Anatomy of the book: front matter

I feel I probably should have talked about this earlier, but never mind. The front matter comprises all the material that appears in a book before the actual content begins. You cannot read the gripping beginning of the The Mystery of the Pink Crayfish without first turning these pages.

We’ve already mentioned the fly leaf, which is the first page you turn—it’s sometimes a bit thicker than the other pages, if the end paper and the first page of the text block have been adhered together. On the fly leaf you might find an ex praemio, or dedication (eg if the book was awarded as a prize) or a bookplate declaring from whose library the book has been stolen.

The second page you turn is usually the title page. This contains at least the full title, the sub-title (if there is one), the author’s name & the publisher. The verso of the title page often has lots of additional information, like the year of publication, copyright information, ISBN numbers and so forth. (This is the case in modern books; in earlier ones publishers were not always so disciplined). But sometimes there is a half title page before the title page proper, which usually only bears the title itself. Sometimes the half title is called the bastard title! How rude. So perhaps we should take to calling it the “Jon Snow”.(1)

Opposite the title page, or half title, there may be a frontispiece or vignette—a decorative illustration. That is, if they haven’t been ripped out of the book by craven philistines, to sell for profit.

There may also be any or all of the following: a table of contents, an epigraph (often a quote the author quite fancied), a list of illustrations, errata (sometimes loose or tipped in, if errors are found after printing), a dedication page, acknowledgments, and a foreword, preface or introduction.

The frontispiece and title page to Robert Mudie’s “Man: In His Physical Structure and Adaptations” (1838). Both illustrations are Baxter prints, one of the earliest colour printing methods.

(1) I hope this isn’t a massive spoiler for anyone, but the character of Jon Snow in G R R Martins’s Game of Thrones is—a bastard. No really. I’m not making this up. I know it must be a terrible shock.