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What is a Colophon?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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Since 1774, the section of production notes at the end of a book has been referred to as a colophon, although the practice of including information about a book in the form of production notes was much older. Ancient colophons included information about the scribe, the author, the year, and other relevant information, while a modern colophon usually contains information about the typeface and production techniques used. Not all publishers include colophons in their books, as much of the information traditionally contained in a colophon is included with the Library of Congress Data in the front of a book, or on the back flap. When a colophon is included, it is often headed “a note about the type.”

In addition to including information about the typefaces used in a book, including their history, a colophon may also discuss production techniques. The designer of the book is often credited, as is the software used for layout. If the book is printed on a letterpress, an increasingly rare occurrence, this will also be noted. In some cases, information about the paper used is also provided, especially if it is made from recycled materials, or renewable fiber sources like bamboo.

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Students of book arts frequently consult colophons to learn more about the typefaces prevalent in modern book design, and the techniques used to produce modern books. When looking for a colophon, readers should turn all the way to the end of the book, as the colophon is usually located on the page just inside the end piece. The section of the colophon which covers the history of the type is often particularly interesting, especially in the case of typefaces which were designed several centuries ago.

The use of the term “colophon” to refer to a publisher's mark or imprint is also common, although the term should not be used to refer to a publisher's mark in the front of the book. Since it derives from a Greek word meaning “final touch” or “summit,” the use of “colophon” for information included in the front of a book would be incorrect.

Some members of the web design community have also adopted the spirit of the colophon, and they include information about the pages they design in the form of a colophon. The colophon may be hidden in the source code, or covered in an “about” page which also contains general information about the website. For many web designers who are beginning to learn their craft, this practice is a valuable learning tool, allowing them to study the techniques used by experienced professionals..

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