Royal Octavo books in printing refer to book sizes made by folding each sheet of paper three times to form eight leaves (32 pages). Once folded, these leaves are cut down for use as part of the finished octavo book – hence its moniker originating in England during the 15th century as King’s Printer used it!
Royal octavo was an early format for printed books like the Gutenberg Bible. The first printed editions of William Shakespeare’s plays also used the royal octavo format; its use continued into the 20th century.
The royal octavo format is smaller than its counterparts, folio and quarto formats, which entail folding each sheet of paper twice to form eight pages, respectively. Furthermore, royal octavo formats also differ by folding each sheet once into four leaves (8 pages).
Royal octavos may no longer be as expected. However, they can still be found among large format books such as Bibles and dictionaries. Furthermore, collector’s editions or limited editions might utilize royal octavos.
The Royal Octavo format was an essential innovation in book printing history. By standardizing paper size and margins around text, this format enabled books to be printed more cheaply and accurately than ever before – increasing access to literature and furthering literacy and learning across society. Furthermore, this revolutionary format left its mark for centuries as its physical form became the standard size.