I am currently writing a paper as a college assignment on the black page/leaf that appears in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Please explain the process of creating black pages.

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    Googling How did they make the black page in 'Tristram Shandy'? gives several results, including useful articles from Cambridge and Rutgers. Can you include some prior research and include some details, please?
    – CDR
    Feb 23 at 23:08

1 Answer 1


Producing a black page in letterpress would be a simple matter in the original edition of Tristram Shandy. Illustrations were typically made using wood engraving, where a block of end-grain would, smoothed to an even level, was then engraved to remove those parts of the image which should be printed in white. Photo of a wood-engraving print fresh off the press showing both the wood block below and rthe printed image above

To produce a solid black page, simply don’t do any engraving on the wood block.

More interesting, production-wise, is the marbled page which, in the original edition, was printed in color and, because of the way that marbling is done, was unique to every copy of the book. Marbling was a nearly unknown concept in England in 1759 when Tristram Shandy was first published (see this article from The Atlantic).

  • I believe TS was printed in octavo, meaning 8 pages were printed at once on a large sheet of paper (and 8 more pages at once on the back side of the sheet), so the picture above should really be more complicated. Just one of those pages would have the black page, but the other 7 would have ordinary type on them. Feb 28 at 19:47
  • Wood engraving blocks are typically type-high so there’s no technical reason why the black page couldn’t have been printed at the same time as the other pages in the imposition. Feb 28 at 21:56

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