Books didn’t always have title pages! The title page only developed gradually over the 15th and 16th centuries. Before that time, different methods were used to announce the author(s), title, edition, place of publication, printer, publisher and publication date.
The elements indicating the beginning and the closing of individual textual units in medieval manuscripts persisted in the period of the earliest printed books. These elements are the incipit, the explicit, and the colophon. Just like the design of the book and the layout of the text, the text announcements in manuscripts and incunabula were the same for a while.
The end of the prologue (explicit) and the beginning (incipit) of Paschasius Radbertus’s ‘On the Lamentations of Jeremiah’ (1143-1178), e-codices, CC BY-NC
The label-title of Albumasaris’s ‘Introduction to Astronomy‘(1489), Fondazione Barbanera 1762, CC BY-NC
The label-title and illustration from Petrus de Crescentiis’s ‘On Agriculture‘(1505), Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, No Copyright – Non-Commercial Use Only
By the end of the 15th century and in the first half of the 16th century, elaborate woodengraved title pages, or title pages with intricate decorative borders were made.
Title page from Ulrich von Hutten’s poem on the war with Venice, dedicated to Emperor Maximilian (1519), Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, CC BY-SA
From the late 15th century onwards, the amount of information given on the title page was increasing constantly. Author and title statements were joined by information about the edition, secondary authors such as commentators or translators, as well the place of publication, the name of the printer and publisher, the printer’s device, and the publication date. All of these elements have gradually moved to the title page from the colophon.
Title page from Poliziano’s ‘Poems’ (1577), containing information about the author, the title and the edition, as well as the dedication, the imprint, and the printer’s device, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek – Austrian National Library, No Copyright – Non-Commercial Use Only
Written by dr. Sonja Svoljšak, Manuscript, Rare and Old Prints Collection, Special Collections Division, National and University Library, Slovenia