I had never seen this before. Why was it done? Colophons

James Deux's picture

The most peculiar thing happened to me this past May.

I was reading Brad Land's Goat: a memoir, an autobiographical entry about Mr. Land's experience with the Kappa Alpha fraternity at Clemson University. Interesting and engaging. Unique style of writing as well.

But what was the most interesting part of the book was when after I turned the final page, to my surprise I found a page that discussed and explained the choice of type! The choice was Sabon, and it was a tiny little paragraph explaining the type, as well the reason it was used. For the highly curious: I have the book. I can scan in the spread if you desire.

Can anyone here fathom why this was done? I'd actually like to see it more often, as I found it interesting, and a great way to expose the layperson to type. But it's the first—and only time—I've seen such attention given to the choice of typeface.

mili's picture

I've seen a short introduction to the type used at the end of the book. Could be the same publishers, because if my memory serves me right, it was Sabon, too. Designer's name, the history of the typeface etc. I think it's a wonderful idea and might make the non-typophiles to think about type a bit.

paul d hunt's picture

it's called a colophon.

PublishingMojo's picture

That's called a colophon, and they've been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. You see them nowadays on those books--all too rare--that are so well-made that their designers and printers want to put their names on them.

Bendy's picture

I've seen colophons before but having a full history of the typeface is unusual, no?

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Makes the designer look sophisticated (although Sabon is a quite nondescript choice).

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

bojev's picture


James Deux's picture

Quite interesting. Thank you.

will powers's picture

Often the use of colophons in 20th-century American books is credited to book and type designer William Addison Dwiggins (WAD). Among large American publishers, the house of Alfred Knopf has most frequently included colophons in their books, with info about the type, the name of the book designer, and the name of the printing company.

But if you want to see some colophons, go to a library that has a good collection of American "fine printing" of the 60s, 70s, 80s. Colophons in these books often ramble on, telling who made the paper, who designed and cut and cast the type, who set the type, what press the book was printed on, when the press was made, what the weather was like, when the cat died. On and on. & I'm not joking about the cat; I cannot recall book or publisher, but the colophon told about the cat's passing. Some are like short stories. Some are pretentious as hell. Some have useful info.

In our era, when everyone has or "knows about" "fonts," more people are taking notice at least of typeface mention in colophons.

At this press, we put colophons in most of our books. This helps our freelance designers get their names out into the world, and thus get more jobs. I can attest that happens. It also allows, us when appropriate, to note anything special about the paper we use.

Many people think colophons are pretentious, glorifying matters no one cares about. I feel they help acknowledge good work.


dtw's picture

I like to see them, though as Victor says, they aren't as common as one might like. I seem to remember that they're quite detailed in the backs of some O'Reilly computer books (I have several at home but can't check as I'm at work!), detailing both the fonts and the editing/layout packages used...
Ever since I chose to block pop-ups, my toaster's stopped working.

Theunis de Jong's picture

The old Adobe PostScript manuals (the famous "Red", "Green", and "Blue" books) and the huge PostScript Reference had nice colophons.
It introduced itself by explaining the term 'colophon', and went on (and on) with a list of software, fonts, and hardware used to produce the books.

From the Blue book:

"Camera-ready copy for this book was created entirely with POSTSCRIPT and printed on a Linotron 101 at Adobe Systems Incorporated. The book was created with the aid of the Scribe Document Production System (a product of UNILOGIC, Ltd.) as a Scribe document definition. The illustrations were POSTSCRIPT program segments which Scribe integrated and placed on the pages along with the formatted text portions."

[etc. etc.]

kentlew's picture

I am rarely able to convince a publisher who does not normally include full colophons to do so, but I am sometimes successful in getting a credit/mention for the typeface included on a copyright page along with other credit information. I know some others do the same. So those readers who are curious might also develop a habit of looking there as well.

mili's picture

I like those copyright page mentions, too. A Virago book I'm currently reading states "Typeset by M Rules in Caslon".

Michel Boyer's picture

Here are a few ones from my computer science books

This book was typeset in Times Roman and Courier 12 by the authors,using a Graphic Systems phototypesetter driven by a PDP-11/70 under the UNIX operating system.
This book was typeset in Times Roman and Courier by the authors, using a Mergenthaler Linotron 202 typesetter driven by a VAX-11/750 running in the 8th Edition of the UNIX operating system.
This book was typeset (grap|pic|tbl|eqn|troff -mpm) in Times and Lucida Sans Typewriter by the authors.

But, in the meantime, TeX was supplanting troff. I find this one quite interesting:

This book was set in TeX by Sarah Fliegelmann at the Weizmann Institute of Science and printed and bound by The MIT Press in the United States of America.

Of course, useless to say that the Weizmann Institute is in Israel and that the font is Computer Modern. Though shouldst know!


will powers's picture

<< “Typeset by M Rules in Caslon”. >>

To which I would ask "WHICH Caslon?"

I see colophons that list such things as "A Garamond" or "Dante MT." We here at Typophile may well know what "A" means in this context, and what "MT" means. But the general reader does not, and will likely not go to the trouble to dig up that info. These sort of attributions give readers both too much info and not enough info, all at the same time.

Let me add to my earlier post: in our colophons we give the typeface name and almost always the name of the typeface designer. I think it has helped draw some attention to new types (which we try diligently to use).


bowerbird's picture

here's the colophon from "the elements of typographic style":

> this book was designed by robert bringhurst.
> it was edited and set into type in canada,
> then printed and bound by c&c in hong kong.
> the text face is minion pro, designed by robert slimbach.
> this is an enlargement and revision of slimbach's original minion type
> issued by adobe systems, mountain view, california, in 1969.
> the captions are set in scala sans, part of a family of type
> designed in the netherlands by martin majoor. the face was issued
> by fontshop international, berlin, and its affiliates in 1994.
> the paper is glatfelter laid, made
> at the spring grove mill in pennsylvania.
> it is of archival quality and acid-free.


gillo's picture

Harry Potter books (Hard-covered North American ones at least) have colophons too. From The Half-Blood Prince:

"This book was art directed by David Saylor. The art for both the jacket and the interior was created using pastels on toned printmaking paper. The text was set in 12-point Adobe Garamond, a typeface based on the sixteenth-century type designs of Claude Garamond, redrawn by Robert Slimbach in 1989. The book was typeset by Brad Walrod and was printed and bound at RR Donnelly in Harrisonburg, Virgina, on paper that is free from fiber from ancient forests. The managing Editor was Karyn Browne; the Continuity Editor was Cheryl Klein; and the Manufacturing Director was Angela Biola."

Michel Boyer's picture

here’s the colophon from “the elements of typographic style”:

Indeed. That colophon is great, as is the book.

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture

In Latin America we have the opposite situation: almost every book has a colophon, and naming the typeface is a growing practice. Most of them are not very special, but some are masterpieces.

Here is a curious example by Selva Hernández and José Luis Lugo. The LM is because the book talks about Leopoldo Méndez, one of the finest Mexican engravers of twentieth century.

Michel Boyer's picture

A colophon that is quite informational about a font and that also feels personal is the one in Lawson's book (copyright 1990):

Anatomy of a Typeface was set in Galliard, a typeface designed by Matthew Carter and introduced in 1978 by the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. Based on the types created by Robert Granjon in the sixteenth century, Galliard is the first of its genre to be designed exclusively for phototypesetting. A type of solid weight, it possesses an authentic sparkle that is lacking from current Garamonds. The italic is particularly felicitous and reaches back to the feeling of the chancery style, from which Claude Garamond's italic departed.

I don't know if what follows is to be considered part of the colophon or not (set in italics).

Printed by the Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, Binghamton, New York, on Glatfelter Offset Smooth Eggshell.


Mark Simonson's picture

A friend of mine sent me a copy, back in the nineties, of an article by Bruce McCall in The New Yorker called "About the Font". It was sort of making fun of colophons, but very funny. It was written as an unusually long and detailed colophon that told you way more than you ever wanted to know. I wish I knew what I did with it.

blank's picture

Does Knopf still put colophons in every book it prints?

paragraph's picture

Mark, did it say that it was set in "Bimbo Monotone"? I remember a funny one like that, that went on to say about the making of the paper something along the lines of "whole forests were leveled, and thousands of little furry animals lost their homes".

kentlew's picture

> here’s the colophon from “the elements of typographic style”:

Except that in the original book capitals were included in the normally expected places.

@James -- I think that Knopf does indeed still include a colophon with every title.

Mark Simonson's picture

@paragraph: Yes, I think I remember those references.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

It was sort of making fun of colophons, but very funny. It was written as an unusually long and detailed colophon that told you way more than you ever wanted to know.

This book, believe it or not, has an extremely detailed colophon. It's almost a parody of a colophon: the author starts off saying that he designed the book himself ("He is a man!"), and then goes into extreme detail about the typeface, page layout software, and book design theory as well (with diagrams!).

[EDIT] Mark, I found an abstract of the Bruce McCall article here.

Mark Simonson's picture

Yes, that's the article. Thanks!

bowerbird's picture

kentlew said:
> Except that in the original book
> capitals were included
> in the normally expected places.

yeah, except for that... ;+)

bobbie bringhurst had on his typographer hat at the time
-- you know, the funny one that looks kinda like a boat,
folded out of newspaper -- instead of his poet beret...

but i rescued him from respectability and whisked him
to lowercaseland, the second-happiest place on earth.


will powers's picture

several things:

Colophons in Latin America may be a legacy of Spanish colonial laws that required the printer be named in all printed books. This was not to give credit where credit was due, but was one more way for authorities to try to keep track of who was writing what. I'm not sure how long these laws were in place in which countries, but I'm fairly sure of the origin. maybe some of our friends in Latin America can help us.

Bimbo Monotone was featured in a colophon written by the one-and-only Alastair Johnston of Poltroon Press in Berkeley. I do not know the book in which it appeared. I have it taped to te back of office door. In the cool months I see it every day as I hang up my jacket in the morning and again as I leave at night. It is a good reminder to take very little seriously.

Knopf still puts a colophon in most of its books.


James Deux's picture

“This book was art directed by David Saylor. The art for both the jacket and the interior was created using pastels on toned printmaking paper. The text was set in 12-point Adobe Garamond, a typeface based on the sixteenth-century type designs of Claude Garamond, redrawn by Robert Slimbach in 1989. The book was typeset by Brad Walrod and was printed and bound at RR Donnelly in Harrisonburg, Virgina, on paper that is free from fiber from ancient forests. The managing Editor was Karyn Browne; the Continuity Editor was Cheryl Klein; and the Manufacturing Director was Angela Biola.”

WHAT?! I never noticed this! And unfortunately, I left my entire series back home. :(

I will have to make it a note to check these in the library. Thank you for the tip.

Artboy34's picture

"It is a good reminder to take very little seriously."

Well said, Will. A printing rep once told me of a client whose response to her apology for a late deadline was, "Well, we're not doing brain surgery here; no lives were lost because of a day or two."

Oh, that there were more clients with that perspective...

Martin Bentley Krebs
Designosaur since 1980

will powers's picture

in full:

"This book is set in 12-point Monotone Bimbo, with chapter headings in Basketball Overextended. Both faces were designed by the great Adolf Pflüpfl and are characterized by noble, full-bodied proportions with complex, slightly fruity serifs. It was printed by upset lithophagy on 70-lb. Tropicana Ivory mislaid Cowabunga Slipshod Overcoat. The ink came out of a can.

This paper is 100% unrecycled. Whole forests were leveled, thousands of small furry animals left homeless, and vast virgin landscapes devastated, to make this book."

Now THAT's a colophon!


paul d hunt's picture

the above colophon is from Science Made Stupid by Tom Weller.

will powers's picture


Paul made me check on the authorship of that colophon. I asked Alastair. He says he did not do it. Must have been Weller himself. Both are witty Bay Area jokesters.

I thought I had gotten the copy of the colophon from Alastair, so I assumed he had written it. Oh, well.

"Science Made Stupid" and its companion "Cvltvre Made Stvpid" are excellent antidotes for taking things too seriously.


Miss Tiffany's picture

I am really happy that I can include the typeface information in the books I do. However, we don't do a formal colophone, but we listed the fonts, foundries, and designers on the copyright page.

paragraph's picture

Thanks, Will. I shall never lose this gem again.

bowerbird's picture

tom weller said:
> Monotone Bimbo

too funny.

> The ink came out of a can.

too too funny. :+)


jb_tubman's picture

O’Reilly Media Inc., the computer book publisher, puts colophons in its books. I grabbed the one closest to me at the moment (Twisted Network Programming Essentials by Abe Fettig) and found that its colophon was two pages long.

That particular colophon described the picture on the cover (an engraving of a ball of snakes in a mating frenzy), including a lot of biological details that would appeal more to a herpetologist than an computer scientist. It then listed the production editor, copy editor, proofreader, quality control staff, index writer, cover designer, cover design software, and cover typeface. It then went on to list the interior designer, text font, heading font, and code font; then the illustration artists and the software they used. Finally it named the author of the colophon itself.

About all they seemed to leave out was the blood types and shoe sizes of the people involved. :-)

Jim Tubman
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
"The Stampede City"

blank's picture

On a related note, do designers get annoyed by type licenses that require the designer to list a typeface on the copyright page of a book if it doesn’t have a colophon?

pattyfab's picture

I love the Colophon! At the publisher I used to work for, we didn't do a formal colophon but we always credited the designer, typesetter (if separate), editor, production editor, and production manager. We also listed the fonts but that was a practical consideration. Often the book was reprinted many years later and it was a useful reference for what font(s) had been used.

I have never noticed a license that requires the designer to list the font, that seems like chutzpah to me. OTOH I don't read most licenses to the letter (sorry Tiff!).

Florian Hardwig's picture

You agree to identify the Emigre fonts by name and credit Emigre's ownership of the trademarks and copyrights in any design or production credits.Emigre

The user of this House Industries font software agrees to credit House Industries as the trademark and copyright owner of the House Industries fonts and list the font names, wherever and whenever design, production, or any other credits are shown.House Industries (Letterror uses the same phrase)

If your printed publications contain an imprint, the names of the font and the foundry have to be mentioned, e.g. ‘Type set in “Fontname” from LucasFonts’.LucasFonts

IMHO, these clauses are rather wishful thinking. I wouldn’t take them too serious. At least, I haven’t heard of a case where this claim was enforced. If there is a colophon, I will gladly mention the fonts and give credit to the type designer – irrespective if the EULA asks for it or not.

Tor Løvskogen Bollingmo's picture

James Deux, did you scan the colophon? Would be nice to have a look. Cheers

Michel Boyer's picture

[...] in any design or production credits [Emigre]
[...] wherever and whenever design, production, or any other credits are shown [House Industries]
[...] If your printed publications contain an imprint [...] [LucasFonts]

That means that if there is a colophon then you should not forget to mention their font in it. That makes sense. There is no requirement that there be a colophon.

Bendy's picture

After previously saying I'd never seen a font note in a colophon, I came across this the other day:

(from Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck by Chip and Dan Heath.)

The font gets a page of its own, separate from the colophon.

Does Electra really avoid contrast??

Michel Boyer's picture

The font gets a page of its own, separate from the colophon.

Now, I am wondering what meaning you are giving to the word "colophon". The Wiki definition Colophon (publishing) includes production notes where it is said they are often titled A note about the type.

Bendy's picture

Gosh, now I'm confused too!

I'd always believed a colophon was the page at the front of the book where you see the publishing date, edition, copyright notice, ISBN, designer, printer/binder and paper source/type, and sometimes the font name and point size/leading.

The font note above appears at the back of the book and struck me as more than a colophon.

pattyfab's picture

Bendy, that's called the copyright page. It can appear either on the verso immediately following the title page (in other words on the reverse of the title page) or on the last page of the book.

Colophons nearly always appear at the back of the book.

Geez, now I have to start forcing my clients to credit the foundries, let's see how that goes over.

paragraph's picture

Copyright page: here it is called the "imprint", and is usually on p. iv (i: half-title, ii: blank, iii: title, iv: imprint)

cerulean's picture

Page xxv of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide:

"About the Typeface

This book uses a particular typeface."

nina's picture

The longest colophon I've got into a book so far. It's illustrated :-)

mili's picture

Here's another one of Electra, from a book published by Chatto & Windus, London, in 1995. It too has a whole page after a whole page about the author, both at the end of the book.

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