Printers key

Printers key

The printers key, also known as the number line, is a convention that publishers started to use after World War II (1945) to indicate the print run of a book. It is found on the copyright page (the verso of the title page).

Usually it is a series of numbers or letters as in the following examples:

Sometimes rather than follow in series the numbers alternate from left to right for example:

The hypothetical printers key above decodes as third print run, printed in 1996, contracted to Acme Printing Corp.

First edition vs. first printing

Bibliographers usually define a first edition as all printings from substantially the same type setting, no matter how many printings are done. Book collectors tend to define "first edition" as the first printing of the first edition. For further information please see Edition (book).

Why numbers are removed rather than added

With each successive reprint, the publisher needs to instruct the printer to change the impression number, and the theory is that the printer is less likely to make a mistake if they are only removing the lowest number rather than introducing a new number each time. With this arrangement, all the printer has to do is "rub off" the outer number that's lowest in the sequence. By changing only the outer number it means that the fewest possible changes are made to the page of characters, which means the smallest possible charge to the publisher. In the days of hot-metal printing, where each character was a metal block, all the printer had to was to physically pick out the relevant blocks from the "sheet" and then the stack of blocks which would have been laboriously laid out when the page was first set up could be inked up for the reprint. [cite news | url= | title=HarperCollins Publishers UK ] In the case of a Linotype slug, the lowest number could be filed off and the slug reused. In either case, the change was minimal.


ee also

*Print run

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