scott, a muralist and landscape and portrait painter, was hired for the project in November 1940. Leacock apparently finished the writing of Canada in early February 1941. He corrected page proofs in July of that year. The Montreal poet, A.M. Klein, who worked for Bronfman as a public relations advisor and the principal writer of his speeches and correspondence, criticized Leacock’s text in late September 1941. A number of Klein’s suggested changes were incorporated into the text. Klein also wrote the introduction to the book, and he prepared elaborate inscriptions, which were transcribed by Bronfman in the deluxe copies for presentation to dignitaries and Bronfman’s acquaintances. The book was printed by Gazette Printing Company, bound, and ready for distribution at the end of November 1941.
In view of the fact that the book was to be a “limited edition,” Leacock hoped that Seagram’s would quickly dispose of the copyright. He even offered Seagram’s $1,000 in return for the copyright. In fact, Seagram’s kept the book in print until 1967. It was given away free to anyone who asked for a copy. By 1955, 58,000 had been distributed, 73,000 by 1961, and 165,000 by 1967. In 1959 Seagram’s was told to stop distribution of the book in British Columbia because its distribution contravened the anti-advertising section of the B.C. Liquor Act.
The first impression probably consisted of 8,000 copies. A92a was printed in 1941, 1943 (twice), 1945, and 1947. In all likelihood the deluxe “edition” consists of 300 to 400 copies. Between December 1942 and April 1943 Bronfman gave away approximately 120 of them.
The following information on the printing of the book occurs on p. 8 after the index:

The body matter, including head and tail pieces, is letterpress printed in two colours, the secondary colour [brown] being also used for the marginal notes. Black-and-white illustrations are reproduced in single-colour lithography, the same process in six colours being used for the full colour plates. The crest of the Dominion of Canada on the cover is in quadricolour letterpress.

   For a complete publishing history of this book, see K87.1.

COPIES EXAMINED: CS (both variant bindings, two copies in red leather, one as issued in all boxes);LAT (red leather in red cardboard box); OORI (both binding variants); QMMRB (both variant bindings).




This example is worthy of note for several reasons. Spadoni has obviously gone to great lengths to research each title, and includes references to important sources, such as private papers and correspondence. His use of descriptive terminology is exact and follows established convention; he discusses binding variants in detail; and he includes publishing information vital to establishing the books importance. It is possible to make a definitive identification of edition; not included in this example is the entry A92a, listing the extensive, and nearly identical, reprints of this book. Without an excellent biblilography of this nature, an unwitting bookseller may well offer a reprint, and without the glassine jacket, for the same price as the first, limited edition. Additionally, a seller with access to this reference material can include interesting snippets of the books publishing history which would interest a Leacock collector.

Not all bibliographies, of course, are as extensive as Spadonis; this does not necessarily diminish their importance. Generic bibliographies, focusing on subject rather than author, can be invaluable. The following example is taken from J. C. PillingsBibliography of the Algonquian Languages, published by the Smithsonian Institutes Department of Ethnology in 1891, is a good example of one such. Pilling, a scholar and collector, amassed a definitive collection of imprints in native american languages which is now at the Newberry Library in Chicago. His bibliographies, nine in number, are still considered indispensible for anyone working with books and ephemera of this nature. His methods, applied before any published bibliographical standards, are more than admirable.



     Ludewig (Hermann Ernst). The | literature | of | American aboriginal languages. | By | Hermann E. Ludewig. | With additions and corrections | by professor Win. W. Turner. | Edited by Nicolas Trbner. | London: | Trbner and co., 60, Paternoster row. | MDCCCLVIII [1858].
Half-title “Trbner’s bibliotheca glottica.” verso blank 11. title as above verso printer 11. preface pp. v-viii, contents verso blank 11. editor’s advertisement pp. ix-rii, bibliographical notices pp. xv-xxiv, text pp. 1-246, index pp. 247-256, errata pp. 257-258,8. Arranged alphabetically by families. Addenda by Wm. W. Turner and Niccolas Trbner, pp. 210-246.
Contains a list of grammars and vocabularies, and among others of the following peoples: American families generally, pp. xv-xxiv; Abenaki, pp. 1-2, 210; Algonquin, pp. 5-7, 210 Arrapahoe, pp. l2, 211, Blackfeet, pp. 19-20, 212; Canada, pp. 27,215; Chippewa, pp. 41-45, 217; Delaware, pp. 63-66, 220; Etchemin, p. 221 Illinois, p. 86; Kikkapu, p. 92; Knistenaux, pp. 91-95, 225; Massachusetts, pp .107-109, 228; Menominie, p. 111; messisauger, pp. 111, 228; Miami, pp. 116-117; Mikmak, pp. 117-118, 230; Milicite, p. 119; Minetare, p. 119; Minsi, pp. 120, 230; Mohegan, pp. 123-125, 231; Nanticoke, pp. 130-131, 232; Narraganset, pp. 131-132, 233; New Brunswick, pp. 133, 233; Newfoundland, pp. 133-134; Nipissing, p. 131, Nottoway, p. 135; Ottawa, p. 143; Pampticough, pp. 145-116; Penobscot, pp. 147-118,235; Pennsylvanian, pp. 148, 235; Pequot, p. 149; Piankashaw, p. 149; Pottawatame, p. 153; Powhattan, pp. 153-154; Riccaree, pp. 163.237; Saki, p. 165; St. John’s Indian, pp. 165-166, 238; Sankikani, pp. l66-167; Shawanoe, pp. 172-173, 238; Shinicook, (Montauk), pp. 173-174; Shyenne, p. 175; Sketapushoish (Sheshatapoosh), pp. 176-177; Souriquois, p. 177; Virginia, pp. 197,244.
Copies seen: Congress, Eames, Pilling.
At the Fischer sale, no. 990, a copy brought 5s. 6d.; at the field sale, no. 1403, $2.63; at the Squier sale, no. 699, $2.62; another copy. no. 1906, $2.38. Priced by Leclerc, 1878, no. 2075, 15 fr. The Pinart copy, no. 565, sold for 25 fr., and the Murphy copy, no. 1540, for $2.50.

“Dr. Ludewig, though but little known in this country [England], was held in considerable esteem as a jurist, both in Germany and the United States of America. Born at Dresden in1809, with but little exception he continued to reside in his native city until 1814, when he emigrated to America. In 1816 appeared his ‘Literature of American Local-History,’ a work of much importance, and which required no small amount of labour and perseverance. “These studies formed a natural induction to the present work on ‘The Literature of American Aboriginal Languages,’ which occupied his leisure concurrently with the others, and the printing of which was commenced in August, 1856, but which he did not live to see launched upon the world; for at the date of his death, on the 12th of December following, only172 pages were in type. It had been a labour of love with him for years; and if ever author were mindful of the nonum prematur in annum, he was when he deposited his manuscript in the library of the American Ethnological Society, diffident himself as to its merits and value on a subject of such paramount interest.”
Biographic memoir.




In this instance, the author has again taken care in transcribing the proper title (that found on the title page), and thoroughly cataloged the contents. He has made notations on prices, particularly useful, even if dated, to booksellers, and included biographical details.

Not to be forgotten are enumerative bibliographies. These are useful to booksellers in proportion to the information they contain, but again caution must be taken that they are well-researched and accurate. Below is an example taken from Patricia and Allen AhearnsCollected Books: the Guide to Values, 1998 Edition (Putnam, 1998, ISBN 0-399-14279-7)



DICKENS, Charles. Bleak House. London, 1852-53. Illustrated by H. K. Browne. 20 parts in 19, blue pictorial wraps. $2,500. London, 1853. First book edition. Olive-green cloth with vignette. Title page dated “1853.” $4,500. Rebound. $400.




While the information is brief, it is informative and useful. Some caution should be taken as to first edition identification from such a work, however. Identification of the edition of some authors works, including the example shown, border on the arcane; it is best to verify your guess with a definitive specialist work.

Using Descriptive Bibliographies

Great care needs to be used in the citation of descriptive bibliographies. Properly used, they can prove a books value and importance, increasing your credibility. Carelessly used, they can deceive a customer and show up a bookseller as careless and ignorant.

In cataloging, including online listings, dont be afraid to refer to bibliographies. An example might be the following, based on the earlier example from Carl Spadonis A Bibliography of Stephen Leacock:



Leacock, Stephen


Privately Printed, Montreal, 1941. First edition.

26 cm x 18 cm; 257 pages. Second variant binding (blue buckram.) A very good copy (spine slightly faded; minor edge wear) in a near fine glassine jacket (minor chips from bottom of back strip.) In an uncommonly fine slip case.

One of about 8,000 copies. A beautiful book, commissioned by Seagrams, giving a summary of Canadas history as only Leacock can.

Spadoni A92a.






Several points of interest have been gleaned from the bibliography, namely:

i) the fact that the book originally had a glassine jacket, in addition to the slipcase. This needs to be mentioned as a highlight, as this early plastic does not hold up well under use.

ii) the approximate number printed for the first edition.

iii) the fact that there are two variant bindings.

iv) details about the publisher, which are not readily apparent from the book itself.



A customer, seeing the bibliographical citation at the bottom, will have confidence in the description, including the statement of edition, and may even have learned a thing or two. This can make the difference in a customers decision between online listings, even if the price is slightly higher than others, and may result in future sales to the same collector. Why? Responsible use of a bibliography.

It should be noted that there are several methods used in citing bibliographies. In the example above, namely a work universally accepted as the definitive study of this particular subject or author, the name of the bibliographys author and the entry number will suffice. Numbered entries, while handy, are by no means universal; in such cases, such as Pilling, above, the authors name and the page number are acceptable, ie: Pilling p. 319.

If the citation is a bit obscure, or if there is any question of a customer being confused by the reference, it is best to name the bibliography in full, the author, and the entry or page number. A citation by author only may feel impressive, but if it confounds the customer, it may result in a lost sale. Additionally, it is best not to cite simple enumerative bibliographies, especially if they are primarily price guides.

A Vital Resource

Bibliography is vital to book history and bookselling; bibliographies are an important, though expensive, tool that no bookseller should be without. While their number abounds, all do well to use caution in their use and selection. With effort, though, a bookseller with an interest in accuracy and understanding can excel in their cataloging by using careful bibliographic method. In future articles, we will address the specifics of bibliographic method in various aspects of bookselling, beginning with the hand press period (roughly defined as before 1800).


Starting as a bookscout in the Toronto area, David Armstrong has been a bookseller for four years. Since moving to Alberta three years ago, he has narrowed his specialties to Canadiana and Western Canadian history. Although bibliomania runs in his family, it does not extend to his patient and longsuffering wife. He has hopes for his three small children.

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