MISCELLANEOUS NOTES ON
MISCELLANEOUS NOTABLE PRINTERS
latest update: 11/11/16 (Bodoni); original posting: 7/21/16
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES ON
MISCELLANEOUS NOTABLE PRINTERS
(in alphabetical order by surname)
John Baskerville: Typefounder and Printer (1706–1775). Josiah H. Benton. Facsimile ed., Cambridge University Press. Original publication: Boston, privately printed (by D.B. Updike’s famous Merrymount Press), 1914.
Available from Cambridge as a very good-quality print-on-demand edition; reasonably priced.
Baskerville began as a teacher of handwriting and a letter cutter on stone. He then made a fortune by producing enameled goods—at the time, a new and lucrative business—to higher standards of quality and design than anyone else. He lost a chunk of that fortune (but by no means all of it) trying to do the same for type and printing.
He thus became the father of the publishing specialty of finely-printed books produced to standards that distinguished them from even the best trade books. Without introducing any fundamental innovations, he brought every phase of book production to new levels of technical perfection: typeface design and production (he made his own type molds), ink, paper, and printing (he built his own presses).
Even more importantly, he brought the typographic design of books to a wholly new level, replacing the cluttered and careless assembly that had previously been the norm with the conscious and careful design, restrained by functional realities, that is the norm for good book typography today.
Baskerville was also a perfectionist about proofreading, though, as with many famous publishers, editorial and proofreading quality varied, and was not always above criticism. Especially where exceptional expenses are incurred for paper, printing, and binding, publishers are often tempted—or forced—to stint on editing or proofreading, which are also expensive if competently done. Thus, a conspicuously “fine” edition often means a bad text. Baskerville at least knew when he was forced to cut corners. Many of his successors don’t seem to have known about editing or proofreading at all.
The “Baskerville slate”, ca. 1730, the only surviving sample of Baskerville’s lettering. He didn’t use the final ‘e’ until later.
(From a replica in my “collection.” Image © 2016 K. Dezhnev, Photoshopped for better contrast; the replica is black on black.)
Bodoni, Giambattista. Manuale tipografico. Parma: presso la vedova [i.e., posthumously published by Bodoni’s widow], 1818.
This second edition of Bodoni’s specimen book contains Bodoni’s typographic manifesto, and showings of his extensive range of fonts. One of the most famous books in the history of typography, it is referred to by almost everyone with pretensions to expertise who has mentioned Bodoni. Significantly, it is almost never quoted. It is quite clear that the vast majority of the people who tout him have never read a word he wrote, or even looked much at his specimens.
Note that the Manuale tipografico is not what anyone today would call a manual of typography. In the 1700s, “Manuale tipografico”, and its equivalents in other languages, was little more than a conventional title for a printer’s specimen book, and was so used by printers before Bodoni. (The Manuel typographique, 1764, by Bodoni’s famous predecessor Pierre-Simon Fournier, did include an important technical and historical treatment of typefounding and type design.)
In the Manuale, Bodoni does discuss, at some length and in some technical detail, his philosophy of the art of the book. He addresses some of the criticisms of his work. He displays much acuteness and command of detail, of the sort that does him much credit at the level of more purely manual craft. However, a good deal of the detail on typographic aesthetics (as distinct from the page design principles he took from Baskerville) has little foundation in fact (and thus has not been taken up by later typographers). And Bodoni lacks the intellectual integrity and force that would have prevented him from skating over the inconsistencies and inadequacies of many of his positions.
Bodoni was aware of, but does not discuss, the grave and widely criticized shortcomings of his performance on the editorial side. In his discussion of what makes a fine book, he he makes only one minimal passing mention of the editorial aspect of book production. He acknowledges the prosaic virtues of such famous predecessors as the Elzevirs, beloved for their editorial contributions to the general intellectual culture, and portrays himself as merely serving a different market (the luxury market) that makes different, but still legitimate demands. He seems to be, and perhaps was in fact, quite unaware that his editorial performance fell so far short of that exemplified by the Elzevirs (or by his contemporary Didot, much inferior as a printer) that no beauty of execution could make his productions look like anything but grande luxe interior decoration. (This is true even when one allows for the fact that the editorial performance of, e.g., the Elzevirs was not uniformly beyond criticism. The exigencies and uncertainties of the real-world book trade, and the volume of their production, far greater than Bodoni’s, is sufficent to defend them from the charge of general culpable neglect. Bodoni has no such excuse for his far poorer performance—he could only cite the financial tradeoffs, but this factor, if he was aware of it, he could not dare to acknowledge without undermining the claims to general excellence that were the basis of his appeal to the luxury market.)
Others, including Füssel, editor of the 2010 Taschen facsimile of the Manuale, have tried to minimize the seriousness of Bodoni’s editorial shortcomings. But texts, like type and printing, have their own communities of trained, specialized, and professonalized cognoscenti. Among those who know texts, the names of Manutius and Elzevir, and even, to a lesser extent, Didot, are still revered, while that of Bodoni, on the rare occasions when it is heard at all, has never been connected with anything except pretense and inadequacy.
Among other miscellaneous points, Bodoni’s claim that fine books of the sort he produced were more likely to be preserved, and thus to preserve the knowledge they contain, does not stand examination. He cites, as precedents for this claim, some of the most ancient surviving manuscripts of classical literature (Vergil, for example). These, too, were luxury productions, in large format and large script, and this doubtless was a factor in their preservation. But this is to ignore the rather large fact, which should have been especially obvious to a born and bred printer like Bodoni, that the invention of printing made preservation a much less critical issue than it was in the ages when preservation depended on a few handwritten manuscripts. Those prosaic Elzevirs have not only survived quite well and in relatively large numbers, but have been cherished to the point of mania by collectors inspired more by their intellectual reputation than by their aesthetic merits. Furthermore, those ancient luxury manuscripts were also produced, like many luxury printed books, at the price of a significant tradeoff in editorial quality. Scholars have found that later and humbler manuscripts can preserve a better text in many places, while the age and beauty of the carefully preserved luxury manuscripts can lend spurious authority to numerous erroneous readings that originated with the misreadings of scribes and misconceived corrections of earlier editors. (On the de luxe manuscripts of late antiquity, and their shortcomings, see Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (noted on the Reading page of the present site), chapters 12 and 13, especially pp. 466–68, and also pp. 434, 449, 451, 454, 456, 496. On the frequent superiority of later and humbler manuscripts, see, for example, R.A.B. Mynors’ comment on p. xi of the preface to his Oxford Classical Texts edition of Vergil. In fairness to Bodoni, it should be noted that even the best classical scholars of his day were less aware of the shortcomings of the ancient de luxe manuscripts than were the scholars of later periods.)
In sum, Bodoni’s typographic manifesto is a brilliant and circumstantial sales talk, of genuine interest in some of its details. It is also, in a vague way, heartfelt, which adds to its appeal for some. But it is not much more than this, and is certainly not a coherent and profound treatment of his subject. Bodoni’s sales talk was directed toward the luxury market of his own day, and in later periods it was credited mainly by later luxury markets, their purveyors, and those who ape either the buyers or the sellers.
Bodoni was the first of the numerous tribe of typographers who were (and are) purely creatures of fashion. He was, to be sure, a consummate printer, bred to the trade from childhood in the family business. He had many merits that a printer must admire, but, as some writers have acknowledged over the past two hundred years, type design (as distinct from punch cutting) was not one of them. When knowledgeable writers discuss his achievements in type design, their accounts are hedged about with many reservations.
The sheer number of the typefaces that Bodoni created should make one wary of tradeoffs in quality of design, though it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons of numbers. Bodoni is credited with 142 alphabets in the Manuale. There are 444 pages of alphabet showings in the Manuale, each with a different variation or size, though many of these were—intentionally, avowedly, and with good reason—only minor variations on the same theme. (Bodoni strove to have a continuous spectrum of finely gradated variations and sizes, so he would have just the right face for any application.) There are also 91 pages of ornaments and miscellaneous fonts. Bodoni’s wife states, in response to criticisms that others did much of the work, that he was much involved with the actual work of punch-cutting and type production, which suggests involvement with many of the variations. Bodoni was also admirably prolific in providing his fonts with extensive character sets.
In comparison, Goudy, who designed about ninety complete faces, has been rightly criticized for valuing quantity over quality. He would probably not have been as involved as was Bodoni in the cutting of sizes and variations on the same face.
A few others, as prolific as Goudy or more so, have not been vulnerable to the same criticism. (See the tables on p. 154 of McGrew’s American Metal Typefaces, but note that M.F. Benton had much of the work on his faces done by others.) One should also beware of carrying skepticism too far in Bodoni’s specific case, because few other makers of type have been born and bred to the craft the way Bodoni was. When one’s whole mind and character have been shaped almost from birth by the demands of a craft, one can sometimes do things that even other professionals, not so shaped, will find difficult to credit.
Still, I believe it is signficant that the most notable characteristics of Bodoni’s letterforms—extreme simplification, use of a few geometric elements to make most letters, and minimal or no bracketing of serifs—are just the characteristics that facilitate quantity production. (The geometric simplification also, more usefully, facilitated reproportioning for variations in size and weight, since the only decisions that had to be made were about the thickness of strokes; the handling of curves followed ditrectly from the thicknesses they connected.) Bodoni’s motivations for quantity, mentioned above, may be wholly laudable (especially as contrasted with Goudy’s). But that does not mean that the tradeoffs do not exist, or that they are irrelevant to the estimation of the overall importance of his designs as exemplars for the whole of typography. It merely means that he responded in a particular way to a particular set of necessities—and a rather peculiar set of necessities at that, the necessities of the fashion-driven luxury market of the Neo-classical period. It does not mean that he is a useful guide to all, or most, or even many typographers in their responses to the very diverse necessities with which typographers are faced.
The most highly regarded type designers of the 20th and 21st centuries often designed faces in a variety of very different styles, to meet very different needs. Bodoni had only one style, and met only one set of needs. It does not seem likely to me that he has much of importance to teach typographers who can learn from more versatile masters who can do everything Bodoni did and much more—especially when everything Bodoni did had been done previously by Baskerville, Fournier, and Didot.
Bodoni’s fame, and a grossly exaggerated notion of his importance in the history of type design, have been the excuse for a great deal of nonsense uttered by fashion typographers of later times right down to the present. Looking to Bodoni for guidance on real-world typography is like looking for guidance on workwear and outdoor clothing to the most exclusive and expensive fashion clothing designers in the world, the kind who seek out as clients only the rich and noble, or, if business is slow, the rich and famous. This was Bodoni’s market too, as he proudly proclaimed in the Manuale tipografico.
A general ignorance of the many and serious limitations of his designs has led to their frequent use in applications to which they are totally unsuited, caused the wastage of a great deal of time and money. This, in turn, caused the fashion typographers responsible to do a lot of sweating, lying, and buck-passing.
Considerable debunking is in order, which will offend many people. Since I don’t have to care about offending those people, and since I’ve had considerable experience of the misuse of Bodoni’s typographic legacy, and of the incompetence and viciousness of the fashion typographers responsible, I’m inclined, at times, to undertake the debunking. As a beginning, in addition to the above comments (still in draft stage), I have posted a draft of an essay entitled “Bodoni to Morris: from one extreme to the other in the fashion typography of the 1800s”, in the General Typography section.
Here is a short book about Bodoni, in a not uncritical spirit, by a reputable authority who respects him:
Cleland, T.M. Giambattista Bodoni of Parma. Boston: The Society of Printers, 1916 (limited edition of 250). Free PDF available from Archive.org:
direct link to PDF
main page for the book, with all available formats.
The first full-dress biography of Bodoni in English appeared in 2015:
Lester, Valerie. Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World. Boston: David R. Godine, 2015.
Since it’s from Godine it should at least be an example of genuinely good book production. I haven’t seen it yet, and am in no hurry. I’ll have to read it someday, but I’ve spent enough time on Bodoni for now.
Editions of the Manuale tipografico
One good reason for buying, or at least consulting, a printed edition of the Manuale tipografico is to compare currently available Bodonis to Bodoni’s best-known faces as shown in his own book. This is interesting in itself, and will also refute an assertion commonly made in defense of Bodoni’s designs: that the 20th-century revivals don’t do justice to the original designs, so that their faults can’t be ascribed to Bodoni.
The originals of either edition of the Manuale tipografico are, of course, rare, sought after, and correspondingly expensive. (Only 250 copies of the second edition were printed.) There is a limited edition facsimile from the 1960s that is also expensive; I don’t know whether it is superior to the Taschen facsimiles noted below, which are much more affordable.
I know of no free PDFs or electronic texts; there is at least one commercially published digital edition that looks like it might be well-produced and therefore worth its price (perhaps $30–$50) to save three inches of shelf space that Bodoni may not merit.
Taschen produced two editions of the facsimile. Both are in one volume, but contain the complete contents of the two-volume original.
Bodoni, Giambattista. The Complete Manual of Typography. Cologne, Germany: Taschen, [no date listed]. ISBN 978-3-8365-2036-2. Publisher’s page.
In print for $20. I haven’t seen this edition. Includes the historical essay (in English) by editor Stephan Füssel (see below). The publisher’s information does not mention whether any English translations of the Italian textual material (Bodoni’s introduction, and his widow’s preface and dedication) are included in the edition. The page size is much smaller than the larger edition below, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the text was reduced: from the sample pages shown, it looks like it just lacks the immense margins of the larger edition, which presumably reflect the layout of the original. If there was any reduction, it’s minor. It’s unclear whether there are also editions in other languages, possibly under the same ISBN, so be careful.
Bodoni, Giambattista. Manual of Typography. Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2010. ISBN 978-3-8365-0553-6.
In a pocket on the back cover is a 64-page booklet containing a historical introduction by editor Stephan Füssel, illustrated with pages from Bodoni’s books, and an English translation of all the textual matter from the Manuale: Bodoni’s introduction, and his widow’s preface and dedication. The translation is that of H(arold) V(incent) Marrot, first published in 1925. There is also a glossary and a bibliography. All this material is in English in my copy of the booklet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if copies ordered from abroad might have the booklet in other languages.
Originally priced at $70, this edition is out of print, but can be found used at a range of prices, starting at about $30. This is pretty good, given its production quality, useful additional material, and the nature and size of the book. You may prefer the cheaper and much more compact edition (above) that is still in print, but may or may not contain the English translations.
THE HOUSE OF ELZEVIR
Willems, Alphonse. Les Elzevier: Histoire et Annales Typographiques. (Original publication: Brussels (no pub.), 1880.) “Limited edition facsimile of the original edition”: Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Fine Books, n.d.
The Martino edition includes facsimiles of two related works: Berghman, G., Supplément a l’ouvrage sur les Elzevier, Stockholm: Imprimerie Iduns Tryckeri Aktiebolag, 1897 (limited edition of 550); and Berghman, G., Études sur la bibliographie elzevirienne, Stockholm: Imprimerie d’Ivar Hæggström, 1885 (limited edition of 100).
An exhaustive study of the history and work of the great house of Elzevir, with bibliographic information on all books printed by them known to the authors. Its primary audience is book collectors, and historians of the book and of printing. The Elzevirs deserved their fame, for reasons that are of great interest to enthusiasts of printing, and also to enthusiasts of the content of books.
The Elzevirs were not fashion typographers. They were not interested in producing “the book beautiful.” They were interested in producing “the book important,” which meant, among other things, that it had to be well printed from good type. The printing and types of the Elzevirs were recognized in their time as setting a new standard, though not an ostentatious one. Their books also had to be well edited (for the most part, and by the standards of their time), and the Elzevirs were affiliated with two of the most famous scholars of the day, Daniel Heinsius and his son Nicolas. (Daniel was ever-present and sometimes oppressive; Nicolas’ opinions in the field of textual scholarship carry considerable weight even today.) The Elzevirs were therefore famous among the intellectual leaders of their own time, many of whom wanted their books published by the Elzevirs.
There were a lot of Elzevirs printing books (and a lot of fake Elzevirs, even in their own time), and the Elzevirs were active for most of the 1600s. The Elzevirs and their output therefore take a lot of keeping track of. Willems, and others, have done a thorough job of keeping track, because the fame and cultural importance of the Elzevirs was so great that it persists today. “Elzevir mania” has been noted as a phenomenon in the world of booklovers and book collectors for several centuries, and there has been a lot of money in it. For those who have that kind of money, it is money well spent. The rest if us can read Willems (or Davies, below) for the history, and perhaps content ourselves with owning one of the affordable Elzevirs.
I have prepared a comprehensive table of contents, in PDF, for the facsimile, and you are invited to download it if you are interested. The Martino facsimile volume is an exceptionally difficult book to find your way around in, since it combines three different books, each of which is itself of more-or-less complicated structure and pagination. The individual tables of contents for the separate books are buried deeply in the text block, and my own is a bit clearer and easier to use than the originals.
I’ve also made up a full family tree to help keep track of all those Elzevirs, as well as many of the other important people in the history, and a chronological chart of the succession and relations of the different Elzevir establishments in several cities. They’re both in Latin, since I need the practice and most of the books the Elzevirs printed were in that language. But the names and dates, at least, will be clear enough. (Some of the material in the chronological chart is quotes in French from Willems.)
Davies, David W. The World of the Elzevirs, 1580–1712. The Hague, 1954.
Davies cites Willems as the definitive book on the Elzevirs. Davies’ book is a very useful and interesting account in its own right. It contains much historical, cultural, and social background that isn’t in Willems, and which makes the book a work of history of interest to a wider audience than Willem’s. Davies’ book also requires of the reader less specialized knowledge (and less bibliomania) than does Willems’. There’s a copy in the U. of Minnesota library.
Lowry, Martin. Nicolas Jenson and the Rise of the Venetian Publishing in Renaissance Europe. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
I haven’t read this, but judging from Lowry’s book on Aldus Manutius it’s got to be good.
———. Venetian Printing: Nicolaus Jenson and the Rise of the Roman Letterform. With an Essay by George Abrams. Herning, Denmark: Poul Kristensen, Printer to the Royal Danish Court, 1989.
In addition to the essays, there are some facsimiles of book pages set in the Jenson types and related faces. George Abrams was a noted type designer and display typographer, and also a collector of fine books and typography. The present book was the first use of the Abrams Venetian typeface.
THE HOUSE OF MANUTIUS
Lowry, Martin. The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice. Cornell University Press, 1979.
A landmark study in its field. The name of the legendary Aldus commonly evokes a somewhat exalted image based on his general cultural importance. This is the side of his work that Aldus himself publicized diligently and successfully (see the edition of his letters, below). That picture is important, and valid as far as it goes, and I love it as much as does the next humanistic Latinist bibliophile. But one of the great things about this book is that it shows Aldus with his feet on the ground, and his establishment as looking and smelling like a print shop and publishing office, coexisting with, and providing the basis for, the more exalted aspect of Aldus’s work.
Manutius, Aldus. The Greek Classics. Edited and translated by N.G. Wilson. (Series: The I Tatti Renaissance Library, #70.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.
From the publisher’s blurb: “This edition contains all of Aldus’s prefaces to his editions of the Greek classics, translated for the first time into English, along with other illustrative writings by his collaborators. They provide unique insight into the world of scholarly publishing in Renaissance Venice.”
This is a book for those who have read a bit about Aldus, learned to love the man and his work, want to hear him at length in his own voice, and are prepared for what they will find.
Wilson is a noted authority on the transmission of classical texts, and co-author of Scribes and Scholars, a standard work on the subject. The I Tatti Renaissance Library is sort of a Loeb Classical Library for Renaissance Latin literature, but with really nice printing and typography. (The newer Loebs are pretty good too.)
A volume of Aldus’ prefaces to the Latin classics is in preparation, and other editions of books of importance for the history of books and printing are projected for publication in the I Tatti series.
Fletcher, H. George. In Praise of Aldus Manutius: A Quincentenary Exhibition. New York: The Pierpont Morgan Library. Los Angeles: UCLA University Research Library, 1995.
Exhibition catalogue, with brief history of Aldus and his successors, and accounts of the books exhibited.
Manutius, Paulus. Epistulae Selectae. Martinus Fickelscherer, ed. Lipsiae, in aed. B.G. Teubneri, 1892.
Latin edition of selected letters of Paulus Manutius, son and successor of Aldus, and a well-regarded scholar in his own right. His correspondents include noted scholars of the period. I am in the process of scanning this book and creating a PDF version.
Updike was a leading and influential figure in the formative years of the fine press movement. He is the author of the standard history of typefaces, Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use, described on the Reading page of this site.
Updike also wrote Notes on the Merrymount Press and Some Aspects of Printing, Old and New; I haven’t seen them, but both, along with Bruce Rogers’ Paragraphs on Printing, have been described as “required reading for collectors of press books” (Will Ransom, in Paul Bennett, Books and Printing, p. 181.)
Printing historian Walker Rumble has a series of thirty-nine blog entries on Updike, dated from 6/28/11 to 7/14/11. His blog is at rumble101.wordpress.com.
Winship, George Parker. Daniel Berkeley Updike and the Merrymount Press. Rochester, NY: The Printing House of Leo Hart, 1947.
A very interesting and instructive account, probably one of the better sources on Updike.
[Anderson, Gregg.] The Work of the Merrymount Press and its Founder, Daniel Berkely Updike (1860–1941): an exhibition prepared by Gregg Anderson. San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1942.
A useful 35-page account of Updike and his work, with lists of books exhibited. It’s here because I happen to have a copy.
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