BODONI TO MORRIS:
FROM ONE EXTREME TO THE OTHER
IN THE FASHION TYPOGRAPHY OF THE 1800s
last update: 3/22/19 (Bodoni bibliography, stub article on the Interlude)
FROM ONE EXTREME TO THE OTHER:
Interlude in the Real World
Monday after the Lost Weekend
MORE ON BODONI:
Bodoni’s Manuale tipografico
On Bodoni’s type designs
GIAMBATTISTA BODONI (1740–1813)
Bodoni was the first of the numerous tribe of typographers who are purely creatures of fashion. Printer to the Duke of Parma, honorary printer to the Duke’s uncle, the King of Spain, recipient of pensions from Napoleon and others, Bodoni was a diligent courtier, an industrious and highly skilled manual worker, and very little else. Everything he did was in imitation of Baskerville and Baskerville’s more radical epigones; his only innovations were the type designs of his later period, and here he merely one-upped Baskerville by selecting a few of Baskerville’s more obvious typographic innovations and carrying them to their logical and absurd extreme. Even in this, he was preceded by Fournier and Didot.
Bodoni is most famous today for his type designs, but it is this aspect of his work that even his admirers, if they are knowledgeable typographers such as Cleland, find most difficult to defend. A frequent defense is that the excesses of later imitators should not be blamed on Bodoni. Specifics are rarely given, such as which imitators are being compared to which of Bodoni’s faces. Later imitators may have committed different excesses from Bodoni’s, but they did not commit greater excesses.
In fact, in text typography, the “excesses” of the letterforms of Bodoni’s followers are but a very short step from the letterforms of their master. If they sometimes look markedly worse it is often because the letters were not always printed with the care such delicate forms required, care that was especially costly given the technology of the times—a limitation which did not apply to Bodoni, who served a luxury market.
Another assertion made in Bodoni’s defense is that the 20th-century revivals don’t do justice to his original designs, so that their faults can’t be ascribed to Bodoni. I do not see how this assertion can be maintained in the face of a direct comparison of currently available Bodonis to Bodoni’s best-known faces as shown in his Manuale tipografico. In fact, some of those 20th-century versions of Bodoni were modified to slightly lessen the notorious faults of the originals.
An august example of such defenses of Bodoni is one by Bruce Rogers. On p. 41 of Paragraphs on Printing, he notes: “Bodoni’s best type should not be judged by the modern reproductions of them; they were surprisingly free and irregular in their cutting, even though the designs were studied and stilted.” The unintentional irregularity in their cutting, may go a little way toward making up for the excessive simplification and uniformity of the letterforms. But it is far from doing enough: only the most absurd irregularity could make up for such simple-minded design in a text face. And the irregular cutting does nothing at all for the other faults of the designs: their excessive contrast, the inability to print well except on the best paper, and the requirement for wide letterspacing due to the large and prominent white areas within the hairline serifs, which cannot be balanced without either bringing the letters too close to each other than the length of the serifs permits, or by extreme letterspacing so that the white space within the serifs is visually outweighed by the space between the letters. Such letterspacing takes up a great deal of extra space, and the wide leading needed to balance the letterspacing takes up a great deal more. Typography that requires so much room has no relevance at all to real-world uses of type and printing.
Bodoni’s presswork and design were highly praised by many, but his types were often considered too extreme even in his own time. Also, like many “fine presses” that spend lavishly on printing and binding, he made up for it by skimping on (or skipping) editing and proofreading. (Or perhaps Bodoni, like many later fashion typographers, just didn’t know about editing and proofreading.) His editorial and textual standards were thus famously poor, though some of editions were exceptions, perhaps due to the involvement of scholars whose reputation with their market, unlike Bodoni’s, would have been seriously damaged by a bad text.
Typical of the reaction of contemporary readers were the following comments by noted bibliographer Thomas Dibdin on various Bodoni editions: “Printed in all the pomp and luxury of the Bodoni press.” “This edition is chiefly distinguished, like most of the works from the royal press of Parma, for the beauty of its typographical execution.” The ironic nature of the preceding comment is made clear by the following (citing, with approval, another’s words): “a very splendid edition, more beautiful than useful.”
Bodoni’s market, however, was not readers. His business was grand luxe interior decoration for the very rich—who were, preferably, also very noble. Bodoni was highly elated about a friendly letter he received from the great Benjamin Franklin. One wonders if he would have been quite so enthusiastic if he hadn’t somehow formed the idea that Franklin was President of the United States.
Much more in the same vein can be found in the chapter on Bodoni in volume 2 of Updike’s Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use, especially on pages 173–75. Updike, too, praises the beauty of Bodoni’s books, though saying that Bodoni’s earlier and less typical work was better even in this regard. Updike sums up by citing another contemporary authority who designed typefaces similar to Bodoni’s: “Didot, who published much better editions, but did not print so well, justly enough said that Bodoni’s books would figure on the shelves of collectors, but not in the libraries of savants—adding, ‘Comme littérateur je condamne ses éditions, comme typographe je les admire.’” It was not only savants, however, who would have been offended by Bodoni’s typical productions. Horace Walpole, antiquarian, connoisseur, author, and amateur printer, wrote one of the first gothic novels, The Castle of Otranto, of which Bodoni printed an edition. Updike cites the following, from one of Walpole’s letters: “I am glad you did not get a Parmesan Otranto. A copy is come so full of faults that it is not fit to be sold here.”
Because of their extreme design, Bodoni’s types required laborious and expensive printing to make them readable. To make them beautiful, they had, in addition, to be set at larger sizes than are normal for text settings, with more leading than would be required even by normal faces in these large sizes, and with more visual space between letters than normal text faces. The extra size, lead, and spacing took up more space, more paper, and more press time for more pages, and made the books even more expensive—and bulkier. Thus they were never good models for non-luxury printing or for books meant to be read. Didot’s books, printed in similar faces but not nearly as well printed or as lavishly spaced, found buyers among readers because the important house of Didot had previously established, and continued to maintain, a high reputation for editorial quality. If you wanted an important new book, or the best edition of an older book, you may have had to buy the Didot edition even if you didn’t like the type. This helped establish the fashion for such faces—for a time.
Reader reaction, however, eventually made itself felt, especially in England and America, where, in contrast to France and especially Italy, a larger, more industrialized, and more democratic population of readers demanded books that met a wide variety of practical needs at the lowest possible cost. (German printers still clung to fraktur, which made even Bodoni look readable. For historical (and religious) reasons, there was some resistance in Germany to using the “Antiqua” faces associated with Rome. Perhaps this is why Bodoni-style faces found some credibility in Germany for printing non-German languages, and eventually, as fraktur was dropped, for printing German.)
One result of this reaction against the Bodoni-Didot style of letterforms was an attempt at modifying them for better readability, and for readability and visual appeal without the extra leading and letterspacing required by Bodoni’s faces. It was this, I believe, that gave rise to the style of faces that typified English-language text printing in the later 1800s. To reduce the glaring contrast, and allow for tighter settings, the thick strokes were narrowed. The serifs were now bracketed, perhaps partly for readability, and partly so that extremely fine paper and printing were not required for the serifs to show well.
This, however, resulted in faces that were too thin all over. Against the background of thin strokes, the ball terminals retained from Bodoni’s faces showed up like thickly scattered flyspecks. Gradually, a reaction of readers and printers to these faces arose and penetrated the minds of fashion-befuddled typefounders and publishers. It finally became clear that neither the extreme contrast nor the thin serifs of the Bodoni-Didot faces could be retained. The stage was thus set for dropping the model entirely, and reverting to the earlier, quite functional and successful styles that were the products, not of fashionable novelty, but of evolution through use. This is what happened in the early 1900s: there was a period marked by revivals of faces from before the time of Bodoni and Didot. This was followed later in the century by development of new forms from the starting point of the revived faces, becoming increasingly independent without departing from the constraints that make type useful for purposes other than fashion. This development continues today (alongside the usual bilge of fashion faces).
Thus the faces of Bodoni, Didot, and their followers were not an important turning point in the history of typeface development. As concerns the most important and challenging aspects of type design, they were merely an interruption.
There is an especially glaring contrast between Bodoni, the imitator, and Baskerville, the originator. Baskerville was notoriously independent. He was known as an iconoclast—an outspoken atheist, definitely a marginal position in 18th-century England. He was often cantankerous (though the warmer side of his nature was also prominent). He made his own fortune and spent much of it to finance his own innovations in printing and typography.
Bodoni was a diligent and obsequious tuft-hunter, financially dependent on the very richest of patronage, such as is obtained only by exploiting existing fashion. It took a Baskerville, not a Bodoni, to found that fashion on a basis of real functional innovation, and a Didot to associate it with literature and communications of sufficient intellectual and cultural importance to prompt the generosity of top patrons. For these patrons, Bodoni provided a hot new novelty—his superficial exaggerations of Baskerville’s letterforms—and an extra dose of snob appeal, since his letterforms could only look good in the large and expensively printed editions he produced.
INTERLUDE IN THE REAL WORLD (stub article)
Typography did not, in fact, stagnate in the period between Bodoni and Morris, though it was certainly depressed by the influence of mass fashion that first became important in that period, a fashion whose exploiters often found Bodoni's example useful for their purposes. Good typefaces and typography were produced, perhaps especially in Great Britain, that were independent of the herd behavior described elsewhere on this page. One name to notice is William Pickering, publisher of many beautiful, well-edited, and highly functional books (and innovator in binding as well).
WILLIAM MORRIS (1834–1896)
But before the natural evolution of typography could resume, another development apparently had to intervene and run its own brief course. There are fields in which fashion is such an important factor that it can, in some situations, outweigh function. In such fields it often happens that, while knowledgeable people are deliberating and experimenting toward some needed change, the first to bring something to market is someone who is unrestrained by overmuch knowledge but has a flair for fashion marketing that frees him from the constraints of function that govern long-term evolution.
William Morris jumped into this role when the fashion launched by Bodoni and Didot had run its course, and readers and printers were looking for a better style of text face. Like Bodoni, Morris was a skilled craftsman who could produce beautiful, expensive books that no-one read but everyone talked about. Like Bodoni, he found himself well situated for tapping into the fashion market. Like Bodoni, he had an eye for beauty, but his typographic “insight” consisted solely in a penchant for simple-minded extremes—the sort of thing that catches the attention of fashionistas. Morris saw an existing extreme—the skinny, low-contrast Scotch Romans that had attempted to move away from Bodoni’s extreme—and responded by leaping to the simplest opposite extreme—black, low-contrast letters.
Unlike Bodoni, Morris was not raised as a printer. Morris did many excellent and influential things as an artist, designer, and writer. His background in visual aesthetics was in what amounts to interior decoration. It was not until he was fifty-five years old that he declared himself a printer, and immediately opened a fine press establishment.
Typographic histories typically credit Morris with shaking book typography out of the dull and anemic look that characterized it through much of the 1800s—the look of the Scotch Romans that were an attempt to continue Bodoni’s typographic innovations in a manner more suitable for real-world use. Morris called Bodoni’s characteristic types “hideous” (Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface, p. 200).
Morris’s books, like Bodoni’s, and like Morris’s other visual arts work, were luxury productions for collectors. He apparently knew nothing about the real uses of typography, the uses that made it one of the most important cultural tools in the modern world. Morris’s books, like Bodoni’s, and like Morris’s other work, were genuinely beautiful to look at. People talked a great deal about them. I have never seen any indication in my reading that anyone ever read one of Morris’s books. I have seen it stated, by at least one knowledgeable and sympathetic writer, that no-one ever did.
Morris was a man of integrity, honest enough to be uncomfortable with the fact that he was serving a luxury fashion market while claiming to do work that was of general applicability and social value. But he was helpless when it came to understanding the reasons for such a fundamental inconsistency, or to finding a way to deal with it.
Morris’s “innovation” was in reverting explicitly and ideologically to the typographic aesthetics of the Middle Ages, and specifically to the uniform, black text “color” of manuscripts closely written in heavy, pointy blackletter. His own type designs were not blackletter, and had some merit—more merit than Bodoni’s—but he regarded them merely as compromises with the blackletter ideal.
Morris may not have realized, and may well not have cared, that in the Middle Ages books were very few, were read by only a few people who could afford to read very, very slowly, and who were mostly specialists reading books by others in their specialty, mainly about subjects that did not (especially in that age) demand a high standard of clarity or an extensive and continuously refined exposition of reasoning or factual detail that could be subject to any practical test of truth or validity.
In addition to much truly excellent work in literature and the visual arts, the overly-industrious Morris did a lot of very poor work in areas in which he was out of his depth, such as political and social issues, though he did it in a way that at least does him some credit as a man. In typography, too, he was likeable but badly out of his depth. He had no more qualifications as a typographer than he had as a statesman. As a pressman, he—or the people he employed—did well. His excellent skills in the purely visual arts, and his general understanding of craftsmanship, were sufficient for that. What merit there is or appears to be in his typographic work comes from these, and not from any well-founded ideas about book typography, which was Morris’s self-proclaimed typographic specialty, much less about typography in general.
MONDAY AFTER THE LOST WEEKEND
In any case, the famous typographers who followed Morris quickly dropped his distinctive aesthetic and typographic ideas. It was from their work, not Morris’s, that real-world text typography developed in the twentieth century. (Morris’s work popularized the Jenson-style faces that he revived, but those who came after him did not set those faces the way Morris did.) It was only in the world of fashion typography, and in the less demanding realm of display typography, that the work of Bodoni and Morris remained influential. Bodoni typefaces continued to be used, of course, but they continued as a sideshow, not as a productive influence. Even in luxury typography (which is not necessarily the same thing as fashion typography) fine printers for the past century have provided ample proof that the luxury market can be served with work of genuine and impressive typographic merit, work that owes nothing to the work of Bodoni or Morris. (Even Giovanni Mardersteig, of the Officina Bodoni, dropped Bodoni’s typographic style.)
Typographic historians tend to say that Bodoni’s influence lived on in the more regularized letterforms that characterized both the “legibility” faces of the earlier twentieth century and the eclectic text faces of the middle and late twentieth century. However, an examination of type specimens will show that this tasteful and functional use of regularity is the obvious continuation of the work of Baskerville, which in turn was the continuation of the developments of the previous three centuries, the movement away from dependence on penforms and towards measured use of more regular forms while preserving the variety of detail required by readability and legibility, by the shapes of different letters, the need for harmony between letters, and the requirements for the appearence of massed text. Because they return to this course of development, the successful new text faces of the twentieth century are, in fact, radical departures from the simplistic extremes of Bodoni. Faces very much like them would have arisen if Fournier, Didot, and Bodoni had never lived. And they would have arisen, most likely, fairly early in the 1800s.
Without Bodoni’s radicalism we might have missed the fun of the many and diverse display faces that arose in the 1800s, and their enjoyable descendants in later times. But as far as the demanding aspects of the typographic art are concerned, the great turning points supposedly represented by Bodoni and Morris had about the same historical importance as a lost weekend in Vegas: they inspired some creative history and hopeful rationalizations (which beg not to be scrutinized too closely), but things resumed their normal course after the interlude.
MORE ON BODONI
BODONI’s MANUALE TIPOGRAFICO
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 far 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.
ON BODONI’S TYPE DESIGN
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. (More usefully, the geometric simplification 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 directly 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. (I saw this on a grand scale in the type shops in the 80s and 90s.) This, in turn, caused the fashion typographers responsible to do a lot of sweating, lying, and buck-passing. Considerable debunking is in order.
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’s at least an example of genuinely good book design and production. I haven’t read it yet, and am in no hurry. I’ll have to read it someday, but I’ve spent enough time on Bodoni for now.
Review (unsigned) of Marrot’s translation of Bodoni’s preface to the Manuale tipographico:
“G.B. Bodoni’s preface to the Manuale tipographico”. The Fleuron, no. IV (1925), p. 159.
A concise estimation of Bodoni’s work and professional character.
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, in The Fleuron (see separate entry above). 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.
A facsimile of Morris’s famous “Kelmscott Chaucer” is available from Dover. I have not inspected any copies.
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