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Ballad Sheet Sizes

By Eric Nebeker (2007)

Broadside ballads were likely printed on a kind of “pot paper”: a smaller and cheaper paper than that generally used for longer works. According to Phillip Gaskell, the size of these sheets ranged from around 290 x 420 280 x 380 mm., though the variation in dimensions could be relatively large in the hand press period.1 Seventeenth century ballads from the Wood 401 collection in the Bodleian Library, which consists of uncut ballads with minimal trimming around the edges, tend to measure around 278 x 355 mm. Furthermore, ballads could be printed on a whole folio sheet (an uncut sheet of paper) or on a half-sheet folio (a sheet of paper cut in half). The two-part ballads found primarily in Volume 1 of the Pepys collection were generally printed on a whole sheet folio, though Pepys cut and cropped them before pasting them into his books. The two halves of the ballads in volume 1 average about 150 x 270 mm. each. Put together, the sheets would run about 270 x 300 mm. Restoring the margins cropped by Pepys, the original size of the sheets could easily increase to 290 x 340 mm. or more. Ballads printed in volumes 2-5 of the Pepys collection are generally half-sheet folios, having had two separate ballads printed on them, which were then cut and sold separately. These half-sheet ballads tend towards 190 x 296 mm. Combined, these would result in sheets roughly measuring 296 x 380 mm. From these dimensions it would appear that paper used for the half-sheet ballads was slightly larger; however, this may very well be the result of the way the pages were cropped. In the case of the Pepys collection, this made them squarer than they would have been uncropped. To compensate for the cropping done by Pepys, EBBA has added outer and, in the case of reconstructing cut-apart ballads, inner margins:10 mm. for the outside margins and 20 mm. for inside margins of two-part ballads.


1 See Gaskell, p. 75. Gaskell measures in centimeters; however, since Weinstein measures in millimeters I have converted Gaskell’s measurements in order to make comparisons easier.

Works Consulted

Gaskell, Phillip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1972.