A very handy page lists the various sets of terms used for the sizes of books and the paper they’re made from. Who can resist words like pott (OED: “originally bearing the watermark of a pot”), columbier (“F. colombier dove-cote, used in same sense”), demy, double elephant? Oddly, the OED entry for pott includes a citation from Frederick T. Day’s An introduction to paper: its manufacture and use (1962) that reads “Sizes of paper in the United Kingdom centre round fifteen designs: Foolscap, Demy, Medium,.. Pott, Elephant,.. Eagle and Columbier,” and yet there is no corresponding definition under eagle (nor is the word in the list of sizes). I both love and hate loose ends like that.

I must also say that like Matt of No-sword, from whom I got the link, I prefer the resonant older names like sexagesimo-quarto to the oafish new-style sixty-fourmo and its fellows.


  1. IndigoJones says

    Is anyone taking credit (accepting blame) for thirtytwomo or sixtyfourmo? Talk about nails on blackboard….

  2. I have seen references to elephant or double elephant in relation to 19th C. newspapers printed on flat-bed presses, one sheet at a time. This was also called a blanket sheet. If the paper had to “jump” from 4 pages to 8 (or 6 using a half-sheet), that meant extra work collating — so it was to the printer’s advantage to use the biggest paper available. I have seen examples 40 inches wide and 30 inches top to bottom. You needed long arms or a big kitchen table to read the paper.
    The original edition of Audubon’s famous “Birds of America” is often called the “double elephant folio”; it was printed on sheets 27″ x 39″. Presumably there was some variability in the sizes of double elephant sheets.

  3. Jonathan K. Cohen says

    My reproduction of an annotated version of Birds of America (ed. Roger Tory Peterson) claims to be a “Baby Elephant Edition” — clearly a meaningless term in this context. It’s 12.5″/16″.

  4. But knowing that information, how can you ever browse through it without hearing Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Dance” in your head?

  5. As readers of Moby Dick know, book sizes are also used to classify whales :-). Chapter 32, Cetology.
    The smallest whales are duodecimo so at least we don’t have whales being reclassified as sixtyfourmo. Maybe we should switch to using whale species to classify book sizes instead! 🙂

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