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The Supplemental Volume for Dante’s the Divine Comedy

June 18, 2024

The design and publication of fine editions involve complex decisions about format and presentation. In the context of producing a supplemental volume to accompany a main hardcover text, the decision to utilize a softcover format for the companion book is both intentional and strategic. This article explores the rationale behind this choice, drawing on examples from notable publications and the reasoning applied to our edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Precedent in Fine Press

A review of several exemplary publications provides insight into this practice. Among them is Hermann Zapf’s Manuale Typographicum from 1954, often hailed as one of the most beautiful books ever made. This masterpiece includes a smaller pamphlet with commentary and translations, designed to complement the main hardcover volume. Two other examples of companion volumes in softcover that match the size of the primary hardcover texts are Speculum Humanae Salvationis, R. Piper & Co. (Munich, Germany) 1925, and The Enschedé typespecimens of 1768 and 1773, Enschedé Museum (Haarlem, The Neherlands), 1993. These examples illustrate a common approach in fine editions, where the supplemental material is presented in a softcover format.

Intentional Design for Practicality and Supportiveness

The choice to produce a companion volume as a softcover book was deliberate, and influenced by several practical and conceptual factors.

Firstly, the practicality of handling the book was a significant consideration. A commentary book in softcover is easier to manage when the main volume is already substantial and heavy. Handling a 1100+ page hardcover text along with the main volume requires a design that enhances usability. By using a lighter weight text paper, and producing this volume as a softcover, we are able to facilitate an improved reading experience.

Secondly, the conceptual aim was to ensure that the supplemental volume remains ancillary to the main text. This decision underscores the importance of maintaining the primary focus on the main work, in this case, Dante’s Divine Comedy, while the supplemental volume serves as a supportive and complementary resource. This approach contrasts with creating two equally prominent hardcover volumes, which could inadvertently convey a sense of equal gravitas between the main text and its commentary. Further, this is not a two-volume work; it is a single main volume, with a supplemental volume of commentary.

Fine Editions and Market Acceptance

The approach of pairing hardcover texts with softcover companion volumes is prevalent among fine press editions, as evidenced by the examples provided. Such is the case with hundreds of other finely made editions. These publications are not ordinary books; they are carefully crafted with attention to detail and aesthetic value. The success of such editions in the market often reflects the efficacy of this design choice, and affirms that readers appreciate the practicality and thoughtful design of the companion softcover volume.

Binding and Durability

An important aspect of the design for the Dante supplemental volume was the choice of a sewn binding instead of a glued one. Sewn bindings involve stitching the signatures together, which enhances the durability and longevity of the book. This method allows the book to open more fully and lie flat without cracking the spine, which is especially beneficial for a volume that is intended to be frequently referenced alongside a main text. The sewn binding thus ensures that the supplemental volume can withstand repeated use over time, maintaining its structural integrity and providing a superior reading experience compared to glued bindings.

Cost Considerations

Another important consideration is cost of production. Creating any volume as a hardcover substantially increases costs due primarily to materials and labor. Therefore by opting for a softcover for the supplemental volume, we managed to keep the production costs lower, while still maintaining high-quality standards.

Enhancing Value with Jacketed Softcovers

An additional aspect of the design for the Dante supplemental volume was the decision to add a printed jacket over a heavy paperback cover. This choice, although not as costly as a hardcover volume, is an upgrade which made sense despite it being more labor-intensive than printing directly on the paperback cover. It adds a touch of refinement and aligns with the higher standards of fine editions. Jacketed softcover books, while less common, are considered superior to glued covers, offering a more durable and aesthetically pleasing presentation.

In Summary

The decision to produce the supplemental volume of Dante’s Divine Comedy as a softcover book was driven by practical considerations of usability, the conceptual aim of maintaining the primacy of the main text, and the desire to enhance the perceived value of the supplemental volume. This approach aligns with a well-established tradition in the publishing of fine editions, where the main work is complemented by a thoughtfully designed companion volume. The positive reception and market success of such editions attest to the inherent wisdom of this design choice, affirming its appropriateness and appeal to discerning readers.

Photos courtesy of Jerry Kelly
  1. Suntup Editions logomark

    Francis LaMorte, MD

    Dear Paul,

    Your explanation is very much appreciated and very helpful. Although I purchased the NE, I was skeptical and dissatisfied about the decision to produce the Supplemental Volume in a paperback binding. Your explanation has completely resolved that sentiment and I now appreciate your decision. I admire your sensibiltiy to customer concerns, and the fact that you went to such length to address this perspective even though the volumes had sold out. It clearly represents your passion to what you do, and your dedication to customer satisfaction. I will post my sentiments here, with pleasure, on Suntup-related FB sites. Bravo!

    Best and thanks,


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    Stuart Ng

    Well thought out choice. Interested in the thoughts to use only a limited number of plates from Blake instead of adding more of his sketches and partially finished works on the Divine Comedy.

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      Suntup Editions

      Thanks Stuart. There is no short answer to your question on plates. As with the commentary volume, the decision to include a limited number of illustrations was intentional for certain reasons. Will consider posting an article on it.

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    Patrick B.

    I have other book sets where the main show is hardcover and the supporting material is softcover, so the design choice never crossed my mind as a concern. This discussion is interesting and educational regardless, so thank you for putting it together.

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  4. Suntup Editions logomark


    Thank you, Paul, for this explanation of part of the design process.
    To me this shows how well-considered each element of your designs, and each decision and compromise you make is.
    Your editions have been the starting point for me to learn more about the fascinating art of bookbinding and its history.

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