It’s fascinating to me that we all traffic in books, yet many of us don’t consider the material object. At least not consistently. It would be impractical, of course, to consider leaf size, typeface, font, binding, cover design, and paratext qua paratext, etc. every single time we pick up a book. But of course, we notice. All of these things make an impression on us and influence how we read, but they typically operate in the background.
I’ve been working lately with very, very elementary descriptive bibliography and it’s been wonderful to look at books almost only on these terms. I’m lucky in that I have access to an excellent rare book collection at my university. The main humanities collection is terrible, but the rare book room is great, having benefited from a large donation of nineteenth-century books from a private collector. Not to mention a Shakespeare First Folio, a page from a Gutenberg bible, a Coleridge first edition in the original paper boards, and first edition of Mary Shelley’s which includes several personal letters written by Shelley. It’s not the British Library, or even the Beinecke, but there are some wonderful books. Among them, the one that I’ve been working on: a first edition, “triple-decker,” of Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
Here’s what it looks like:
Currer Bell [pseudonym of Charlotte Brontë]. Jane Eyre. Vol. I of a three-volume “triple-decker.” London, 1847.
Size and Format: The cover measures 5” x 8”. The leaves measure 4 ¾” x 7 ¾”. Based on the size of the leaves and the signatures, this is an octavo. First signature is “B” followed by “B2” and then six blank leaves before “C”. Sheet “B” is then folded into eight leaves, or sixteen pages.
Cover: This book is in the original publisher’s cloth. Cloth is maroon and features a blind stamped border on both front and back covers. Spine is stamped in gilt:
JANE EYRE / AN / AUTOBIOGRAPHY / EDITED BY / CURRER BELL / ------------- / Vol. I
Condition of the binding is very good, with only minor rubbing to the boards.
Provenance: Bookplate on front paste-down. “Charles J. Rosenbloom.”
Title pages: This edition includes a half-title, or bastard title, page after the first flyleaf. It reads:
JANE EYRE / Vol. I
The full title page reads:
JANE EYRE / an autobiography / EDITED BY / CURRER BELL / IN THREE VOLUMES / Vol. I / LONDON: / SMITH, ELDER, AND CO., CORNHILL. / ----------- / 1847.
At the bottom of the verso of the title page leaf:
LONDON / PRINTED BY STEWART AND MURRAY / OLD BAILEY
Edition: This is a first edition, according to Sadleir’s bibliography. Also, the publisher’s catalog included in the back of the first volume lists this book under “Works Just Published.”
Paratexts: There are no paratexts in this book, though there is a half-title page.
Printed pages: Each printed page measures 4 ¾” x 7 ¾”. The text block on each page measures 3” x 5”, with a significant amount of blank space at the margins. Blank space at margins measures:
Head: 1 ¼”
Tail: 1 ½”
Type is set in Roman. Each page has the title “JANE EYRE” at the head and, with the exception of the first page, is paginated. Pagination is top right on the recto and top left on the verso. For pages that include signatures (B, B2, C, C2 . . . U, U2), the signature is at the tail on the right. All signatures are on the recto of the leaf.
Recto of first leaf after title page is distinct and reads:
JAYNE EYRE / ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ / CHAPTER I
At the tail of this page, opposite signature “B”, it reads “Vol. I.” This is the only page that includes this marking. The other two volumes also contain a “Vol. II.” and “Vol. III.” in the same location.
Advertisements: After the last leaf of the text there is a thirty-two-page publisher’s catalog.
The recto of the first leaf of the catalogue reads:
A / CATALOGUE / OF / BOOKS / IN / VARIOUS BRANCHES OF LITERATURE / IN THE PRESS, OR RECENTLY PUBLISHED BY / SMITH, ELDER AND CO. / 65 CORNHILL, LONDON / AGENTS: / CUMMING & FERGUSON, DUBLIN; BELL & BRADFOTE, EDINBURGH / D. ROBERTSON, GLASGOW; W. GRAPEL, LIVERPOOL
The verso of the first leaf of the catalog is a table of contents for the catalog and contains the following:
Works in the Press
Works Just Published
Scientific Works Illustrated
Oriental and Colonial
Religious and Educational
Works by the Rev. L.V. Tayler
Embellished Works and Prints
Books for the Blind
Among the books which are advertised in this catalog is Leigh Hunt’s Men, Women, and Books. Jane Eyre itself is also advertised. In addition, there is a full-page advertisement for Sir John William Kaye’s The Calcutta Review.
Overall, the condition of this book is very good, considering its age. All three volumes of this triple-decker are housed in a buckram Solander box made by Rivière and Son, likely in the 1930s.
While the overall design of the book is not overly elaborate, triple-deckers were quite expensive even though this was mass produced on a steam press. The paper and the ink are of good quality, though the pages were not cut well. The heads of nearly all the pages are frayed, and many of the tails are cut ¼” or more too short.
According to the publisher’s catalog, this book sold for £1 6s 6d.