MISCELLANEOUS NOTES ON
MISCELLANEOUS NOTABLE PRINTERS
latest update: 6/9/17 (Strahan)
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.)
See the special page Bodoni to Morris: From One Extreme to the Other in the Fashion Typography of the 1800s.
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.
THE HOUSE OF PLANTIN-MORETUS
Sabbe, Maurits. Plantin, les Moretus et leur oeuvre. Bruxelles: L.J. Kryn, 1926.
113 pp. Sabbe. 1873–1938, was Conservator of the Musée Plantin-Moretus. The book includes some photographs of the rooms in the Museum.
Link to download page on the website of the the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Cochrane, J.A. Dr. Johnson’s Printer: The Life of William Strahan. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964.
Strahan (1715–1785) wasn’t just Sam Johnson’s printer. He published some of the most intellectually important books of the period, including, in 1776, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and Edward Gibbons’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He also published the books of the important skeptical philosopher David Hume. He was the friend as well as the publisher of Hume and Johnson, and also the close friend of Benjamin Franklin. (Franklin’s partner, David Hall, who eventually took over management of Franklin’s printing business, was sent to him by Strahan.)
Of interest primarily for the history of publishing, the book trade, the business apsects of printing, and the intellectual and social climate of the time, rather than for printing technology or typography.
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, D.B. Some Aspects of Printing Old and New. New Haven: William Rudge, 1941. (74 pp.)
I haven’t seen this, but along with Notes On The Merrymount Press and Bruce Rogers’ Paragraphs on Printing, it has 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.
Smith, Julian Pearce. Notes On The Merrymount Press and Its Work. With a Bibliographical List of Books Printed at the Press 1893–1933. To Which Has Been Added a Supplementary Bibliography of Books Printed at the Press 1934–1949, by Daniel Berkeley Bianchi. San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1975.
[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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