A fivefold dos-à-dos binding from 1736
A fivefold dos- à-dos binding from 1736

The book collecting term ‘dos-à-dos’ refers to a style of binding where two separate books have been bound together so they share the lower board, which serves as the back cover to both books. Dos-à-dos originates from the French for back-to-back.

Rather oddly, when a dos-à-dos book is placed on a shelf the spine of one book faces outwards and the spine of the other faces inwards towards the shelf back.  This style of binding was most common in the 16th and 17th century.  These early examples are, as you might expect, often very expensive, but contemporary examples are very affordable.  

The definition of a dos-à-dos book has been greatly loosened over the years and it now includes two books that have been bound together in such a way that the edition has two front covers. The reader finishes the first book (which ends in the middle of the volume), closes the book and flips it 180 degrees and begins reading the second book (which will also end in the middle of the volume). Technically calling these books dos-à-dos is incorrect. They actually have a tête-bêche binding (again from French meaning head-to-toe) but dos-à-dos has become a blanket phrase for when two books have been bound together.

The Ace Doubles series produced by Ace Books in the 1950s is a prime example of head-to-toe bindings.  Ace was a science fiction publisher who would place two novels into a single volume. Each work had its own cover but production costs were kept to a minimum. Many authors would use this binding style to creatively tell a story from two different points of view.  Ace Doubles are very affordable.

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A Selection of Dos-à-dos Books

Oh! Well! You Know How Women Are! / Isn't That Just Like A Man! by Mary Rinehart & Irving Cobb
Oh! Well! You Know How Women Are! / Isn't That Just Like A Man!
by Mary Rinehart & Irving Cobb

The perfect book to solve, or cause, any sort of marital dispute.
 The Shadow On The Doorstep / Trilobyte by James Blaylock and Edward Bryant
The Shadow On The Doorstep / Trilobyte
by James Blaylock and Edward Bryant

Another signed limited edition dos-a-dos binding from Axolotl Press in Seattle.
The Frogs and The Birds by Aristophanes
The Frogs and The Birds
by Aristophanes

Two classic plays from the Greek playwright, who wrote them around 400 BC.
The Goody / Naughty Book by Sarah Rippey
The Goody / Naughty Book
by Sarah Rippey

Read to children about the virtues of being good then flip it and reveal what happens to naughty kids.
Only Revolutions by Mark Danielewski
Only Revolutions
by Mark Danielewski

Nominated for a National Book Award in 2006, this experimental novel tells two stories simultaneously.
The Bad Beginning / The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket
The Bad Beginning / The Reptile Room
by Lemony Snicket

The first two books from A Series of Unfortunate Events were bound dos-a-dos in this advance edition.
Drygulch Town / Prarie Raiders by Harry Whittington
Drygulch Town / Prarie Raiders
by Harry Whittington

Whittington was prolific and published over 200 novels under more than a dozen pseudonyms.
Big Planet / Slaves of the Klau by Jack Vance
Big Planet / Slaves of the Klau
by Jack Vance

Another double feature from this classic sci-fi legend, these two are from Vance’s early career.
Conan the Conqueror / The Sword of Rhiannon by Robert Howard & Leigh Brackett
Conan the Conqueror / The Sword of Rhiannon
by Robert Howard & Leigh Brackett

This Ace Double reprints the first Conan book with Brackett’s Sword of Rhiannon.
Wild Wives / High Priest of California by Charles Willeford
Wild Wives / High Priest of California
by Charles Willeford

This hard-boiled crime double feature was published twice in this format - 1956 and 1987.
Say it With Oil / Say It With Bricks by Ring Lardner & Nina Putnam
Say it With Oil / Say It With Bricks
by Ring Lardner & Nina Putnam

Another look at relationships from both sides of the coin, or book as it were.
Time Thieves / Against Arcturus by Dean Koontz and Susan K. Putney
Time Thieves / Against Arcturus
by Dean Koontz and Susan K. Putney

Koontz made his mark in horror writing but his early career was focused on science fiction.
Cache from Outer Space / The Celestial Blueprint by Philip Jose Farmer
Cache from Outer Space / The Celestial Blueprint
by Philip Jose Farmer

This combines some of two Farmer’s earliest works.
Lady in Peril / Wired for Scandal by Lester Dent & Floyd Wallace
Lady in Peril / Wired for Scandal
by Lester Dent & Floyd Wallace

Lady in Peril was the last novel published by Dent, who is best remembered for Doc Savage.
Empire Star / The Tree Lord of Imeten by Samuel Delany & Tom Purdom
Empire Star / The Tree Lord of Imeten
by Samuel Delany & Tom Purdom

In the same year Delany won a Nebula for Babel-17, he wrote the novella Empire Star.
Way Down the Hill / The Pink Fading Neon by Tim Powers and James Blaylock
Way Down the Hill / The Pink Fading Neon
by Tim Powers and James Blaylock

A signed limited edition, this edition has short stories from two great speculative fiction writers.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by William S. Burroughs
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
by William S. Burroughs

The German and English versions of this Burroughs’ story are bound together in this edition.
Flip / I'm Tired of Lions by Wesley Dennis and Zhenya Gay
Flip / I'm Tired of Lions
by Wesley Dennis and Zhenya Gay

Little colt Flip dreams of jumping the creek while lion cub Leo wants to be another animal.
The Loving Couple: Her Story and His Story by Virginia Rowans
The Loving Couple: Her Story and His Story
by Virginia Rowans

A crisis in a middle class marriage examined from the point of view of both parties.
Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick
Dr. Futurity
by Philip K. Dick

This story was published twice in this format with Slavers from Space and The Unteleported man.
Junkie / Narcotic Agent by William Burroughs & Maurice Hellbrant
Junkie / Narcotic Agent
by William Burroughs & Maurice Hellbrant

Burroughs’ first book bound dos-a-dos with Hellbrant’s Narcotic Agent. A tongue-in-cheek pairing.

 

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