Octavo (book)
Octavo is a technical term describing the format of a book, which refers to the size of leaves produced from folding a full sheet of paper on which multiple pages of text were printed to form the individual sections (or gatherings) of a book. An octavo is a book or pamphlet made up of one or more full sheets of paper on which 16 pages of text were printed, which were then folded three times to produce eight leaves. Each leaf of an octavo book thus represents one eighth the size of the original sheet. Other common book formats are folios and quartos
Quarto (text)
Quarto is a book or pamphlet produced from full 'blanksheets', each of which is printed with eight pages of text, four to a side, then folded two times to produce four leaves...

. Octavo is also used as a general description of size of books that are about 8 to 10 inches tall, and as such does not necessarily indicate the actual printing format of the books, which may even be unknown as is the case for many modern books. These terms are discussed in greater detail in Book sizes.


An octavo is a book or pamphlet made up of one or more full sheets of paper on which 16 pages of text were printed, which were then folded three times to produce eight leaves. Each leaf of an octavo book thus represents one eighth the size of the original sheet.

There are many variations in how octavos were produced. For example, bibliographers call a book printed as an octavo (eight leaves per full sheet), but bound in gatherings of 4 leaves each, an "octavo in 4s."

The actual size of an octavo book depends on the size of the full sheet of paper on which it was printed. The size of such sheets varied in different localities and times. A sixteenth century octavo printed in France or Italy is about the size of a modern cheap paperback, whereas an eighteenth century octavo printed in England is larger, about the size of a modern hardcover novel.

The Gutenberg Bible
Gutenberg Bible
The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed with a movable type printing press, and marked the start of the "Gutenberg Revolution" and the age of the printed book. Widely praised for its high aesthetic and artistic qualities, the book has an iconic status...

 was printed as a folio in about 1455, in which four pages of text were printed on each sheet of paper, which were then folded once. Several such folded conjugate pairs of leaves were inserted inside another to produce the sections or gatherings, which were then sewn together to form the final book.

The oldest surviving octavo book apparently is the so-called "Turkish calendar" for 1455, presumably printed in late 1454, about the same time as the Gutenberg Bible. Numerous other octavos survive beginning from about 1461. The British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

 Incunabula Short Title Catalogue
Incunabula Short Title Catalogue
The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue is an electronic bibliographic database maintained by the British Library which seeks to catalogue all known incunabula. The database lists books by individual editions, recording standard bibliographic details for each edition as well as giving a brief census...

 currently lists about 28,100 different editions of surviving books, pamphlets and broadsides (some fragmentary only) printed before 1501 of which about 2,850 are octavos, representing 10 percent of all works in the catalog.

Beginning in 1501, Aldus Manutius
Aldus Manutius
Aldus Pius Manutius , the Latinised name of Aldo Manuzio —sometimes called Aldus Manutius, the Elder to distinguish him from his grandson, Aldus Manutius, the Younger—was an Italian humanist who became a printer and publisher when he founded the Aldine Press at Venice.His publishing legacy includes...

 of Venice began to print classical works in small octavo format which were easily portable. These editions contained only the text of the works, without the commentary and notes, and became extremely popular with educated readers. As a result, Aldus became closely associated with the octavo format.


Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, technology permitted the manufacture of large sheets or rolls of paper on which books were printed, many text pages at a time. As a result, it may be impossible to determine the actual format (i.e., the number of leaves formed from each sheet fed into a press). The term "octavo" as applied to such books may refer simply to the size of the book. The use of the term "octavo" as applied to such books refers to books which are generally between 8 to 10 in (20.3 to 25.4 ) tall, the most common size for modern hardbound books. More specific sizes are denoted by reference to certain paper sizes as follows:
  • Foolscap
    Foolscap may refer to:* Foolscap folio, a paper size of 8½ × 13½ inches * A paper size of 17 × 13½ inches * A book by Michael Malone-See also:*Jester, an entertainer employed by a European monarch, often wearing a fool's cap...

     octavo (6¾" by 4¼") (170 mm x 108 mm)
  • Crown octavo (7½" by 5") (190 mm x 126 mm)
  • Demy octavo (8¾" by 5⅝") (221 mm x 142 mm)
  • Royal octavo (10" by 6¼") (253 mm x 158 mm)

See also

  • Book size
    Book size
    The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

  • Bookbinding
    Bookbinding is the process of physically assembling a book from a number of folded or unfolded sheets of paper or other material. It usually involves attaching covers to the resulting text-block.-Origins of the book:...

  • Folio
  • Quarto
    Quarto could refer to:* Quarto, a size or format of a book in which four leaves of a book are created from a standard size sheet of paper* For specific information about quarto texts of William Shakespeare's works, see:...

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