An Introduction to Compositor

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What does Compositor contain?

Compositor is a database of eighteenth-century printers’ ornaments, broadly defined as the decorative features of the pages of printed books. It also contains some illustrations: the boundaries between the categories of ‘ornament’ and ‘illustration’ are somewhat blurred.

‘Printers’ ornaments’ is an umbrella term for the devices, flourishes, and images that decorate printed books. The term usually refers to the designs cut by hand in blocks of wood or metal, and also  cast blocks. Printers’ ornaments come in the form of headpieces, tailpieces, initial letters, factotums, and dividers. The database also includes printers’ flowers, or fleurons, which are two terms for ornamental cast type. Fleurons could be assembled into designs consisting of many pieces, or used individually and in pairs for smaller flourishes.

Compositor was created using an image detection program, designed to recognise and extract printers’ ornaments. Because they look similar to printers’ ornaments, the program also extracted smaller illustrations (both woodcuts and engravings), and diagrams and other scientific illustrations. These will remain in the database. Larger illustrations were not captured by the program. The program incorrectly classified some items as ornaments: for example, library stamps, handwritten notes, and blurred or overexposed areas of text. Many of these have already been eliminated, but the process of cleaning up the database is ongoing.

The database currently contains around 1.5 million entries. This will reduce slightly as more  incorrectly identified items are gradually removed. Future phases of the project may see the addition of new data to Compositor as well.

You can read about the creation of Compositor in Digital Humanities Quarterly here:

[This page was edited to amend ‘Fleuron‘ to ‘Compositor‘ after the original site changed its name]


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