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G-30. Printed Books since 1800: Description & Analysis

Tom Congalton & Katherine Reagan

This course is aimed at librarians, booksellers, collectors, scholars, and others who seek an introductory understanding of how to recognize, evaluate and describe the physical aspects of printed materials. Focusing on the post-1800 period, the course provides practical tools for the identification and analysis of books and other printed artifacts. Topics include: how to read a bibliographical description of a book; how to read and interpret dealer and auction descriptions; how to distinguish between edition, issue, and state; how to assess the aesthetic, market, and research potential of materials; and how to navigate the trade and institutional environments in which printed materials circulate. The course is built around hands-on interaction with RBS's rich teaching collection of books, periodicals, and related materials produced during the machine-press period.

This course is aimed at those with little or no prior experience or background in the subject. In their personal statement, applicants should describe the nature of their interest and how they expect to use what they learn.

Note on the differences between the "Printed Books: Description & Analysis" courses and "Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description"

Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description (G-10) covers much the same ground as the “Printed Book” courses. The differences are basically these: G-10 focuses more intensively on format and collation and on the rigorous description of hand- and machine-press period books through laboratory sessions and homework; it also emphasizes self-study of terminology and the physical book through “museum” sessions. The Printed Books courses are intended for collectors, booksellers, librarians, educators, and others who seek an introduction to the identification and description of printed books—presented in a more traditional, interactive seminar setting—but who do not wish to spend an extended amount of time on the study of format and collational formulas. Students in all courses, however, benefit from close, extended contact with Rare Book School’s renowned study collections of books, bindings, and related artifacts.

If you anticipate the need to produce bibliographical descriptions of your own, including accurate collational formulas, you may find G-10 more suited to your needs. If a broader overview would better suit your career plans or personal interests, then either of the Printed Books courses would be a good fit. Because of the overlap in course content, Rare Book School discourages students from applying to a Printed Books course and G-10 in the same year; however, students who complete either of the Printed Books courses are welcome to apply to G-10 in subsequent years, but not vice versa. Students who take G-10 will find themselves better prepared for the Advanced Descriptive Bibliography course.

Course Resources

Course History


This course is renamed “Printed Books since 1800: Description & Analysis.”


Tom Congalton and Katherine Reagan teach this course for the first time as “Bibliographer’s Toolkit: Printed Books since 1800.”