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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 […]

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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 […]

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Point, don’t point

The pointed finger must surely be one of the oldest human gestures. In deep prehistory, long before the evolution of spoken language, and when we were considerably hairier, it is not difficult to imagine one of our primitive human ancestors pointing to a lion, a landmark, or a lemon.

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The Oldest Book in America

Printing was introduced into the Americas by the Italian Giovanni Paoli, better known as Juan Pablos. The first book issued from his press in Mexico City was Doctrina breve, a Spanish handbook of Christian doctrine, written by Juan de Zumárraga, Mexico’s first bishop, and printed in 1539 — making it the Western Hemisphere’s first printed […]

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The Geometer’s Compass

The European Renaissance was obsessed with classical antiquity. For many of its intellectuals it marked a cultural and scientific golden age. Many classical authors, among them the likes of Lucretius and Cicero, were rediscovered and celebrated. And among the disciplines given a new lease of life during the Renaissance was geometry. A branch of mathematics […]

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Fonts in Focus: Decimal & Chill

Type designers take care of the details so that we aren’t unnecessarily distracted by them. And good type designers relish those details. To listen to them explain their craft and describe their font-making processes is like watching the child of zero-sugar parents eat its first candy bar.

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Hera’s Milky Way & the Origins of the Multiverse

To the Egyptians, it was a reflection of the Nile; for the Babylonians, a giant serpent or length of rope. In Greek mythology, the infant Heracles was brought to suckle at the breast of a sleeping Hera, goddess of childbirth. Suddenly awake, she pushes the child away and her milk splashes against the sky. The […]

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The Secret Life of Books

I seldom write book reviews. Despite reading many good books, it’s quite an effort, for me at least, to gather my scraps and notes and thoughts and hone them into a few hundred words. But Tom Mole’s latest book is worth the effort – and worth more than a retweet or a half-hearted thumbs-up emoji.

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Long-Haired Stars & the End of the World

For the best part of 2,000 years, the earth stood at the center of the universe. It did not move but was surrounded by a series of embedded transparent spheres. Each hollow sphere, for the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and an outermost sphere or firmament of fixed stars, rotated around our […]

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