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I Love Typography

MADE POSSIBLE WITH THE SUPPORT OF
MADE POSSIBLE WITH THE SUPPORT OF

Tag: Incunabula

The Pope’s Romance

Even prior to the completion of Gutenberg’s landmark Bible in about 1454, the print-run of 180 copies was already sold out. We know this because it was recorded in letters between Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (1405–1464) and his friend, the Spanish cardinal Juan de Carvajal. In an often quoted passage, De Carvajal writes to Aeneas in […]

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The First Printed Math Books

Love it or hate it, dread it or revel in it, suck at it or excel in it, math makes the world go round, sending rockets to the moon, forecasting the weather, describing the motions of the planets and everything else in the cosmos. Galileo (1564–1642) famously said that ‘the universe is written in mathematical […]

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Renaissance Metal

Many of the first printed books in Europe were decorated with illustrations, initials and borders. Each served a purpose: initials signaled, via their range of sizes, a textual hierarchy, working in much the same way as chapter headings and sub-headings do today. Decorative borders were employed to demarcate or divide books, chapters or sections and, […]

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A Brief History of the Index

On the rare occasions I get to peruse paper and ink books in a brick and mortar bookstore, after a brief flirtation with the cover and blurb, I will scan the table of contents, then gently – for the book is new, the clean pages crisp – thumb through the final leaves until I locate […]

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Printing War

Humans have written about war and warfare since writing was invented. One of the best known from antiquity is Flavius Vegetius’ late fourth-century, De re militari or ‘Military Science’, repopularized throughout the latter Middle Ages and first printed in c. 1473–74 by Nicolaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt in Utrecht in the central Netherlands. This […]

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Botticelli & the Typographers

Sandro Botticelli was born in Florence about 1445. In 1470, aged just 25, and shortly after printing was introduced to Italy, his prodigious talent led him to open his own studio. He flourished under the patronage of the Medici family and was invited by Pope Sixtus IV to paint frescoes in the recently restored Sistine […]

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Typography & Thyme: the first printed herbals

Long before agricultural civilization, humans were using plants for their special properties – to nourish and heal, to harm and to poison. The earliest written compilations of plants can be traced back to the second millennium BC, with early traditions in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India. In Greco-Roman antiquity, the Athenian, Theophrastus (c. 371 – […]

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The First Cookbook

Recipes are as old as eating and recorded recipes date back to the invention of writing, with the most ancient examples from Mesopotamia, written in Akkadian cuneiform and dating to about 1750 BC. From late Imperial Rome, a collection of recipes from the late fourth or early fifth century, commonly referred to as Apicius, has […]

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On the Nature of Things

FIRST EDITIONS It has been estimated that prior to the European invention of typographic printing in the mid-fifteenth century, some ten million manuscripts were produced.* During the incunabula (c. 1450–1500), some 30,000 editions were printed in as many as thirteen million copies. Thus, in the course of just fifty years, more books were produced than […]

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The Prints and the Pauper

In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg entered into an agreement with one Johann Fust, a Mainzer goldsmith and guildsman, to borrow a staggering 800 Rheingulden at 6 percent interest. Gutenberg’s sales pitch must have been convincing, for Fust would later testify that he himself had borrowed money in order to fund the loan. Gutenberg sank the money […]

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The First Roman Fonts

The Renaissance affected change in every sphere of life, but perhaps one of its most enduring legacies are the letterforms it bequeathed to us. But their heritage reaches far beyond the Italian Renaissance to antiquity. In ancient Rome, the Republican and Imperial capitals were joined by rustic capitals, square capitals (Imperial Roman capitals written with […]

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The First Title-Pages

The book in its present form is a product of evolution, serendipity, and design. Its size and proportions accommodations to the human form: the length of our arms; the type size a concession to our visual acuity. Ostensibly, the form of the book has changed little in the past 500 years. The very first printed […]

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Pure Gold

Both the Roman, Pliny (ca. 61–113) and the Greek historian, Herodotus (ca. 484–425 BC), mention gilding; the latter writing that the Egyptians gilded wood and metal. It has been used in decorating ceramics, in art, and at least from the fifth century in the production of illuminated manuscripts, reaching its peak in the especially exquisite […]

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The First Illustrated Books

The early history of illustrated printed books is also the history of woodcut. Woodcut illustrations long predate the mid-fifteenth-century introduction of movable type to Germany. They were used extensively in the printing of textiles many hundreds of years before in Europe and the Far East. Designs were cut in relief in wood, inked, then stamped […]

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The First Printed Children’s Books

Anyone who has children understands that books are a crucial part of their development. Parents also know that children’s books are likely to have relatively short shelf lives; torn pages, chewed corners, and crazed crayoning conspire toward the book’s inevitable annihilation. Fifteenth-century children were no different, and so it is no surprise that most of […]

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Printing the Stars

For tens of thousands of years, humans have looked up at the night sky in awe, intrigued by the motion, manner, and nature of the stars. And with our propensity for pattern recognition and our proclivity for causal inference, or attributing meaning or significance to coincidence, we joined the dots, so to speak, perceiving in […]

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Unusual fifteenth-century fonts: part 2

Nowadays, with tens of thousands of fonts available, we are accustomed to a great variety of letterforms. But, of the approximately 1,000 cataloged fifteenth-century roman fonts, very few stand out as unusual. Most share the same fundamental attributes. Almost all roman typefaces of the period are, what we now call humanist: of low contrast, lowercase […]

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The First Printers’ Mark

The very first printers’ mark or printers’ device dates back almost to the very beginning of Western typography. In Mainz, Fust and Schoeffer, employed a printers’ mark in a Bible that they published in 1462. There is an earlier example in their Mainz Psalter of 1457, though many now believe that it was perhaps stamped […]

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Notes on the first Books Printed in Italy

In my recent article on The First Book Printed in Italy, I introduce the first books printed by Sweynheym and Pannartz in the Subiaco monastery complex in the Sabine hills to the west of Rome from 1465.

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The First Female Typographer

In the fifteenth century women had few career opportunities. Few, bar those in the higher social classes were even sent to school, and women were not admitted to universities (Oxford university didn’t permit women to matriculate or graduate until 1920). Their options were very limited and pessimistically and perhaps a little exaggeratedly summed up by […]

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