The very first page of the prelimns is known as the half-title page. The basic structure of which is discussed briefly in the article. Interestingly this is also known as a “bastard title” and then the “half-title” refers to a page where the title is repeated before the main part of the book. Since this is very rare today, we’ll just use the word “half-title” when it appears as the very first page of the book.
If the book is going to have a frontispiece then the half-title is necessary, but if there isn’t, why do we still need this seemingly superfluous page? After all, it simply repeats the title page.
There are a number of different reasons given for the existence of the half-title page:
The first reason that I learned, was that this way the title page in all it’s typographic glory will be printed opposite the same kind of paper as opposed to the endpapers. I’m not quite sure why this is an advantage though, so over the years, I’ve kind of rejected that reason. Although this would be a good argument for saying that only hardback books should have a half-title as does one of my publishing house clients.
Another reason given is that it protects the title page during the binding process from glues, pressure, and dirt. Whilst this is certainly the case (no pun intended), one could argue that we should simply have an extra blank page, but this is probably the original reason. In fact I wonder if originally there was just a blank page which begged for something to be printed on.
However, my favourite reason is that it allows 2 pages to easily be eliminated from the book if necessary. Since in traditional offset printing, you might have 16 pages in a signature, this presents a challenge if your book is 242 pages! You really don’t want to have 14 blank pages at the end.
I think I’ll put the reason down to “tradition.”
Either way, what should this rather utilitarian page actually look like? If it’s too ornate, then it will compete with the title page and of course you will want it to be protected too (if the second reason above is indeed the case).
Typically, my approach will bet to set it very traditionally at the same font and size as the body text. It will be centered and perhaps set in full caps or small caps near the top or at top of the text block.
I had one client that used to set the title page with the cover artwork which was adapted for the inside of the book and the half-title was that same artwork but smaller. It was odd. They stopped doing that fortunately.
I have seen the editors names appear at the bottom of the half-title page. I also find this rather unaesthetic and I have yet to be asked to do this with any books that I have set.
Sometimes other logos are put on the half-title that don’t necessarily belong on the title page. I had one publisher, Toby Press, that had “four mugs.” Each mug was a line drawing of a coffee mug that you would drink out of, with a person signifying a different genre of the book. The logo of the publishing house appeared on the actual title page. I have included the image below from a book called “With” by Donald Harington.
In a more recent book, the publishing house had commissioned some beautiful calligraphy for the cover of the book “Ladder of Light.” As you can see in the second image below, I started by setting the half-title page in a very traditional look. However the client really wanted to use the calligraphy within the book so in the third image, we used the calligraphy in on the half-title page.
Raphaël Freeman is a professional typesetter with over 20 years in the field. If you are looking to have your manuscript typeset, then please be in touch with him.