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Half-title page: Why is the first page of a book just the title and date?

The first page of a book displays the title and date, then there is a blank page, then we get the full title page. What is going on here?


A lectern from a 15th century manuscript

If we inspect a collection of books, we find that most of them start with the title printed on the recto of the leaf before the title page. This is called the half title (or bastard title), sometimes written as half-title. The half title forms part of the front matter and is generally set above the middle of the page, in smaller type than the title page.

The front matter is numbered separately from the main matter, using lower case roman numerals. The minimum front matter consists of:

  • half-title page
  • full-title page
  • copyright page
  • table of contents, if it’s a non-fiction work

More extensive front matter may include (in the order preferred by The Chicago Manual of Style):

  • half-title page
  • a frontispiece (on the half-title verso, facing the title)
  • full-title page
  • copyright page
  • dedication
  • epigraph
  • table of contents
  • list of figures
  • list of tables
  • foreword (may come before the contents page)
  • preface
  • acknowledgments (if not part of the preface)
  • introduction (if not in the main matter)
  • list of abbreviations (if not in the back matter)
  • chronology (if not in the back matter)
  • second half-title (also knows as the fly-title)

Why does a book have a half title? According to the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science:

The use of half titles dates from the 17th century and may have evolved from the practice of including a blank leaf to protect the title page from wear. In modern printing, the half title helps the printer identify the work to which the first sheet belongs.

In other words, it’s the printer’s filename! In past centuries, most books were bought unbound and it was up to the buyer to put covers on them, so protecting the title page from wear was important. Many people think that while the half title now has little practical function, it adds an extra touch of dignity and elegance. Some books have fly-title pages at the start of each chapter, bearing the chapter title on the recto of an otherwise blank leaf. The optional half title at the end of the front matter is also sometimes called the fly-title.

The Wikipublisher half title includes the date and time the book was generated, to reflect the print-on-demand nature of the service. More about book front matter can be found at Hey! What’s the Matter?

Category: typography

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Page last modified on 21 June 2008 at 11:18 AM