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Fun with Fonts

Today I launched two short multiple choice quizzes. The first starts at the beginning with Gutenberg, with questions about his life and his famous Bible. Some of the questions are pretty easy; others you might find rather difficult.

The second game, Glorious Glyphs, tests your font identification chops by having you identify individual characters or glyphs from some well-known and not so well-known typefaces.

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Granjon’s Beautiful Bastard

When books began to be printed in the fifteenth century, scribes were not immediately redundant. The rich still commissioned them to produce deluxe manuscripts, governments and local authorities still required secretaries and copyists for administrative documents, and even printed books left spaces for decorated initials and other elements to be added in by hand. What’s more, the printed book presented another opportunity for teachers of calligraphy or writing masters: Their student copybooks and writing manuals, previously handwritten, could now be printed in hundreds or even thousands of copies, bringing them to larger national and international audiences.

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The Most Dangerous Book in the World

On a cold morning in early autumn of 1536, in a small town on the outskirts of Brussels, William Tyndale was led from a tiny prison cell, then chained to a stake, strangled and burned. His crime? Daring to challenge the Catholic Church and his insistence on translating the Bible into English. Tyndale’s translation was by no means the first. The earliest dates to the seventh century, by the monk Cædmon, who also happens to be the earliest named English poet. He translated parts of the Bible into the earliest form of the English language, Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. Although his translation has not survived, it is attested to by the eighth-century English historian Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, and survives in later copies, the earliest being the Junius Manuscript, the first section of which was copied in about the year 1,000 AD.

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Medieval Road-trips & the Invention of Print

We don’t know for sure what prompted Hans Gensfleisch to leave his hometown of Mainz in western Germany for Strasbourg in the south but leave he did, probably in the early 1430s. Founded in the first century BC by the Romans, under emperor Augustus, Mainz had for a time, after the construction of its cathedral in the tenth century, flourished. However, by the 1430s, the city’s fortunes had taken a turn for the worse and soon was on the verge of bankruptcy.

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Printed Pandemic: Plague Books

The Black Death of the fourteenth century, a disease named after the symptomatic boils and darkened skin caused by internal bleeding, claimed as many as 200 million lives. Even by the fifteenth century, when populations were just beginning to recover, outbreaks of the same plague were still regularly reoccurring throughout Europe.

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From Farting to Fornication: Early print censorship

During the first half-century of printing in Europe (c. 1450–1500), there were few restrictions on the printing trade, either on who could start a print-shop or on what they chose to print. As new printers rushed to establish themselves and cash-in on this new technology, they sometimes sought protection in the form of privileges. The first documented protection or ‘privilege’ was issued in 1469 by the Venetian Senate to Johannes de Spira, the first printer in Venice. In short, it was designed to protect Johannes’ investment by preventing others from establishing rival print-shops in Venice for a period of five years.*

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Fonts in Focus: two

For the first in this new series of Fonts in Focus, we visited the New York offices of Hoefler & Co. For this second installment, we remain in New York, just fifteen minutes’ walk from Broadway to Lafayette street and the stateside offices of Commercial Type, established in 2007 and headed by Christian Schwartz in New York and Paul Barnes in London.

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