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Oxford Classical Texts

Postby jeidsath » Sat Feb 22, 2014 8:07 pm

My email to Oxford University Press customer service:

I recently purchased Opera Omnia (Tomus III: Expedito Cyri) from the Oxford Classical Texts series, and I write to report several major issues with the print quality.

The current text is unreadable. According to the publication page, the work was digitally transferred in the late 1980s. I have a 1920s edition and the new edition in front of me, and the new edition is best described as a "bad photocopy."

- Long sections of the text are too spotty to read.

- The font is far from crisp, and it difficult to make out breathing marks.

- The Book headings are not properly aligned on the first page of each book (please compare to the earlier edition).
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby jeidsath » Wed Mar 05, 2014 6:05 am

Shared on Google Drive. After following the links, you may need to click the download arrow to see the images.

1978 OCT version of Anabasis:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B23NN- ... sp=sharing

2008 OCT version of Anabasis:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B23NN- ... sp=sharing

Note the Ὦ for an example of an unreadable breathing mark.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Victor » Tue Mar 18, 2014 12:43 am

jeidsath wrote:My email to Oxford University Press customer service:

What answer did you get from OUP? I'd be surprised if you got one at all.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Qimmik » Tue Mar 18, 2014 1:11 am

It's outrageous how much they charge for books that are cheaply produced by reprinting from plates set over a century ago (and for just about everything else, too). And the bindings are flimsy. Texts like Vergil you want to read time and time again support about two traversals before disintegrating. I'm on my third OCT Vergil (the first was Hirtzel).

Although my tattered copy of the intermediate Liddell and Scott is still standing up to front-line service after more than half a century.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby jeidsath » Tue Mar 18, 2014 1:15 am

I was told that the book wouldn't be in print if they hadn't done this.

I personally don't see the advantage of keeping it "in print" if it's not readable, but I refrained from replying. At this point, they are just defrauding people when they sell it. At the very least, I expect a competent digital scan. How hard is it to spring for a $300 scanner?
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Victor » Wed Mar 19, 2014 4:50 pm

jeidsath wrote:I was told that the book wouldn't be in print if they hadn't done this.

It's hard not to see this as a feeble attempt by OUP to occupy a piece of moral high ground: "We're committed to making access to knowledge affordable", that kind of baloney. But there's a bigger picture.

Even if OUP's standards were what their once well-deserved reputation might lead us to expect and they didn't stoop to issuing books whose print was difficult to read, I doubt whether they are able to employ many people nowadays who have even that small knowledge of Greek that would allow them to see the real importance of breathings and other diacritics. What's more, all of OUP's books are now printed and bound overseas, afaik, and that means minimal per-unit prices for OUP and a standard of production for the consumer that reflects that minimum very faithfully. When I compare their modern productions with, say, my two volume copy of Jowett's Thucydides, produced by OUP in the late 19th century, or even something more recent like Denniston's Greek Particles, both of which are printed in beautiful letterpress type on fine-quality laid paper (that has scarcely aged) with wide margins, my heart sinks.

But ultimately I don't blame OUP; there's a bigger picture. All big publishers are constrained by the laws of economics imposed by our throwaway world, which they can adhere to and survive or violate and go under. So when OUP say about a book that it wouldn't be in print if they didn't do it a certain way, there's more truth and more significance in the statement than we might suppose.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Mar 19, 2014 7:49 pm

A 1945 Thucydides commentary by Gomme I recently borrowed is still printed on laid paper.

I don't see any reason to buy reprints; if there's one good thing with the general loss of interest in the classics, it's that you can find a lot of old second hand books. The original hardcover book from a hundred years ago is usually a better choice than the modern (often paperback) reprint, and it might actually be cheaper.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby jeidsath » Wed Mar 19, 2014 8:37 pm

From Laudator Temporis Acti:

R.W. Chapman (1881-1960), "Old Books and Modern Reprints," The Portrait of a Scholar and other Essays written in Macedonia 1916-1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1922), pp. 48-65 (at 50):

It is a melancholy and humiliating truth that the history of printing is a long decadence. Even in the mechanics of printing we cannot to-day surpass the pioneers of the fifteenth century. We cannot achieve a finer paper or a cleaner impression. Our best types are modelled on theirs; and in the use of our tools, in all the rules of the art, we toil painfully in their wake. A great scholar and accomplished collector used to say that his study of early printing had cured him of the vulgar Radicalism of his youth. The early printers had the tradition of the scribes in their souls, and so the new art found its perfection at a spring. It has been in a slow decline for four centuries; and the best that we can do now is to follow the old models, and adapt the old methods, with what intelligence we may command.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby ailuros » Thu Mar 20, 2014 3:51 pm

I think Victor's view is correct, ultimately (and sadly). I just got the two volume OUP Herodotus and the print quality is pretty dreadful at times. Not as bad perhaps as Jedsaith's experience, but not great, either, and, yes, they ain't cheap.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Qimmik » Thu Mar 20, 2014 4:23 pm

"It is a melancholy and humiliating truth that the history of printing is a long decadence."

Not if cost is a concern.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby JimmyH » Sat Mar 22, 2014 3:50 pm

I noticed a decline in quality in the book industry beginning in the 1970s. Instead of cloth binding it became paper over boards. Sewn bindings began to be the exception rather than the rule.

I had a three volume set of Milton's works by OUP many years ago and it was very nicely done. Other than a couple of Bibles and a complete Sherlock Holmes my only OUP publication is a two volume Liddell & Scott which I feel fortunate to have picked up on the second hand market.

It is an edition circa 1951 and I bought it at a reasonable price because the covers are scuffed and worn, corners bumped. The text block is clean and the binding tight which reflects the quality of workmanship from that era.

Even at two volumes they are large and heavy books. That is why I feel fortunate to have acquired the set in two, rather than one volume. The one volume edition must be a beast to handle. I am a neophyte in terms of learning Greek and I'm excited to think that one day I may be able to read Homer, among other works in the original language.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby John W. » Mon Mar 24, 2014 5:52 pm

Recent reprints of the OCT Thucydides are similarly disfigured by poor-quality printing in terms of blotchy/broken/missing letters. This edition is, however, in any case badly in need of replacement - though if/when we will get a new OCT of Thucydides is unclear.

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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby daivid » Thu Mar 27, 2014 4:01 pm

jeidsath wrote:
R.W. Chapman (1881-1960), "Old Books and Modern Reprints,"
It is a melancholy and humiliating truth that the history of printing is a long decadence. .

Modern technology allows very clear and crisp printing and this is often achieved. Images are much better done than they used to be. Many old books are now brown due to the acid in the paper while most of my new books are on acid free paper.

Further new printing methods allow very short print runs hence making the reprinting of books that are only of interest for small groups (as we are) possible.

OCR scanning should allow the text to be converted into digital form. However, when the original printing quality was bad this requires a human to carefully check where the computer has guessed wrong. This isn't viable for small print runs.

Hence the reason why we are being offered these very poor quality scans is because the printing of 100 years ago was often appallingly bad.

(I'd say I was sorry to spoil the endless decline lament but you wouldn't believe me :wink: )
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Scribo » Thu Mar 27, 2014 6:03 pm

Agreed. I own a few earlier printed books and they haven't held up well. Also I've worked with medieval manuscripts, papyrus scraps and even Linear B sherds and nothing beats good clear modern print. However I'm going to say that OUP's business practices here are shameful and someone needs to be sacked and then put in a sack and beaten by people themselves holding sacks full of OCTs. IUSTITIA.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Qimmik » Thu Mar 27, 2014 6:17 pm

"the printing of 100 years ago was often appallingly bad."

The printing quality of the older OCTs wasn't so bad when the plates were new, but as the plates grew fuzzy with age. If OUP were to scan from older copies, I suspect they would be able to produce more readable texts.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Mar 27, 2014 6:57 pm

I don't know much about printing. Do the plates deteriorate with age?

Printing quality must have always varied, just like it does today. The best we can do now is certainly better than it was a hundred years ago. But you can't blame the originals for the low quality of current OCT reprints. I have a commented Odyssey from 1886, where the printing is very crisp, as good as in any modern book. The book is slightly yellow and it smells bad, but it's as readable as a book can be.

My advice is to avoid reprints and get the originals when possible. Often they are actually quite readily available.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Mar 27, 2014 6:59 pm

Scribo wrote:beaten by people themselves holding sacks full of OCTs. IUSTITIA.

I guess you mean sacks full of OCT reprints.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Mar 27, 2014 7:10 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:My advice is to avoid reprints and get the originals when possible. Often they are actually quite readily available.

More exactly, my advice is not necessarily to get the original, older reprints will do as well. But when did things start to go awry with classical texts? I think reprints at least until the 1970's are a safe bet (Which seems to be jeidsath's experience as well). What do you think?
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Victor » Fri Mar 28, 2014 1:10 am

If I may be allowed to say so, whilst some valid points about the history of book production have been raised in this thread, some wild generalisations have been made too; given the magnitude of the subject, I suppose that's excusable.

"Many old books are now brown due to the acid in the paper while most of my new books are on acid free paper."

It depends what you mean by old, Daivid. Up until the end of the hand-press era, a point which roughly coincided with the advent of machine-made paper (around the second quarter of the 19th century), the overwhelming majority of books were printed on handmade paper, which, unless it has been stored in a harsh environment or subject to rough usage, will generally have lasted extremely well. This is not to say that machine made paper cannot be made to a very durable standard, just that it often wasn't and isn't, and I'd wager that the "old" books you refer to that have browned almost all date from the mechanized era. Handmade paper can brown too, but it is rarely a result of acidity; usually it's a consequence of the particular kind of plant fibres that formed the pulp, or the nature of the size that was used to "harden" the finished sheets. Vitally, the bonds between the fibres of handmade paper will almost always still be sound, even if the paper has browned, whereas the bonds between the fibres of machine-made paper that has browned as a result of acidification will often have weakened considerably.


Books today are frequently printed on acid-free paper, yes, but such paper is unlikely to be as durable as good handmade paper for two reasons: firstly because even if pH-neutrality is achieved (and sometimes your wonderful acid-free paper is actually strongly alkaline) the neutrality is achieved by the addition of buffering agents in the pulp rather than an absence of injurious chemicals in the first place; and secondly because the paper will, except in very rare cases, still be machine-made, and machine-made paper by its nature (the nature of the paper fibres and their alignment in the sheet) is inherently weaker than handmade.

One other crucial factor that is often overlooked by the buyer who has noted with satisfaction that the book he has just bought is printed on acid-free paper is what method has been used to join the pages together. I have lost count of the number of books I have seen boasting that they are printed on acid-free or pH-neutral paper but which are merely a block of single sheets held together at the spine edge with adhesive - a glorified notepad, in effect, destined to early disintegration.

"Hence the reason why we are being offered these very poor quality scans is because the printing of 100 years ago was often appallingly bad."

I would disagree with that. It's certainly true that printing from 100 years ago was sometimes appallingly bad, but more often poor reproduction in a reprinted book today is a result of failings in the technology employed in the reproduction or failings in the way that technology was applied.

"My advice is to avoid reprints and get the originals when possible. Often they are actually quite readily available."
"Printing quality must have always varied, just like it does today."

I'd endorse both of those statements.

"The best we can do now is certainly better than it was a hundred years ago."

I'd have to disagree with that. The best we could do now could certainly equal what was being produced a hundred years ago, but firstly I don't see it being done anywhere on any significant scale, and secondly there is no technology that can improve upon the legibility and near-permanence of the best letterpress-printed books from a hundred years ago, whether they were printed on machine-made or handmade paper.

This debate is not over, I'm sure, and I've only scratched the surface myself, but at least I've had a say; "too much of one", some of you might be thinking.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby daivid » Fri Mar 28, 2014 2:58 pm

Victor wrote:If I may be allowed to say so, whilst some valid points about the history of book production have been raised in this thread, some wild generalisations have been made too; given the magnitude of the subject, I suppose that's excusable.

"Many old books are now brown due to the acid in the paper while most of my new books are on acid free paper."

It depends what you mean by old, Daivid. Up until the end of the hand-press era, a point which roughly coincided with the advent of machine-made paper (around the second quarter of the 19th century), the overwhelming majority of books were printed on handmade paper, which, unless it has been stored in a harsh environment or subject to rough usage, will generally have lasted extremely well.


I probably overstated my case but a corrective lurch in the other direction probably hasn't done much harm. True I do have some 19th century books that as white as the day printed. They do tend be quite badly cut though those rough edges kind of add to their charm.

The one reprint I do have is Smyth's 1956 edition. Overall the quality isn't bad but it is far from perfect. Looking at it closely, the faults seem to me clearly to be from the original rather than shoddy scanning. For example the numbers of section 888 bleed into each other which looks the result of too much ink. It's not the sort of thing that a human would have trouble with but I would be very surprised if any OCR program would read it correctly.

When I wrote I was working on the basis that as OCR software can produce error free digital text then the only possible reason for not doing so would be because the originals were not clear. However, while the optical character recognition of crisp Latin text is a solved problem that my well not yet be true of Greek polytonic. Apparently OCR has problems with Gothic script. The methods used to decode images of Latin script ought to be just as applicable to Gothic and Greek but as the demand is less there hasn't been the incentive to develop the software to handle them.

But I don't feel the need to defend Oxford Classical Texts. If there really are crisp originals around then if the scanning is done correctly they ought to be able to produce good images from which good copies
could be printed.

That would be a specific problem of the way Oxford works rather than of printing in general.

And I would repeat the point tha the advances in technology that allows small print runs is why we are having this debate at all.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby Victor » Fri Mar 28, 2014 5:37 pm

daivid wrote:The one reprint I do have is Smyth's 1956 edition. Overall the quality isn't bad but it is far from perfect. Looking at it closely, the faults seem to me clearly to be from the original rather than shoddy scanning. For example the numbers of section 888 bleed into each other which looks the result of too much ink.

Could I ask who the publisher of your reprint is, Daivid, and the year of publication? My Smyth was published by Harvard UP in 1984, and is also a reprint of the 1956 edition. The standard of legibility is not perfect (partly because the Greek print is so small), but there is no problem with the numbers of section 888. It has to be said that there are some scathing reviews on Amazon of certain reprints of Smyth.

daivid wrote: They do tend be quite badly cut though those rough edges kind of add to their charm.

A fashion for cutting only the top edge (the "head") of books came in in the late 19th century and it prevailed in certain quarters for many decades after that. It reflected a growing bibliographical purism, characterised partly by a desire to preserve as much of a book's margins as possible. This was itself a reaction to the long-standing practice among binders of closely trimming all three edges of a book, sometimes to the extent of cropping away part of the text. The reason for this binding practice was simply that binders could sell any trimmings to paper-makers, and the heavier the bundle of trimmings they could sell the more money they earned.
When you say "rough edges", though, you may be referring to edges that have actually been cut. Sometimes edges of books were cut very roughly, and it's usually because they were cut not in a "plough", as they should have been, but with a knife crudely bolted to the edge of the workbench. It was a much quicker, and sloppier, method.
I think we're very lucky today to have such a range of books at our fingertips, both new and secondhand, often at very modest prices. The price of books relative to other things has actually come down considerably in the last thirty years, and even more considerably in comparison with what they cost a hundred years ago.
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Re: Oxford Classical Texts

Postby daivid » Sat Mar 29, 2014 1:33 pm

Victor wrote:Could I ask who the publisher of your reprint is, Daivid, and the year of publication? My Smyth was published by Harvard UP in 1984, and is also a reprint of the 1956 edition. The standard of legibility is not perfect (partly because the Greek print is so small), but there is no problem with the numbers of section 888. It has to be said that there are some scathing reviews on Amazon of certain reprints of Smyth.

Martino Publishing 2013. The page with the publishers details is perfectly printed a clear despite some of it using a very small print. That will have been freshly typeset and shows that the fault is not with the printing. The Greek letters are where the greatest problem lies and stress markings and omegas suffer especially badly.

Clearly your reprint started with a different original.
 
Victor wrote:
daivid wrote: They do tend be quite badly cut though those rough edges kind of add to their charm.

A fashion for cutting only the top edge (the "head") of books came in in the late 19th century and it prevailed in certain quarters for many decades after that. It reflected a growing bibliographical purism, characterised partly by a desire to preserve as much of a book's margins as possible. This was itself a reaction to the long-standing practice among binders of closely trimming all three edges of a book, sometimes to the extent of cropping away part of the text. The reason for this binding practice was simply that binders could sell any trimmings to paper-makers, and the heavier the bundle of trimmings they could sell the more money they earned.
When you say "rough edges", though, you may be referring to edges that have actually been cut. Sometimes edges of books were cut very roughly, and it's usually because they were cut not in a "plough", as they should have been, but with a knife crudely bolted to the edge of the workbench. It was a much quicker, and sloppier, method..


The copy I checked (from 1905) is indeed trimmed at the top. The edges were clearly uncut rather than cut with a knife. The edges have started to go brown in patches presumably from the sun. I have certainly encountered books cut with a knife and I suspect one of my older books is cut that way.

Thanks for giving the explanation as to why.
 
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