Foolscap folio

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A comparison of the A4 and Foolscap folio papersize

Foolscap folio (commonly contracted to foolscap or cap or folio and in short FC) is paper cut to the size of 8+12 × 13+12 in (216 × 343 mm) for printing or to 8 × 13 in (203 × 330 mm) for "normal" writing paper (foolscap).[1] This was a traditional paper size used in some parts of Europe, and the British Commonwealth, before the adoption of the international standard A4 paper; France for instance traditionally used writing/typing paper known as 21-27 (210 x 270 mm) until 1967.

A full (plano) foolscap[2] paper sheet is actually 13+12 × 17 in (343 × 432 mm) in size, and a folio sheet of any type is half the base sheet size.

Foolscap folio
Name inch × inch mm × mm AR Characteristic
Foolscap folio 8½ × 13½ 216 × 343 ª 1:1.5879 Imperial (half foolscap), printing
Foolscap folio 8 × 13 203 × 330 1:1.6256 Traditional British, writing

ª Approximate measure in current use in Latin America: 216 x 341 mm.

Ring binders or lever arch files designed to hold foolscap folios are often used to hold A4 paper (210 × 297 mm, 8+14 × 11+34 in). The slightly larger size of such a binder offers greater protection to the edges of the pages it contains.



Foolscap was named after the fool's cap and bells watermark commonly used from the 15th century onwards on paper of these dimensions.[3][4] The earliest example of such paper was made in Germany in 1479. Unsubstantiated anecdotes suggest that this watermark was introduced to England in 1580 by John Spilman, a German who established a papermill at Dartford, Kent.[5]

The general pattern of the mark was used by Dutch and English papermakers in the late 17th and 18th centuries, and as early as 1674 the term 'foolscap' was being used to designate a specific size of paper regardless of its watermark.[6]

Apocryphally, the Rump Parliament of 1648–1653 substituted a fool's cap for the royal arms as a watermark on the paper used for the journals of Parliament.[7] According to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, there is no basis in fact for this statement.[8][page needed][a]


Today in the United States, a half-foolscap sized paper for printing is standardized to 8½ × 14 inches, widely available and sold as "legal sized paper" for printing, writing, note-taking etc. A full foolscap size paper of 14 × 17 inches is also widely available for arts and crafts etc. alongside the 11 × 17 tabloid size.

In the United States in the 19th century, paper was sold either flat or folded in half. Folded foolscap was often 12 1/2 x 16, but smaller and larger sizes were also found.[10] Legal foolscap (8 x 24 inches) was always sold ruled and folded in half at the printers by a folding machine, resulting in a leaflet 8x12 (almost the modern A4 8.27 x 11.69 inches, 21.0 x 29.7 cm)[10]

There were numerous other sizes with variations on the 'Cap' name:

  • Flat Cap (14 x 17) (ie unfolded)
  • Small Flat Cap (or Law Blank Cap, Corporation Cap or Legal Cap) (13 x 16 inches)
  • Exchange Cap - thin, highly calendered, hard and strong paper used for bills of exchange, certificates and other blanks where light weight and ability to receive hard usages was required.
  • Drawing Cap, cold-pressed, for making drawing books and printing imitation antique work
  • Double Cap Writing (17 x 28) for both writing and ledger papers.
  • Double Foolscap (26 1/2 x 16 3/4)[10]

Oficio (Mexican)[edit]

In Mexico, the foolscap folio paper size 8+12 by 13+12 inches (216 mm × 343 mm) / (21.6 cm x 34 cm) [11] is named (locally) oficio or 'office'.


F4 is a paper size 210 mm × 330 mm (8.27 in × 13.0 in).[12] Although metric, based on the A4 paper size, and named to suggest that it is part of the official ISO 216 paper sizes, it is only a de facto standard.

It is often referred to as "foolscap" or "folio" because of its similarity to the traditional foolscap folio size of 8+12 in × 13+12 in (216 mm × 343 mm).


  1. ^ Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649, which would have been the cause of this supposed change. There were only around 40 mills making hand-made paper in England between 1601 and 1650, with 23 of them within 30 miles of London.[9] It appears that the manufacture of white paper in England had come to a halt in around 1641, perhaps because of the lack of a linen industry for raw materials, and more likely because of the impact of the troubled times leading to the Civil War. The French had become the most prominent supplier of white paper from around 1600–1675, when the Dutch took over.[9] If there is any truth in the matter, it is possible that imported paper bearing such a mark might be the cause.
  1. ^ PaperSizes, ‘foolscap’ is an alias for foolscap folio.
  2. ^ PaperSize, ‘Foolscap’ Paper Size Dimensions, Imperial.
  3. ^ Müller, Lothar (2014). White Magic: The Age of Paper. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 173.
  4. ^ Anon. "Foolscap". The Free Dictionary. Farlex Inc. Retrieved 17 September 2009.
  5. ^ Anon. "Entry in the Dartford Holy Trinity parish register for Sir John Spielman (Spillman), 8 November 1626". Medway: City Ark Document Gallery. Medway Council. Retrieved 17 September 2009.
  6. ^ Ashbee, Andrew; Thompson, Robert; Wainwright, Jonathan, "Appendix I: 08-Watermarks and Paper Types" (PDF), Index of Manuscripts containing Consort Music, Volume 1, The Viola da Gamba Society, p. 279 [29], retrieved 13 July 2021 - Shows several types of foolscap watermark
  7. ^ Johnston, William G. (1901). Life and Reminiscences from Birth to Manhood of Wm. G. Johnston. Pittsburgh: Knickerbocker Press. p. 195.
  8. ^ Cresswell, Julia (2021). Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192639370.
  9. ^ a b Hills, Richard Leslie (2015). Papermaking in Britain 1488-1988: A Short History. History: Bloomsbury Academic Collections (reprint ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 52. ISBN 9781474241281.
  10. ^ a b c Monachesi, Herbert D.; Yohn, Albert B., eds. (1876). The stationers' hand-book; a practical business guide chiefly intended for the use of retail stationers and book-sellers. New York: Office of the Publishers' Weekly. pp. 4–8.
  11. ^ Photo of foolscap folio paper (* Mexican).
  12. ^ Prographic paper sizes Archived July 4, 2004, at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]