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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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In the Shadow of Notre Dame

The cathedral of Notre Dame has stood at the heart of France and of Paris for the best part of 1,000 years. It watched as Paris rose from a former outpost founded during the Roman Republic to become the biggest city of medieval Europe. And although European printing was born in Germany, it is 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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Who Invented the Index?

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

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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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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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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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Print Imperfect: from N to Z

Over the past couple of years I have been researching and writing a book about the fifteenth-century German printer, Erhard Ratdolt. He printed over 200 titles during his career, and part of my work is to study the content and typography of as many of those editions as possible. Recently, while writing a chapter titled, […]

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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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