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The Book As Artifact: Book Structure

potteryBefore you can describe a book, it's important to know the structure of a book. These elements visually represent the organization of the book.

Consistency of these elements is helpful to everyone involved in the book cycle from the printer to the end user and the book historian. They also help scholars analyze books and readers navigate.

The image on the right shows the title page of a book on pottery published in 1850 titled Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain.

Book structure evolved over time. Incunabula (books printed between 1450 and 1500) did not have front matter and generally began the text on the first page of the book. The book would be identified by the initial words or incipit rather than by a title page. In some cases a colophon was added at the end of the book including the location and date of publication, printer information, editor, and other details.

According to Genette (1997, 1-2), the elements of a book that accompany productions such as the title page and preface as called "paratext." He states that

"the paratext is what enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers and, more generally, to the public. More than a boundary or a sealed border, the paratext is, rather a theshold, or a word Borges used apropos of a prepface - a 'vestibule' that offers the world at large the possibility of either stepping inside or turning back."

Let's explore the front matter, body matter, and back matter. As you work your way down this page, spend some time examining a book. Then, compare the structure of books published in different time periods.

Front Matter

The front matter is the first section of a book. Also known as the preliminaries, it's usually the smallest section of a book. The pages in this section are normally numbered with lowercase Roman numerals. Although pagination begins at the half title, numbers generally start appearing on the table of contents page.

Half Title

The half title page is blank except for the title of the book in capital letters and occasionally ornamentation. This page generally proceeds the title page. However in some cases, a "bastard" title precedes the title page and the half-title page follows the title page.

The images below show the half title page (left), frontispiece (center right), and title page (far right) for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

tom sawyertom sawyer


In some books, a decorative illustration is placed on the left facing page opposite of the title page. In other cases this page is left blank.

The frontispiece may contain an author's portrait or an image reflecting the theme of the book. In the case of inexpensive books, the frontispiece might be a generic woodcut image reused from another book. For many examples, go to Wikimedia Commons: Frontispiece.

The image below is the frontispiece to A Christmas Carol (1943) by Charles Dickens.

Christmas Carol

You can find many different versions of this book with different frontispieces. Some examples are show below including 1900, 1911, and 1915. It's interesting to make comparisons among the frontispieces selected.

Charles DickensCharles DickensCharles Dickens

OzTitle Page

The title page for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900 (shown right) shows the standard features of a title page including title, author, illustrator, publisher, location, and date of publication. The title shown on the title page rather than the cover is the "proper title".

"Titles often guided readers by laying out the content and parts of the book, and by indicating the book's value for a particular audience, field of knowledge or market sector." (Cormack & Mazzio, 2005)

Early title pages sometimes contained an illustration or ornamentation. Sometimes the illustration was used to convey the topic of the book like covers are used today.

The image below from The Science of Love or the Whole Art of Courtship (1792) show a frontispiece and title page. Notice the visuals on both page. The title page also contains some ornamentation in the form of lines and swirls.


In the 17th century, many title pages were used to convey the contents of the book. Although usually referred to as America Painted to the Life (1659), the book's complete title is "America Painted to the Life. The True HISTORY of The Spaniards Proceedings in the Conquests of the INDIANS, and of their Civil Wars among themselves, from COLUMBUS his first Discovery, to the these later Times, As Also, Of the Original Undertakings of the Advancement of Plantations into those parts; With a perfect Relation of our English Discoveries, shewing their Beginning, Progress and Continuance, of their Governments, policies, Religions, Maners, Customs, Military Discipline, Wars with the Indians, the Commoditites of their Countries, a Description of their Towns and Havens, the Increase of their Trading, with the Names of their Govenors' and Magistrates. More especially, and absolute Narrative of the North parts of Amerca, and of the Discoveries and Plantations of our English in Virginia, New-England, and Berbandoes" (shown below left). In addition to the title, the page also manages to include the publisher and date.

AmericaMoby Dick

By the mid 19th century, titles had become shorter and the contents of the title page more standardized. The image above right shows the title page of the novel Moby Dick including the title, author, publisher, location and date of publication.

try itTry It!
Browse two books on the topic of the title page.
Pollard, Alfred (1891). Last Words on the History of the Title-Page... J.C. Nimmo.
De Vinne, Theodore Low (1902). A Treatise on Title Pages. The Century Co.
Then, do some browsing on your own using Finally, compare title pages of the 21st century with title pages of the 19th century.

Colophon, Copyright, or Edition Page

The back (or verso) of the title page is often called the colophon, copyright, or edition page and includes publication and production notes about the book. The colophon may also be at the end of the book.

The imprint identifies the publisher and sometimes the printer. It states the official name of the publisher, the location of publication, and the date. The basic information is found on the title page and the more complete information is found on the verso of the title page.

copyrightA wide range of copyright information may be found on this page. The copyright date is the year when the book was first published. Any additional dates refer to subsequent revisions that required copyright renewal.

In addition to the date, the words "All Rights Reserved" are often stated along with the letter "c" or a copyright symbol ©. In some cases, the author holds the copyright. This is sometimes indicated.

Copyright law varies from country to country. Although use of the copyright notice has been optional since 1988, it is still normally found in books.

The image on the right shows the verso of the title page for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Notice that the copyright page uses the author's legal name, Samuel L. Clemens.

Under the terms of the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799, all printing presses were required to be registered. Even vendors of type were required to keep accounts showing ownership. Printers' imprints or printer statements were required to be placed on the verso of the title page and on the final page of each book printed in Great Britain. The provision required that the name and address of the author and publisher be included as well as the printing press. At the time many leaders were opposed to putting such restrictions on printers. George Tierney stated "I had rather be subjected to the most bitter reproaches and malicious statements for the remainder of my days, than have the press limited to the extent to which this goes." The royal press and two university presses were exempt from the requirement. The restriction was lifted in 1865.

The book Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain published in 1850 contains the location and required printer information on both the verso of the title page and the end page.

print info

The printer key is also found on this page. Also known as the number line, it's a line of numbers used to indicate the print run. Printers began using this system in the middle of the 20th century. The printer's key will appear in the first edition of the book as 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10. Number are removed with subsequent printings so if the number 1 appears, it is a first printing of that edition. On the second printing, the 1 is removed and additional numbers are added to the end. Some publishers include dates in their printer key.

Beginning with the private press movement of the late 1800s, many publishers began to include detailed technical information such as typefaces uses, paper used, printing method, printing company, and special physical characteristics.

Since July 1971, the Library of Congress's Cataloging in Publication (CIP) program has provided cataloging information in advance of publication. Publishers normally place this information on this page. In come cases the CIP is found at the back of the book. National libraries in other countries have similar programs for books published in their countries. In 2011, the Library of Congress expanded CIP to include ebooks.

In 1898, the Library of Congress began a numbering system, LCCN (Library of Congress Card Number). Some books include this number on the copyright page. It is a number assigned by the Library of Congress for books published in the United States. Since 1970, the 10-digit International Standard Book Number (ISBN) has been used as a commercial book identifier. Beginning in 2007, ISBNs contain 13-digits.

In some cases, a printer's mark is found near the bottom of page near the printer's name and city. This was common during the Renaissance.


The dedication page is often simple. Generally the author names people for whom he or she has written the book. While the people may be friends or family, they are sometimes people tied to the contents of the book.

For the book historian, the dedication can provide interesting insights in to the author.

The image below shows the dedication page for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.


Table of Contents

Also called a diagram, the table of contents is a guide to using a book. Particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries, diagrams provided a visual aid to understanding the book's content.

The Table of Contents for Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain (1850) provides the page number for the chapter as well as listing chapter subtopics.

pottery contents

In most cases, the contents lists chapter headings and subheadings along with page numbers.

The image below shows the Table of Contents for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. During the 19th century, it was common for novels to provide a detailed overview in the contents.



Normally written by a person other than the author, the foreword is a short piece that connects the writer with the author and or the story. In later editions, the foreword may describe changes from earlier editions.

For a book historian, it's useful to see the connection between the foreword's author and the book's author and content. In some cases, the foreword is written by a friend of the author. In others, a publisher may ask an associate or other author in their pool to write the foreword. In many cases, the publisher seeks out someone famous who will increase sales.

For instance, Ray Bradbury wrote the foreword for the authorized biography of Arthur C. Clarke.


This section of a book provides valuable information about the author and their relationship with others including the reader. The preface often describes how the ideas in the book were developed. The preface is normally signed with the author's name, location, and date.

The preface to Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain explains how the work was created and who was involved.

preface pottery

For a book historian, the preface can be valuable in understanding the perspective of the author.

For instance, Elie Wiesel's 2006 preface to Night (1972) provides wonderful insights into why he wrote his book. He wrote

"If in my lifetime I was to write only one book, this would be the one... Why did I write it? Did I write it so as not to go mad, or on the contrary, to go mad in order to understand the nature of madness, the immense, terrifying madness that had erupted in history and in the conscience of mankind? Was it to leave behind a legacy of words, of memories, to help prevent history from repeating itself. Or was it simply to preserve a record of the ordeal I endured as an adolescent, at an age when one's knowledge of death and evil should be limited to what one discovers in literature?"

The image below shows the preface for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.



Found immediately after the preface, the acknowledgments thank people who were involved with the writing of the book or people who influenced their thinking. It is sometime integrated into the preface.

The image below is an acknowledgement page from The Woman in White (1861) by Wilkie Collins. It is decided to Bryan Waller Procter.


Introduction or Prologue

Some books contain a beginning section that describes the purpose and goals of the book. In some cases it takes readers step-by-step through the contents. In the case of the prologue, it establishes the setting and provides background information.

The introduction to Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain (1850) provides an overview of the history of pottery and key collectors.


Other Front Matter

In many cases, books contain lists at the beginning of the book such as a list of illustrations, figures, or tables.

The image below shows the list of illustrations from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.


try itTry It!
Go to and search for a work of classic literature. Compare the front matter of different editions. How does the front matter reflect the time when it was published?

Body Matter

contentBooks are often divided into chapters or sections. Within these sections headings and subheadings can be used to subdivide content further.

The Christian Bible is divided into two parts called "testaments" each containing books with numbered verses.

The image on the right shows the first page of Chapter 1 of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

In many cases headers and footers are used to indicate the page number along with information such as the title of the book, author, or chapter name. This information is particularly useful when pages are separated from a book.

Page numbers are also useful in creating citations for a particular page of a book. Pages in the body are normally numbered sequentially with even numbers on the verso pages (left facing pages) and odd numbers on the recto pages (right facing page). Books not using this system are referred to as "non-traditional folios".

The image below from Tom Sawyer shows the use of a header for the page number and book title.


Besides the general organization of the body, it's also important to examine the text, images, and other elements.

Words. It's useful to know the total number of words in a book. When a digital version of the text is available, this is easy. When it's not, estimate the average number of words per page. To do this, count the number of words on five random pages, take the average, and multiple by the number of pages.

Readability. In some cases, it's useful to know the readability of a text. While current readability estimators are useful to today's population, they aren't as useful when considering the literacy rates and reading skills of people in the past.

Images. Consider the type of images and the use of colors and ornamentation.

Typography. Examine the typeface used and why it might have been selected.

Back Matter

In some cases, books contain information at the back of the book.


The opposite of an introduction, this is a conclusion to a work.


Sometimes found at the end of a work of literature, an epilogue brings closure to the work. It may be used to provide closure for a story. In literature, an epilogue normally continues in the same voice as the rest of the story. However in some cases, characters may break the wall and speak directly to the audience.

Afterword, Postface, or Postscript

The author or another writer may discuss how the book came into being. The afterword may also be used to debrief readers or provide information about things that have happened since the book was written. An afterword is often used when a preface or foreword would give away key information the author want to keep secret until the end of the book.

In Occultism and Common-Sense (1908), author Beckles Willson provides an afterword that reflects on the occult topics explored in the book. He asked readers to keep an open mind.


Appendix or Addendum

This section contains supplement information connected to the main work. It may provide additional information, relevant documents, or clear up errors or questions.

In Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain (shown below), a marks and monograms section provides readers with useful images and descriptions for pottery identification.


In Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain (shown below), a chronological table shows pottery through history.



This section provides information to the reader about corrections to the text. Although it is often at the end, but can also be part of front matter.

In Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain, the author asks for assistance in locating errors and also provides a page with errata.



Author's Notes

Authors sometimes want to provide additional information about how a book was written or useful resources for researchers. In historical fiction for youth, authors comment on what is factual versus fiction. They may also provide suggested resources for further reading.

The image below is the first page of author notes from The Works of Tennyson: With Notes by the Author (1913). From the second paragraph, it's clear that he doesn't like the idea of explaining his work, however he goes on to provide some useful information for readers.



In some cases, a set of words related to the book are defined. They are normally placed in alphabetical order. A glossary may also be used to describe places and characters in fictional settings.

In Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain, a comprehensive index provides both definitions and illustrations.



This list cites other works used in creating the work. It is most common in works of nonfiction, but also used in fiction such as historical fiction.


The index is makes a book more accessible by identifying the key subjects and identifying matching pages in the text. By providing non-sequential access, readers are able to locate relevant information as needed. An index is most common in a work of nonfiction.

Indexes have been used in books since the 16th century.

In Collections Toward a History of Pottery and Porcelain (shown below), the index provides access to the 300+ pages of text.


Book historians often examine indexes to gain insights into the author. What an author chooses to place in the index reflect their interests and bias.


May contain the same information found on the verso of the title page.

Special Notes

In some cases, additional notes are included from the translator, printer, or others. For instance the type and paper used may be listed.


Many books contain advertising or a catalogue at the end of the book. This is often attached by the publisher.

In Occultism and Common-Sense (1908), a multi-page catalogue is attached to the end of the book.




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Genette, Gerard (1997). Paratexts. Cambridge University Press. Preview Available:

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