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In 1773 Samuel Johnson and James Boswell travelled together across the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. Two entertaining, incredibly readable books resulted: Johnson’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and Boswell’s The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

It was with a twinge of wanderlust that I picked up the collected volume at Den Haag market the other week.

The book was first published by Oxford University Press in 1924 and this 1970 paperback edition1 retains an interesting design element: catchwords. A catchword is when the the first word—or a couple of shorter words—from the next page first appear at the bottom of of the preceding text block.

Here’s an example from Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland:

Catchwords were added to ensure that printed pages were bound correctly and the practice ran until around 1800 with the advent of more mechanised production techniques.2 Here’s the full spread of the page above (larger image):

So why are they there in an edition from the 1920s? While the editors of this edition replaced the long s3 found in previous editions,4 they decided not to remove these catchwords nor the double sentence spacing. Could it have been for loyalty to the original text that the typesetter had to update the catchwords used for this wider edition?

There’s no grand conclusion to this post other than to point out an interesting typographic oddity in a great book (although if you know why these catchwords remained certainly let me know). The plan for this blog is to post the occasional bit of commentary on book design—whether my own work or that of other designers.

Plus it helps to justify my book habit.

— Euan