04 April, 2014

A British national letter

Some such heading seems appropriate for a post about the inaugural use of a letter that has been produced for the refurbished building that was once known as the Tate Gallery and is now Tate Britain. It houses ‘the National Collection of British Art’. The admirable new lettering was realised by the John Morgan Studio.
Its basis is an alphabet that was published in London in 1775 as Bowles’s Roman and Italic print letters by Carington Bowles, a maker and seller of prints and maps, for the use of signwriters and other makers and users of letters including ‘engravers and grave-stone cutters’. Nothing else quite like this handbook for makers of letters appears to been made at this date, or at any rate none is known to have survived. Illustrations from it have appeared several times in this blog.
The original printed alphabet, of which only one copy is known, was originally in the collection assembled in Oxford by John Johnson, Printer to the University, and it is now with the rest of his collection in the Bodleian Library. I published it myself in my original essay on ‘English vernacular’ in the 11th issue of the journal Motif. I may republish it again one day. Here is Bowles’s first plate:
In the mean time I salute John Morgan and his colleagues, and contemplate with satisfaction the use of this traditional letter on a major public building. It is worth recalling that, as this blog has noted, it is barely ten years since a weakly-drawn ‘Trajan’ letter was used by well-meaning but poorly informed restorers to paint the ship’s name at the stern of HMS Victory.
This blog was begun principally in order to register criticism of the director of the National Gallery who had its name cut in big imperial Roman letters on the hitherto unblemished portico of the Greek revival building for which he was responsible, an act that it would be an understatement to call insensitive. He has since departed from his post. It has also told the dismal story of the making of the clumsy new numerals that disfigure the front door of Ten Downing Street.
Since Bowles included the makers of grave-stones among the clients to whom his guide is offered, I should include a note in this post on some work by James Sutton, since he was the first letter-cutter to make use of the Bowles alphabet in his work, and he has shown how effective it can be. This memorial that he cut is in a country church in Kent.
And here is the inscription on his monument to Admiral Sir Philip Vian, which is in the crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral.
It is not far from the monument that, originally having been made for Cardinal Wolsey but not used for him, was stored with other accumulated royal property at Windsor and handed over for the burial of Nelson in 1806. It bears a good inscription in relief letters of gilded brass.
I made the image of the monument to Admiral Vian with the kind permission of the Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, by whose courtesy it is shown here.

06 October, 2013

Commercial at

Note: this post is now followed by a Postscript that its readers are recommended to look at.

The ‘commercial at’, the character @, has needed an entry in this blog for some time, and indeed I have drafted many texts on it without posting them. This was not so much because the Wikipedia article on @ was seriously defective. It does, as one might expect, supply a great deal of what is needed. But the published information has failed to settle some of the puzzling details that we have some right to expect would have been resolved by now.
In his mostly excellent brief history for a non-professional readership, Ancient writing and its influence (1932), the palaeographer B. L. Ullman rather rashly remarked that,
‘The national hands which grew out of cursive preserved a still greater number of ligatures. The Carolingian hand suppressed most of them... But some of them were too well established and therefore have persisted to this day. The most important of all was that of et, introduced into formal writing by half uncial. We use it in English for “and”, the equivalent for Latin et, and call it “ampersand” (“and per se and”) a name that arose when this character was placed at the end of the alphabet and was recited with the other letters: “x, y, z, and, per se [by itself] (the character standing for) and”. This has taken on many different forms in different styles of writing and printing, but nearly all are based on the old & and the italic &. ... Other ligatures still in use are ae (æ) ... There is also the sign @, which is really for ad, with an exaggerated uncial d.’
The ‘lay’ or arrangement of types in the compositor’s case, although it had mostly become fairly standardized, tended to vary in some of its details from printing-house to printing-house, according to the kind of work that was chiefly set there. The abandonment of long s and its ligatures in about 1800, which had occupied nearly twenty sorts of the roman and italic founts, freed up some space in the case. The 1892 edition of the Practical Printing of John Southward showed a series of non-alphabetic characters in its example of an ‘improved’ upper case which had not been in a normal case earlier in the century.
These, shown above, in the top three rows of the upper case, included not only @ and the mostly redundant ‘per cent’ character %, but also the pound sign £, the dollar $, and also types for the calligraphic ‘per’ and for lb (the pound weight). These were all needed for use in commercial jobs like the printing of catalogues of goods for sale. The & was included in one of the small boxes at the left hand side of the lower case, which had long been its traditional place. The lb character with its cross stroke became obsolete, but it is worth noting that it was used throughout the 29 volumes of the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, set on the Monotype machine.
Many of these characters migrated to the typewriter, which was introduced as a commercial machine for use in offices. No significant domestic market for it was imagined by its original makers, just as the first makers of computers notoriously could not believe that there might be a domestic market for their product. The ‘commercial characters’ were not found on every early typewriter, but it seems to be agreed that most of them, including @, had been placed on typewriters by the early twentieth century, and thereafter few typewriter keyboards lacked them. For this reason these symbols were unquestioningly adopted by the makers of computer keyboards, who were rigidly bound by tradition.
The ‘per’ symbol (which was admittedly a rather elaborate design) failed to get onto the normal typewriter keyboard and has faded from memory. However, one symbol that did, although few users of computers had any idea what it was for and how to use it, was of course @. Since it appeared to be both universally available and largely useless, it was adopted, as we know (the event has been well-documented), for use with the internet and with email. And although it has been a nuisance to the designers of fonts, who have rarely found its form easy to adapt to match traditional letters, there seems little likelihood that we shall get rid of it easily. The @ we have is rooted in the commercial handwriting of the 19th century.
If this is the case, we are entitled to ask why this is, and where and when did it begin to be used? Surely this is a question that it should be easy enough to answer.
Since the question was of no interest to academic historians of writing or typography, enthusiastic amateurs entered the discussion, scattering a profusion of badly-informed ideas. Not long ago, the blogosphere seemed to be full of their excited chatter. Here is some of it, from Italian and Spanish blogs:
Scoperta! la @ è italiana! (Discovery! The @ is Italian!)
La chiocciola @ di e-mail è una invenzione tutta italiana (The @ is a wholly Italian invention)
¿Creó un sevillano la @? (Did a Sevillian create the @?)
Sevilla utiliza la @ como reclamo turístico (Seville uses the @ as publicity for tourism.)
La arroba no es de Sevilla (ni de Italia) (The @ is not from Seville, nor from Italy)
La @ ya se utilizaba en 1448 en Aragón (The @ was already in use in Aragon in 1448)
It would be churlish to spoil their evident enjoyment of such stuff. (Googling will bring up plenty more examples.) We can only hope that they lead to lines of enquiry that are frankly more worth pursuing.
One of these is the claim that the @ stood for the amphora, the vessel for wine or oil that stood for a unit of measurement known to Greeks and Arabs, and that the Anglo-Saxons (commercial rivals from England and the USA) eventually stole the symbol for their own use. The other line, worth pursuing because it has left its trace in current usage, is that the @ stands for arroba, a unit of weight and capacity of arabic origin, long used in the Spanish-speaking world, which was only eliminated by the adoption of the metric system. Arroba is still the Hispanic word for @.
I have no intention here of raking through among the embarrassingly cute terms that are currently used for the @ in other languages by writers who have stumbled on it for the first time, like the chiocciola (snail) in Italian – see above – or the ‘monkey’s tail’ (Dutch), or the eymologically dubious arrobase that is used for some reason in France. Most of the discussion in circulation is dismally facetious and credulous.
Still, since there is usually some basis underlying many myths in current circulation, one purpose in offering this post (which I hope will soon be rendered obsolete) is to identify these myths and to distinguish between them.
I said that Ullman was rash in appearing to link the use of @ to &, saying that both symbols were ‘still in use’, though in justice to him one must note that – unless one takes his reference to ‘uncial’ literally – he did not assign an early manuscript use to it (as at least one online source has accused him of doing). The ampersand did indeed arrive in current use in the 15th century with the revived Carolingian hand of humanism, and it was adopted for their types by Italian printers like Jenson. It is sometimes a delightful design, which has attracted some major punchcutters, but one should note that it was unwise of the BBC in 2012 to let an enthusiast attempt to trace its history on its Radio 4 (of all unsuitable non-visual media). In that context it should have been noted that the inspirational punchcutter was Granjon rather than Garamont, and that the old Roman ‘Tironian’ shorthand symbol for ‘and’ (looking a bit like the figure 7) was not an ligature of e and t, and although it remained in common use in gothic script and types, it (and they) faded eventually from use.
But what about the @. When did it enter into use in commercial writing? Like most people, I suspect, I thought it had been normal English usage in business papers for some centuries. Then I tried to find examples. It was not easy. I found nothing from the 17th century. One of the earliest convincing examples I have found was something – but hardly more than an ill-defined scribble – in the papers of William Strahan (1715–1785), whose prosperity among contemporary printers in London was commonly supposed to be due to his exemplary business methods. The example that follows is simply my rough sketch from a document of 1739 (Add. MS 48800, f. 17v) among the Strahan Papers in the British Library.
It is the earliest example that I have found. Thereafter (but much later and far more slowly than I had thought), the symbol did indeed begin to be adopted in British practice for ‘at a certain price’ or ‘at a rate of’. This example of the @ as a printing type, which is the first that I have found anywhere, is in a specimen of the Miller typefoundry in Edinburgh, 1822.
It can be seen again in an English manual of printing (T. C. Hansard, Typographia, 1825), in a passage reproducing handwritten book-keeping. (Notice, too, the use here of a typographical version of the symbol for ‘per’.)
Here, finally, is an example of @ in a British handbook of instructions for book-keeping, C. Morrison, Practical book-keeping, Edinburgh, 1838. It is very nicely drawn, but its date is quite late.
What about the Spanish connection? In 2000 there was a flurry of excitement about the ‘discovery’ of the early use of @ by an Italian academic. The source was Professor Giorgio Stabile, of La Sapienza university in Rome, who was engaged on an article for the Treccani encyclopedia, one of the enterprises that Google and Wikipedia have to some extent displaced for use in our current research.
Stabile let it be known to some friends in the media that in the course of his researches into commercial documents he had found an early use of @ in the correspondence of some Italian merchants based in Seville in 1536. This discovery made news, and it still generates some excitement in journals that should know better, like the New York Times and the Guardian, who keep obsolete links alive to Stabile and his important researches.
It would have been satisfactory if Prof. Stabile had been more candid about the source of his ‘discovery’. To his credit, he did later acknowledge that his ‘research’ among original documents consisted in this case of finding an example in a well-known, well edited and well illustrated published collection of commercial correspondence that had been made some decades before by Federigo Melis, Documenti per la storia economica dei secoli XIII–XVI, con una nota di Paleografia Commerciale di Elena Cecchi. Firenze: Olschki, 1972 (Istituto Internazionale di Storia economica ‘F. Datini’ Prato, Pubblicazioni – Serie I. Documenti, 1). The documents that Stabile claimed to have found are illustrated on pages 214–215, and the originals are among the Strozzi papers in the Archivio di Stato, Florence.
Stabile explained that the symbol @ in this text stood for containers of wine measured by the unit known as the amphora, and he suggested (but without providing sources) that this was a widely-used Mediterranean unit of measurement. He might have added – but he did not – that in several of the commercial letters shown in his book by Melis, the @ is also commonly used for the date, in phrases like ‘Ad di 20 di gennaio’ (on 20 January), which takes it closer to its later use in business documents. He made no reference to its more general use in contemporary Italian commercial handwriting or the scrittura mercantesca, on which, as its title shows, a useful appendix in Melis’s book was contibuted by Elena Cecchi.
How far did the historians of writing contribute to the story? For writing of the Italian Renaissance they gave most of their attention to the cancellaresca corsiva, the official ‘chancery hand’ derived from the humanistic cursive of the 15th century which was shown in a well-known series of printed handbooks of the 16th century. All the same, in several of these handbooks an example of the gothic commercial hand, the mercantesca, was often to be found at the back. There is in fact a little handbook of the hand by Eustachio Celebrino, an associate of the writing master Tagliente, Il modo di imparare di scrivere lettera merchantescha, 1525, but it does not appear to include examples of the use of @.
The earliest example of the @ character that I have found in an Italian writing book is in a document in the commercial hand in a letter dated 8 May 1557, a woodcut at the end of the first publication of Giovanni Francesco Cresci, the Essemplare di scrivere più sorti lettere, published in Rome in 1560, with the phrase, ponete @ conto nostro – ‘put [the sum] to our account’.
And here is the @ again in a document dated 1569 in Cresci’s Il perfetto scrittore of about 1570: la valuta di libre centouinticinque di seta calabrese presa da noi @ Ragion di [scudi] tre la libra per pagar a tempo dj xviij mesi proximi @ venire (the value of a hundred and twenty-five pounds of silk from Calabria, obtained from us at a rate of three scudi per pound, to be paid within eighteen months).
From these examples, there seems little doubt that the @ was in regular use in more or less its later sense of ‘the commercial at’ in Italian documents of the 16th century. If it disappears from later writing books, this is probably because they were not much concerned with the gothic commercial hands. There are intermittent examples that have been published online of later French and Spanish handwritten usage, but very few with reference to specific, dated documents of which the present whereabouts is clearly specified. For the arroba, that term of Arabic origin, the later Spanish character in printing was indeed @, but it seems to me that this usage may simply be the result of borrowing ‘Anglo-Saxon’ type, since by 1900 the @ was widely available from typefounders in Europe and in North America. We need far more authenticated examples of its use (and its meaning) in earlier, dated handwritten documents.
I ought to add a final illustration of the @ in the type specimen of J. B. Clement-Sturme in Valencia, 1833, details of which are given in the admirable list of Spanish type specimens by Albert Corbeto (Catalogación y estudio de las muestras de letras impresas hasta el año 1833), published in 2010. The @ (with a design that is based on a roman a) is used to give the price of the type by weight, the unit being the arroba: Precio di cada @ castellana, 162½ Reales.
I am sure that there is much documentation that can be done by the many researchers who trawl through the innumerable business records that survive in major collections. I hope that, in the course of their work, they will spare a thought for historians in other fields, and save some well-documented images for us that will fill in the many gaps that exist and which still frustrate the fulfilment of our wish to complete the story.

This post began with a reference to discontent with the confused, often badly-informed and sometimes chauvinistic sources of information that frustrated my own attempts to understand where this symbol came from and what it has meant. It made me doubt whether I should add yet another contribution to the debate.
However I am glad that I did, because it has led me to discover a substantial body of work that will do much to clear up the confusion. In January 2013 Marc Smith, Professor of Mediaeval and Modern Palaeography at the École nationale des Chartes, the leading institution in its field in France, gave an illustrated lecture on the @ in French, a link to which can be found on YouTube. He has published a summary of his lecture in a printed journal in France (Graphê 55, July 2013), and he plans to put its substance into a book. One hopes that it will include a generous selection from the many images of documents, handwritten and printed, some of which are familiar but most of which are wholly unknown, that accompany the lecture.
At the heart of his argument is the question of the arroba, the unit of weight (and capacity) of twenty-five pounds that was a part of Spain’s heritage from its arabic past until the metric system overtook it. One meaning of @ in Spain and Portugal, and to some extent in France, was indeed the arroba, but it stood for many other things too. Professor Smith shows that it was something of an all-purpose abbreviation for many words beginning with a, like avoir. In one of his documents, in French, dated 1391, it is used for initial ‘an’. The current French term arrobase appears to be simply based on the Spanish plural arrobas. But he notes, as I have done, that English speakers belatedly adopted a continental variant of an accented form of a as ‘à’, tending to use it where it was a convenient way of saving space by not writing ‘at’ in full. As a universal term, he appears to be content with the anglophone commercial at.
As a palaeographer, Marc Smith was well qualified to find and to interpret the many early documents in which @ has appeared. But his researches have been wide-ranging, and he has done good work among handbooks for book-keepers, typefounders’ specimens, several from Spain, beginning with Pedro Ifern, 1793 (but he shows a rather crude example, possibly cut on wood, in the Ortografìa de la lengua castellana of the Real Academia Española, Madrid, 1754), collections of commercial correspondence, and typewriters. He offers the Caligraph No. 2 Commercial of 1883 as an early machine with a key for @. For French typefounders, with an eye on their neighbouring market in Spain, the @ stood for arroba. He has found a type for an English @ in Patrick Kelly, Elements of book-keeping, 1805.
Since he does not substantially differ from the suggestions I make in my own text, I am inclined to leave it more or less as it was posted, but anyone wishing to take the matter further and stand on firm ground must turn to his account of his own extensive researches, and follow them as they progress. One hopes that they will.
JM 11 October 2013

17 March, 2013

This is a fragment

The slate headstones of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire are the glories of their churchyards. Much of the stone came from the quarries of Swithland in Leicestershire, which were worked until the later 19th century. The headstones are a nuisance to the incumbents of the churches, getting in the way of the machines that cut the grass neatly but often score the surface of the stones as they hit them; the sheep which browse in some country graveyards are a gentler and more effective alternative. Where they are not wholly destroyed, gravestones are dealt with in various ways: often by uprooting them and setting them against a wall, or by laying them flat so the mower can pass over them. One of the more devilishly practical solutions to the problems they pose is not only to lay the stones flat but to make a dry and convenient path to the church door with them.

None of these actions has much to recommend it. Slate, set upright so that it drains naturally, is resistant to weathering, and its grain permits the cutting of fine detail. It withstands even the acid rain of urban environments which eats away the limestones that are also used for gravestones. Uprooting the stones and placing them against a wall tears them away from association with the original graves they were set to mark. Laying them flat allows water to penetrate, so that as it freezes the stone is shattered into its natural layers. Worst of all, when they are used as paving stones, not only does the damp penetrate but the fine and delicate surface is destroyed by the accumulated grit that is pounded into it, grinding away the detail. It takes an insensitive personality to be indifferent to such treatment.

This is a fragment of a headstone from a churchyard in Nottinghamshire which had become a paving stone. It measures about 18 by 13 inches. It is a fragment because it appears to have been quite deliberately reduced to a quarter or less of its original size by blows from a heavy hammer which have removed from it the name and the dates of the person it was designed to commemorate and they have also truncated the verse that had been cut below.

We shall never know the name. As for the verse, with a glance at similar examples one can guess how it may have read:

When I first saw the stone I was distressed by the sight of the damage, and by the erosion of the design that was already visible and which would continue if it was left to lie where I found it. I went into the church. I forget what I said, but it got the result I least expected. The hapless verger (or whatever he was – possibly even the incumbent) asked if I would like to take it away and look after it. It was staggeringly heavy. But somehow I got it back home and it now stands safely upright, as it had done originally, with what is left of its beautifully-cut message washed clean by the rain and often lit by sunshine.

That was a long time ago. Should I have accepted the offer? I do not think I could have removed a stone which still bore the name of a parishioner who had lived nearby, but it seemed to be worth doing something to preserve this anonymous fragment. Although I shall not name the church, I see that its current web page offers admiring tributes to the few, widely-spaced tombs that have been allowed to stay in its churchyard, and even has the temerity to praise their lettering. An image posted on Flickr in 2008 shows that the path to the door of the church is still made up of incised slate headstones.

The church must do what it can to look after itself, but it seems to me that there is a more wide-ranging and worthwhile question to be asked. Why, since by common consent this lettering belongs to a tradition of such quality, have letter-cutters let it die out?

I don’t want to see a flood of weak pastiches of the original vernacular idiom. (The work of Gill’s contemporaries, and of his pupils too, are reminders to us that there were very few who could ever string the bow of Odysseus.) But I should be glad to see some evidence in the work of modern artists that they are aware that we have a durable legacy from the date of this fragment from Nottinghamshire, which I guess to be about 1760, the period of the work of the letter-cutter, typefounder and printer, John Baskerville.

29 July, 2012

Caractères de l’Université

This type on a body of about 18 points appears in the big type specimen book of the Imprimerie Royale, Paris, 1845. It is the first known published reappearance of the type by Jean Jannon of Sedan for which matrices had been acquired by the Imprimerie Royale in 1641, and the first text to link it to the name of Garamont.

It is a detail of a table headed Spécimen des caractères romains employés par l’Imprimerie Royale, de 1640 à 1846 – yes, ‘1846’, although the title page of the book has the date 1845. The table, showing roman and italic types of three centuries, is spread across facing pages.

It appears, paradoxically, in a long preliminary section on non-Latin types, not on romans and italics, headed ‘Notice sur les types étrangers du spécimen de l’Imprimerie royale’. The text and the table were reprinted from the same types as a book with this title in 1847, making a volume that is easier to find in libraries. The table from this reprint is familiar to readers of Updike’s Printing types, where it appears as his fig. 327. But as Updike reproduced it both the heading and a final panel on the right with descriptive notes on the types were omitted. Updike’s caption is ‘Comparative table of types used by the French National Printing House from its foundation to 1825’, a date that was derived from the heading to the last column, ‘Types gravés par M. Marcellin Legrand. 1825’.

The present post is not much more than a footnote, albeit a rather long and involved one, to one or two others in this blog that have been dedicated during the last year in different ways to Claude Garamont (d. 1561) and to some of the types that have borne his name. I have repeated one or two images from them, together with some passages that I have already quoted in the earliest and longest post, but which may be difficult to find, in an attempt to offer some explanation for one of the remaining unsolved puzzles connected to them: the types of Jean Jannon are often referred to as if their original and proper title was caractères de l’Université. Was this true? And what did the phrase mean?

The description of the type in the specimen of 1845, omitted from Updike’s illustration, is linked to the note reference (1), and it runs as follows:

(1) L’existence de ces types, qu’on désignait sous le nom de caractères de l’Université, remonte aux premières années du XVIe siècle. La date que l’on donne ici est celle de l’établissement de l’Imprimerie royale, qui fit usage de ces caractères jusqu’à l’époque où ils purent être remplacés par les types de Louis XIV.

(These types, which were known by the name ‘types of the University’, date from the first years of the 16th century. The date given here [1640] is that of the establishment of the Imprimerie royale, which used these types until the time when they could be replaced by the types of Louis XIV [the romain du roi].)

This is the beginning of a long and confused story.

As I have noted elsewhere, a set of matrices for three sizes of roman and italic types, for the modern bodies of 18, 24 and 36 points, was bought by Cramoisy, the director of the Imprimerie royale, from Jean Jannon in March 1641. This purchase, which was unknown to Beatrice Warde (and which makes nonsense of a part of her narrative of 1926) was first reported in the catalogue of an exhibition, L’art du livre à l’Imprimerie nationale, held at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, in 1951. The catalogue entry did not give the cote or call number of the document in the Archives nationales in Paris relating to the purchase, but it was supplied by H.-J. Martin in his study of printing in Paris in the 17th century published in 1969: it is Ét. XLIII, liasse 32.

The document names Six frappes de matrice assauoir gros et petitz canons, gros parangons, et leurs istalicques, auecq trois moulles pour fondre les caracteres desdictes six frappes (six sets of matrices for Gros and Petit Canon, Gros Parangon, and their italics, with three moulds to cast types from these six sets of matrices).

The term caractères de l’Université does not appear in this document, nor has it been found in any other of this period. In the inventory of the materials of the Imprimerie royale made in 1691 (BnF, MS nouv. acq. fr. 2511) the matrices are listed correctly by their sizes, but the term caractères de l’Université does not appear. As I have noted in a previous post, only the two smaller italic types of Jannon, for Petit Canon and Gros Parangon, appear ever to have been used by the Imprimerie royale, and I have found no use during the 17th century of either the roman or the italic of Gros Canon, nor of the two smaller romans.

In 1828, the Imprimerie royale having accumulated some very mixed materials including some imported from England, an inventory was drawn up under the authority of its director, the Baron de Villebois. It is in a series of volumes with the printed title Recueil des empreintes des poinçons et des matrices des caractères français et exotiques … existans à l’Imprimerie royale, which are kept with the original punches and matrices in the Cabinet des Poinçons at the Atelier du livre d’art et de l’estampe, the ‘craft division’ of the Imprimerie nationale de France that was set up in 2005 at at Ivry-sur-Seine. For types for which there were no punches, like those of Jannon, impressions from cast types appear to have been made in ink, by hand.

Volume I of the inventory begins with an account of les caractères dits de l’Université (‘the types known as those of the University’) and those of Luce, with a note that both types were hors de service (not in current use). This is the reference at the foot of the title page:

This is the first known use of this term caractères de l’Université in connection with the type of Jannon. It is also the first known modern showing of these types.

Apart from those for non-Latin types like Garamont’s greeks, these matrices from Jannon were the only old materials in the collection of the Imprimerie royale. According to the author of the section on roman types in the specimen of the Imprimerie royale, 1845 (who was apparently F. A. Duprat, the chef du service in charge of its type foundry), ‘when the royal printing-office was set up, it had been furnished with types that were cut for the use of the printers of Paris’, types of which the origin dated back to King François I (reigned 1515–47), and which were ‘attributed to Garamont’. These were used until new types (the romain du roi) were made to the order of Louis XIV especially for the use of his printing-office. This is the passage:

Lorsqu’en 1640 Louis XIII, agissant sous l’inspiration du Cardinal Richelieu, fit établir une imprimerie dans le palais du Louvre, on l’approvisionna de caractères gravés pour les imprimeurs de Paris. On continua de se servir de ces caractères, dont l’origine remontait à François Ier, et qu’on attribuait à Garamont, jusqu’à la fin du XVIIe siècle, époque à laquelle Louis XIV ordonna qu’une typographie spéciale serait gravée pour le service de son imprimerie.

An early specimen of the types of the Imprimerie royale dated 1643 (of which a facsimile was published in 1958) shows that this was a fair summary: the types used at the Imprimerie royale were those of Garamont, Granjon and other punchcutters of the 16th century that were still in common use in Paris, and which were available, newly cast from old matrices, from several typefounders. Only the two smaller italics cast from the matrices of Jannon were added to this material and used occasionally.

Duprat’s contemporary and a rival historian of the royal printing office, Auguste Bernard (1811–68), a printer’s son with some experience of work with Firmin Didot and as a proof-reader at the Imprimerie royale, was less careful in his wording. He wrote in his history of the Imprimerie royale (1867),

Les premieres caractères dont se servit l’Imprimerie royale, et dont on conserve les matrices, sont attribués à Garamond, célèbre graveur du seizième siècle, auquel on doit les types grecs de François Ier. Ils sont connus sous le nom de caractères de l’université. Leur forme est très gracieuse.

(‘The first types that the Imprimerie royale used, and of which the matrices are preserved, are attributed to Garamond, the celebrated punchcutter of the 16th century to whom we owe the greek types of François I. They are known by the name of caractères de l’université. Their forms are very elegant.’)

Here we see the old types still in regular use by printers in Paris being attributed to Garamont and also linked to the one set of surviving early matrices, those that we now know to be by Jannon, which had not been acquired until 1641, a year after the initiation of the Imprimerie royale, and which lay for many years, unused, in the stock of the typographic materials of the Imprimerie royale.

Now Duprat had not said anything as appreciative. Indeed in a little book that he wrote on the history of the royal printing office, published in 1848, he remarked,

... les types dont se servait alors l’Imprimerie royale, et dont elle continua de faire usage jusqu’aux premières années du xviiie siècle, manquaient de pureté et d’élegance. A cette époque, l’Imprimerie royale ne possédait pas de types spéciaux; elle employait les mêmes caractères que ceux dont se servaient les imprimeurs de Paris, et qu’on désignait sous le nom de caractères de l’Université.

(The types that were used at this time by the Imprimerie royale, and which it continued to use until the beginning of the 18th century, lacked purity and elegance. At this date the Imprimerie royale had no special types of its own, but employed those that were used by the Printers of Paris, and which were known as the caractères de l’Université.)

It should be noted that Duprat is saying here that the ordinary types used by the printers in Paris were those that were known as the caractères de l’Université.

We have other testimony that helps to confirm the remark. In 1756, in an anonymous letter, generally attributed to Fournier le jeune, in the Journal des Sçavans (Oct 1756, p. 660), it is said that from the time of Cramoisy to that of Rigault (its directors from the date of its foundation in 1640 until 1707), the Imprimerie royale used only the types that were in use in the University, which were cast for it by the ordinary typefounders at the same price that other printers paid. These foundries – wrote the author – were mostly those of Sanlecque, Le Bé and Cot. If they used matrices that were royal property (presumably a reference to the grec du roi by Garamont, the use of which was jealously protected) they made out a receipt for them.

(‘Depuis Cramoisi, premier directeur de cet Imprimerie jusqu’à M. Rigault, on n’employa point d’autre caractères que ceux qui étoient en usage dans l’Université; on les faisoit faire par les Fondeurs ordinaires & au même prix que les autres Imprimeurs. S’il arrivoient qu’on fournit les matrices qui appartenoient au Roy, le Fondeur en donnoit son recepissé. C’étoient ordinairement les Fonderies des Sanlecque, le Bé, & Cot, qui avoient cet pratique.’)

The foundry of Cot was acquired by Claude Lamesle, whose specimen of 1742 gives the most spectacular view that was published during the 18th century of the types of the 16th-century masters, newly cast from original matrices. (There is a facsimile reprint of the specimen and an online version, but neither of them quite conveys the stunning sharpness of the types shown in the real thing.)

‘In use at the University’. What does this mean? Since long before the use of printing, the University in Paris had a history of relationships with the makers of books, approving and controlling the quality of the texts that were made and their prices. The printers in Paris, whose numbers were strictly limited, were largely confined to the the district round the rue St. Jacques, which was also that of the complex of university buildings, and the connection yielded to them certain privileges. How this could extend to types is far from clear.

The same term was used by a contemporary of Fournier’s. In the ‘Avertissement’ to his Essai d’une nouvelle typographie (1771) Louis Luce, an independent typefounder who had deen designated graveur du roi (punchcutter to the king) in succession to his uncle Jean Alexandre, wrote,

Mes Caracteres différent aussi de ceux de l’Université & des Caracteres de Hollande, tant par la délicatesse de leurs empattemens que par l’harmonie qui regne dans leur forme.

(‘The features that differentiate my types from those of the University and from the types of Holland are the delicacy of their serifs and their overall harmony of form.’)

In both passages, by Fournier and Luce, it looks as if the term ‘types of the University’ is being used, as Duprat did, to mean simply the traditional types that were in common use. Perhaps the term means no more than the fact that they were used in academic publications. However, if ‘types of the University’ was a specialized term that conveys a precise meaning to historians of the Parisian book trade, and if a source can be cited, I shall be glad to be told of it, and I will publish it here.

The upheavals of the Revolution coincided with the major shift in the style of printing types that is associated with the family of Didot, and the stock of old materials abruptly lost its value, except as scrap. Punches rust, and the copper of matrices is recyclable. All traces of the early types that had been in the hands of the trade typefounders like Le Bé, Sanlecque and Lamesle in Paris vanished completely. No relics of them were saved anywhere, except in commercial centres that had become relative backwaters, like Antwerp, where the Plantin-Moretus printing office piously preserved the collection of its founder.

It is a maxim among the curators of museum collections that if an artefact has survived intact and unblemished, it can be presumed that either it never worked or that it was rarely used. This was true of Plantin’s collection of old matrices, and was also the case with those of Jannon, which (as I observed in an earlier post) had hardly ever been used by the Imprimerie royale, even in the 17th century, and which can be presumed to have been in excellent condition in the 19th, when they were proclaimed by historians – mistakenly, but for reasons that one can understand – to be authentic relics of the types of the 16th century, the heroic age of printing in Paris.

In other words, it was the miscellaneous collection of older types by Garamont, Granjon and others, that were in regular use by Parisian printers, to which the term of caractères de l’université was first applied in the 18th century, and not specifically to those of Jannon, the matrices of which had been a misguided purchase, hardly used, and the existence of which had long been forgotten. However, the phrase used by Bernard in 1867, leur forme est très gracieuse, echoes sentiments that had begun to be felt by English as well as French printers who had become aware of the charm of older types. Louis Perrin in Lyon lamented that the words of his beloved 16th-century poets no longer seemed the same when they were set in rigidly perfect contemporary types. And so where original matrices still survived, the types of Caslon and indeed those made at Oxford for John Fell were brought back into use for suitable texts, and new types – like the Basle roman of the Chiswick Press or the new caractères anciens of Jeannet in Paris – were cut in imitation of the old ones.

I might take the opportunity of ending this post with a passage written by Arthur Christian.

Lorsqu’en 1895 j’eus l’honneur d’être choisi ... pour diriger l’Imprimerie nationale. ... on parlait déjà de l’Exposition de 1900; j’avais donc à me préoccuper de faire un livre constituant à la fois et un effort de la typographie et une œuvre utile; je songeai à l’histoire de l’Imprimerie et m’en ouvris à M. Claudin. ... L’Histoire de l’Imprimerie en France a été composée en caractères Garamond, dont l’Imprimerie nationale possède les matrices. Je me félicite d’avoir fait ainsi revivre ces types admirables, qui ont servi pour l’impression de l’Imitation de Jésus-Christ, premiere volume que l’Imprimerie royale ait fait paraître en 1640.

(In 1895, when I had the honour to be chosen to direct the Imprimerie nationale, the Exhibition of 1900 was already under discussion. I needed to make a book that would be both useful and an outstanding production. The history of printing came to my mind and I talked to M. Claudin. His Histoire de l’Imprimerie en France was set in Garamond types, of which the Imprimerie nationale has the matrices. I am proud to have revived these splendid types, which were used to print the Imitatio Christi, the first volume produced by the royal printing-office in 1640.)

This text, from Christian’s lectures, Origines de l’imprimerie en France (1900), is quoted by Linda Ritson in her admirable study, ‘Arthur Christian, Director of the Imprimerie nationale, 1895–1906’ (Signature, n.s. 9, 1949, pp. 3–28). The passage catches Christian’s righteous pride in his part in making these types ‘live again’, but it is unreliable in two respects. The text of Claudin’s book and its title page were in fact set wholly in the ‘Grandjean’ type (the romain du roi); only the brief Avant-propos and Preface were set in the ‘Garamond’ types. The Imitatio Christi of 1640 was not set in the Jannon types for which the Imprimerie nationale did not yet have the matrices but in the Gros Canon of Garamont, with headings in an italic of the same size by Robert Granjon, both of which were types that appeared in the specimen of 1643 and which would be much used at the Imprimerie royale during the next few decades. These were presumably among the commonly available types that were known as caractères de l’Université.

The main point of this post is that, the original sixteenth-century matrices for roman and italic types in the possession of the founders in Paris having all been destroyed as a consequence of the revolution in typography associated with the family of Didot, the term caractères de l’Université became attached by default to the set of apparently early matrices that had survived, its provenance forgotten, in the mixed stock of materials of the national printing-office.


There is no single historical narrative relating to the Imprimerie nationale, listing all printed and manuscript sources. One of the nearest things to a published list of the earlier sources may possibly be, for all its limitations, the piece I published on ‘Type specimens of the Imprimerie royale 1643–1828’ (Bulletin du bibliophile, 1, 2002, pp. 70–99) in which I also did my best to list the various inventories.

The only formal histories are those of F. A. Duprat, Histoire de l’Imprimerie impériale de France, 1861, and of Auguste Bernard, Histoire de l’Imprimerie royale du Louvre, 1867, the narrative of which runs only to the end of the Ancien Régime. (A pdf version can be found online.) The catalogue of the exhibition, L’Art du livre à l’Imprimerie nationale (Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, 1951) is useful, though it has many omissions and errors. H.-J. Martin was among the compilers. A volume of collected essays with the same title, including some important contributions to its history by specialists, was issued in 1975.

The inventories that are most relevant to the subject of this post are the volumes mentioned above, made to the order of Villebois in 1827 and completed in 1828, which are kept at Ivry. There is a further inventory at Ivry which has a printed title: Inventaire du matériel de l’Imprimerie royale au 31 décembre 1838. (It has a spine label reading ‘Inventaire du matériel de l’Imprimerie royale au 1er janvier 1839, and a handwritten note on the printed title page, reading ‘Déposé aux Archives de la Chancellerie le 23 mars 1840’). This includes an account – shown below – of the materials for what had by now become known habitually, if misguidedly, as the caractères de l’Université. Neither of these inventories attributes the types to Garamont. The smallest size, the Gros Parangon, now cast on an 18-point body, is here labelled ‘Gros Romain’.

It should be kept in mind that the national printing office in France has not only had many different names but also several changes of address, having been established in the palace of the Louvre in 1640 but split into different divisions during the Revolution. These were brought together in the Marais district of Paris during the 19th century, set up in a new building in the 15th arondissement early in the 20th century, and the materials of the Cabinet des Poinçons, and the traditional ‘craft’ activities like punchcutting and letterpress printing, were moved in 2005 to the rented industrial premises shown below at Ivry-sur-Seine to become the Atelier du livre d’art et de l’estampe. At each move, some forgotten things were rediscovered and it is possible that others were discarded.

A further and perhaps final move of the whole establishment to a location in Normandy, to the site of the publishing archive IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l'édition contemporaine) near Caen, has been planned for some time and publicly discussed. A letter approving the project in principle has been published, addressed by President Sarkozy in 2008 to Jack Lang (Minister of Culture to President Mitterand, and the current head of IMEC). But Sarkozy is no longer president of France, and so far as I am aware details of the move have yet to be confirmed.

10 June, 2012

Portrait of Bodoni?

Was the sitter for this portrait Giambattista Bodoni, whose name was written on the back? And can we believe the claim that the artist was Andrea Appiani (1754–1817)? Appiani’s well known painting of Bodoni, which is in the galleria nazionale at Parma, is familiar from the engraving of it by Francesco Rosaspina which is the frontispiece to the first volume of the 1818 edition of the Manuale tipografico, shown below.
Perhaps this text should have said more about the original when the image was first posted. The portrait, painted on a wooden board measuring 49 by 39 centimetres, does indeed bear the names of Giambattista Bodoni as sitter, and Andrea Appiani as the artist, written in ink on the reverse, apparently by more than one hand.
The painting had been acquired during a visit to Europe by Muir Dawson, of Los Angeles, California, a dealer in books on printing and examples of fine printing. A. L. Van Gendt, publisher of Amsterdam, had bought it from the book dealer Commin of Bournemouth. In 1965 Dawson was in correspondence about the portrait with Robert F. Lane, a resident of New York and an outstandingly well-informed specialist on the work of Bodoni. In 1964 Lane had already received enquiries by letter about the picture from its current owner, R. C. Hatchwell, a bookseller of Little Somerford, Chippenham, Wiltshire. As he told Dawson, Lane did not think it represented Bodoni. Others, noting the lack of resemblance to the figure with a well-nourished face in more familiar portraits, have had the same reaction.
Being puzzled to know what to do with the portrait, with its lack of a reliable attribution or provenance, in October 1968 Dawson and Van Gendt presented it jointly to the St Bride Printing Library, as it was then known, with an invitation to discover more about it, if that should be possible.
I am afraid that nothing more has come to light. The direct trail, if it ever existed, became a cold one. But since next year, 2013, is the 200th anniversary of Bodoni’s death, which will be marked with an event in Parma, it seems to me that if it can be done, it is about time to try to resolve the doubts relating to this ‘portrait’, or at least to discover its provenance. After all, it is now possible to publish the image and its associated story more widely than ever before. By indexing this post, Google has now placed it among the images produced by a search for ‘Bodoni portrait’. Information relating to this painting will be welcome.

03 February, 2012

The types of Jean Jannon at the Imprimerie royale

It is well known that the ‘Garamond’ types, of which the use was initiated at the Imprimerie nationale, Paris, during first years of the 20th century, included some that had been cast from a set of early matrices for three sizes of roman and italic known as the caractères de l’Université to which the name ‘Garamond’ or ‘Garamont’ was assigned during the 19th century (for the first time, apparently, in the specimen of the Imprimerie royale, 1845), and to which several other sizes were added by professional punchcutters, notably Hénaffe. During the 1920s these types were attributed to Jean Jannon of Sedan in an article under the pseudonym of Paul Beaujon in volume 5 (1926) of The Fleuron by Beatrice Warde. Her claim was based on their appearance in Jannon’s type specimen book of 1621 in the Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris.

The types appeared for the first time under the name of ‘Garamond’ as a ‘series’ in the specimen of the Imprimerie nationale dated 1904 (shown above), and they would become the models for the ‘Garamond’ types of American Type Founders (about 1917), and the English Monotype Corporation (1922).
The story has been told in many places. My own version was in an essay that I published in 2006, and which forms a part of the very long and involved post with the title ‘Garamond or Garamont’ in this blog, which first appeared in April 2011 and to which many additions and corrections have been made ever since. There is also a separate section on Jannon in the new Garamont website of the French Ministry of Culture, although this is in need of some fine-tuning. As we both note, the term caractères de l'Université does indeed appear to have been introduced in the inventory of 1827 or 1828, a record of the punches and matrices of the Imprimerie royale with a printed title page dated 1828, now kept at Ivry. But I have seen no attribution of this type to ‘Garamont’ earlier than the one that appears in the Imprimerie royale specimen of 1845. It seemed to me that for those who have found the navigation of the elaborate narrative that appears in the previous post rather laborious, it would be helpful to offer a summary of some recent findings of my own, so that is my chief aim here.
In 1922 D. B. Updike published the image that appears at the head of this post as fig. 172 of the first edition (1922) of his Printing types, their history, forms and use. It shows a part of a leaf from Richelieu’s text, Les Principaux points de la foy catholique défendus, a folio printed at the Imprimerie royale in 1642. Updike’s caption identifies the types as Garamond’s on the basis of the belief that was current in 1922. In later editions, in deference to Beatrice Warde, the types were called ‘Jannon’s’, an identification that was not wholly correct. The object of this piece is to set things as nearly right as possible.
Perhaps the best place to begin is with the pair of larger types that appears in Updike’s figure. The roman can be identified as the Petit Canon of Robert Granjon, a type that is listed by Vervliet in his Conspectus of 2010 as type 140. (It had appeared on the Berner specimen sheet of 1592, where like the other romans it was identified as the work of ‘Garamond’, but on a specimen offered by Guillaume II Le Bé to the Plantin printing-office in about 1599 there is a note stating that it was cut by Granjon.) This is a type that appears in the specimen of the Imprimerie royale dated 1643, of which a facsimile with notes by Jeanne Veyrin-Forrer and André Jammes was issued in 1958. (Bibliographical details of this specimen and the facsimile are given in the ‘Garamond or Garamont’ post above.) The italic is indeed the Petit Canon italic of Jean Jannon, and it is one of two italics by him which are shown in the specimen of 1643.
Matrices for three sizes of roman and italic types were bought from Jannon by the director of the Imprimerie royale in 1641, the Gros Canon, Petit Canon and Gros Parangon, types that were later cast on bodies of 36-, 24- and 18-points. The relevant document (from which an image was shown in my first blog relating to Garamond/Garamont) is the contract between Jean Jannon and Sébastien Cramoisy dated 1 March 1641 (Archives nationales, Paris, Étude XLIII, liasse 32). The question to which I addressed myself during the later months of 2011 was, ‘which of the types by Jean Jannon named in this document were used during the 17th century at the Imprimerie royale’?
I looked at many examples of printing at the Imprimerie royale held by the British Library, mostly making use of the list of titles printed in his historical study by Auguste Bernard: ‘Catalogue chronologique des Éditions de l’Imprimerie royale du Louvre’, Histoire de l’Imprimerie royale du Louvre (Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1867), pp. 123–256. My conclusions were as follows:
I found no example of roman types by Jannon in use at the Imprimerie royale. Two sizes of the italics appear, the Petit Canon and the Gros Parangon, accompanying roman types by other hands. Neither the roman nor the italic of the Jannon Gros Canon, the largest of the three sizes, has been found in use at the Imprimerie royale during the 17th century.
To say that I found this a surprising result is an understatement. Like most of his readers (I imagine), I had accepted the appreciative estimation of Jannon by Henri-Jean Martin that I had cited in my earlier post:
‘This man was the worthy follower of the typographical artists and technicians of the century before. One can see appreciation of his efforts in the fact that types cast in the matrices that he sold to the Imprimerie royale were used in the splendid works printed during the early years of this institution.’
(Cet homme était le digne émule des artistes et des techniciens de la typographie du siècle précédent. On pourrait peut-être voir la consécration de ses efforts dans le fait qu’on fondit sur des matrices portant l’empreinte des ses types et par lui vendues à l’Imprimerie royale, les caractères utilisés pour les plus luxueux ouvrages publiés par cet établissement à ses débuts. Livre, pouvoirs et société à Paris au XVIIe siècle, 1969, p. 367.)
Martin’s remarks were elegantly expressed and based on a logical inference, but they appear to be wrong. The types used at the Imprimerie royale during the years following its creation until the end of the century, when the new romain du roi was made, were mostly the ‘classic’ romans of Claude Garamont and italics of Robert Granjon that had been used by Parisian printers for many decades. They appear in the specimen of the Imprimerie royale dated 1643, and the source seems likely to have been Parisian foundries that were well furnished with matrices for these types, of which there were several. In summary it can be said that only two italic types by Jannon appear to have been used at the Imprimerie royale, where they accompany older types, and none of the romans.
Two pieces of printed evidence seem to support my conclusion. One is the fact that only these two Jannon italic types, and none of the romans, appear in the Imprimerie royale specimen of 1643.

All three sets of roman and italic matrices were mentioned as being present in ‘drawers’ (layettes) in an inventory of the materials of the Imprimerie royale drawn up in 1691 (BnF, MS nouv. acq. fr. 2511), but when in 1690 the widow of the director Sébastien Mabre-Cramoisy prepared specimens of the types from matrices ‘belonging to the king’ to be passed to his successor, in addition to five sheets of greek types lettered A to E (the grecs du roi), there was a single sixth sheet, lettered F, a detail from which is shown above, showing only the two smaller italics of Jannon that appear to have been in regular use.
Several questions are raised by my claims, which were the basis of papers that I gave at colloques relating to Garamont at Amiens in September 2011, and in New York in January 2012. Have I overlooked examples of the use of Jannon types (especially the romans) at the Imprimerie royale? Since it is not easy to prove a negative, that is possible; and one reason for offering my own observations in this form is in order to invite others to make their own and to let me know what they find or to publish them.
One the matter of the Jannon type specimen dated 1621, perhaps I should include this note.
In his little pamphlet of 1887 Brincourt appears to be the first writer to mention it as a specimen of types. (There is an oddly garbled reference in the Bigmore & Wyman Bibliography of printing (1880) where it is listed, evidently by someone who had not seen it, as ‘a very interesting work on the few (qy. seven) but admirable editions in 12mo, printed at Sedan'.) Warde appears to have been using the copy in the Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris, the only one now known and the original of the facsimile published in 1927. In 1887 Brincourt wrote, ‘ce cahier, intitulé: “Espreuve des caractères nouvellement taillez,” est de la plus grande rareté: on y trouve la reproduction de tous les caractères nouveaux, y compris la Nompareille et la Sedanaise avec son Italique.’ And in the later printings of Brincourt’s text (1902, etc.), there is a reference to a copy, without any indication of its whereabouts, as ‘In-4° de 6 ff. pour le titre et de l’Avis “aux Imprimeurs”, plus 10 ff. pour les “Caracteres nouuellement taillez”. But in the copy at the Bibliothèque Mazarine there appear to be only seven leaves which show types, and they do not include either the roman or italic of Nompareille or Sedanaise, although both sizes are named on the leaf of two-line letters. Can Brincourt have seen another and a more complete copy of the specimen, and if so where is it?

06 January, 2012

Type held in the hand

Type, as we know, is something that you can pick up and hold in your hand. But there are fewer opportunities for doing this now than ever before, and our fading familiarity with the way type was made in the past can make for puzzles that are not easy to resolve.
Harry Carter’s phrase with which he began the lectures that became A view of early typography (1969), ‘Type is something that you can pick up and hold in your hand’, was a reproach to bibliographers whose attention was so occupied by the marks they saw on paper that they were not always much concerned about the means by which the solid types that made them were created and how this had affected the way they looked. The reproach was not always deserved, even when it was addressed to bibliographers isolated in their libraries. Making type was traditionally a secretive trade and difficult to penetrate.
In recently using a post to praise Talbot Baines Reed’s work as a historian I observed that his notes on the evidence for the shape of early types are still useful, and that they were retained with little alteration by his editor in the edition of 1952. But there is scarcely any reference in his original edition of 1887 to the way in which type was being made then – in what can now be seen to have been fateful years, when mechanization began to change the normal stance of the setter of texts from standing at a pair of cases to sitting at a keyboard.
It is often in my mind, when I use Reed’s book, that it would have been helpful if he had recorded more of the everyday operation of his typefoundry and added a note on the way it was changing. Notwithstanding some of the new techniques that had crept insidiously into regular use, like the use of the machines that had taken over the work of most of the casters with the hand mould and the electrotyping that had become a process for making many of the matrices, he must have been well aware that most of the operations of his own foundry had not changed in centuries. It still held one of the major surviving collections of early materials, the larger part of which were still usable, and the work of the casters and dressers had hardly changed. In the collective memory of the workmen there was a store of unwritten knowledge of how things had once been done.
Now we are well aware that not only has our own access to this tradition almost slipped away from us, but nobody today is quite sure, since metal types are not going to return, how we can preserve the embarrassingly rich stores of historical punches and matrices that have survived so far. The technical skills of those who understood the trades of the caster and the punchcutter, which were passed to the next generation by example and word of mouth and which would help us to understand exactly what we have left to us and how it was used, are now almost beyond our reach, even if we can find the individual sets of punches and matrices that we may be seeking among those that are stored.
I write this bit of sermonizing, not for the first time, to try to give some dignity to a post that might otherwise seem to deal with trivia. Its subject – some details of the way type looks, and why – is one that has been in my mind since I noticed that the typefounder’s mould in the image published in the Diderot Encyclopédie would actually make type with the nick ‘below’ the letter, just like modern type in English-speaking places, and not in the French manner.
The nick (see the image at the head of this post) tells the compositor whether all the type in the line is the right way up or not, and it distinguishes p from d in the case. The nick is visible to the compositor and it can be felt with the thumb, reassuringly, as the type is set. But French type usually has the nick ‘on top’, or at the back when it is placed in the composing stick. Fournier le jeune labours the point in a long section on the cran, or nick, in his Manuel typographique. Moreover, there is this image in the Encyclopédie, in the section on printing, that shows some large types which have their nick ‘on top’, in the French manner, as we would expect.

But what exactly does the Encyclopédie itself tell us? There is a whole article, a brief one, headed cran, which is included in Giles Barber’s admirable collection of selected materials from it on the making of books which was published in 1973. The piece is carefully worded, giving the function of the nick, but managing not to offer an opinion regarding which side of the types the nick should be. This (in my words) is what it says:
“Nick, a term of the typefounder, is a small indentation in the body of type which tells which way up it is. The compositor who takes care to place the nick of each piece of type on the same side is sure that they are all in the right orientation. The nick is on top or below, according to the country, and the choice of the printer.”
Fournier himself acknowledged that although the nick was ‘on top’ in France it was on the other side in Holland, Flanders, Germany and the ‘Lyonnais’ – the district round Lyon, the city that had been one of the major centres of printing in France. He says nothing about England, but then he had no knowledge of founders’ practice there. As Bodoni’s surviving moulds show, types in Italy had the nick ‘below’, like those in England.
Hence the puzzle of this diagram in the Encyclopédie, below. It is fig. 2 of plate II of the section on ‘typefounding’ (Fonderie des caracteres).

It shows the ‘bottom half’ of the mould, with the matrix pushed up to the ‘stool’ and its lower part projecting. The impression of the punch is not shown on the matrix as it should be, but there is no doubt that type it cast would have the nick ‘below’, in the English manner, where the compositor could see and feel it.
Even if the diagram is intended to show a kind of universal mould, with an orientation that would be familiar in many countries and not just one, it contradicts what one has learned of the French custom. Since the image among the engravings of the Encyclopédie that illustrate the article on printing (above) show big types with the nick on top, or at the back, is there a contradiction to resolve? What other evidence have we of the general practice in France?
We have in fact the advantage of an earlier treatise, the account of typefounding that was prepared by Jacques Jaugeon for the so-called ‘Description des Arts et Métiers’ with the authority of the Academy of Sciences. Its image of the mould, engraved by Louis Simonneau in 1694 (below), shows the nick on top. The closed mould is on the left, with the bottom end of the matrix, to which a piece of leather has been tied, projecting from it. The image in the centre shows the other end of the matrix, with a piece of cast type, with its nick ‘on top’ and the projecting ‘jet’ of surplus metal, still in place.

In fact the surviving iconography goes further. In the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal there is a series of pen and wash sketches relating to typefounding that were probably drawn in the 1690s and intended for the engraver. They tell us more about the look of type than any other images of that date. Here is a large letter A.

Sure enough, the nick is ‘at the back’ in English terms. Moreover the projecting lower part of the type body has been shaved away at an angle with a plane, (‘bearded’ to use the English word), so that it would not pick up ink and print by accident.

Here is a view of the same letter seen from the side, showing the bearding clearly, and also something that the first sketch left out. The angles on either side of the A have been shaved, to eliminate the risk that these sharp projecting corners would pick up ink and print by accident. The feature that was left out has been added to both images. It is labelled in this one as the goutiere or ‘gutter’ (modern French gouttière), that is the ‘groove’ made with a plane in the foot of the type in order to remove the projection that may be left by the surplus metal that is broken off after it is cast, so that just two ‘feet’ are left, the feature (a brilliantly simple one) that gave each piece of cast type a uniform height. (The image above from the Encyclopédie shows these features too, though the bearding is not so well drawn.)
Details like bearding apart, we can be fairly sure that type of 1700 was not unlike the product of more recent techniques of casting and dressing, and that some of its details were innovations that were not features of very early types. It was nearly an inch high, as type seems always to have been – a nicely calculated size for something big enough to be picked up and assembled by hand and to lock itself into a solid forme. Here are types for text setting that were part of a purchase made in the 1670s by the University Press at Oxford with the help of the scholar Francis Junius, showing their nick and groove.

They are for a German Schwabacher for an ‘English’ body (about 14-point) equipped with special characters for printing northern languages like Swedish, which was the name that was given to the type at Oxford. Like all hand-cast types, these lack the precise finish of the machine-cast product, and their sides show scoring from being rubbed on a stone to remove the fins of metal that had crept round the edge of the hand-held mould. There is a conspicuous casting flaw in one sort, but if the face was good enough to print such a flaw in the body was of no consequence to the printer. It was said that the metal of hand-cast type was more solid than the machine-made product.
Here, for comparison, is some type that is only slightly later: an Etruscan type for the same body as the Swedish. It was made in London by William Caslon in about 1748 for sale to the Oxford University Press. The image below shows how it looks in the Caslon specimen of 1766. The type – almost the only type in existence from the original Caslon foundry – survived almost unused at Oxford because the opportunities for printing Etruscan were naturally so limited as to be virtually non-existent.

There is one other feature of cast type that the bibliographer sees and accepts without question, but which has caused more of a technical challenge to the founder (and irritation to the printer) than many readers can ever have suspected. Lower-case f has generally overhung the letter that follows: it is ‘kerned’ (to use the term in its original sense, one that has become modified in digital type-making). This was because f overhung the letter that followed in many early scripts, and typefounders, from Gutenberg onwards, have generally accepted the challenge.
In the 42-line Bible, a detail from which is shown below, as in most later types, f is kerned and hangs over the letter that follows. (In this example, it is also worth noting that there is a c that is cast to project beyond its body but in which the projection has been rubbed down flush to it, so that it abuts firmly on the specially-adapted form of i that follows, making a kind of ligature and keeping the rhythm of vertical strokes that contributes to the even visual texture of this type on the page.)

If the character following f was an i or an l, a special fi or fl sort needed to be made in order to avoid a collision; in several later types such collisions can be seen.
Here is one: the book, set in a nice bâtarde gothic, is Robert Gaguin, La mer de croniques et miroir historial de France, Paris, Nicole de la Barre c. 1520 (St Bride 5750). An f in the first line, in filz, has ridden up over the i next to it. Some five lines lower, a double-f ligature in suffisant has collided with the following i (or some other ascender) and sustained visible damage.

The kerned f became the common and inescapable feature of nearly all types, roman or gothic. (Perhaps to avoid the need for an fi character, Jenson put the dot of his i as far to the right of its body as it would go.) To give some idea of the engineering skills that were required to make the cantilevered projection of the f, here is the Canon or 36-point size of the so-called Fell type from Oxford:

Although precisely-engineered machines like the Monotype cast a kern that took some support from the shoulder of the following letter, founders generally shaved the underside of the kern in case variations in the height of the next letter induced stresses that could break the metal. In his Practical typecasting (1993), Theo Rehak, drawing on experience at ATF, specifies the use of the ‘kerning plow’, and also the use of a worn file for a substantial kern. Fig. 23 of Legros & Grant, Typographical printing-surfaces (1916) shows a ‘kerning file’, a device that held the individual type for kerning at the correct angle. One of these, from the foundry of Stevens, Shanks, was transferred to the St Bride Library.
In casting italics, the strokes of most of the descending letters like p needed to be kerned on the left and ascenders like l on the right, in order to get a good even rhythm. Italic f (together with long s) was a particular nuisance since it needed to be kerned on both sides: both kerned parts often tended to break or bend in use, however competent the caster had been. Eventually – but it took a long time – the habit of kerning f began to be lost. In the first decade of the 19th century Lord Stanhope, with his rational approach to everything and his enthusiasm for stereotyping saw no reason for keeping it (the plaster mould tended to catch in the kerned part of the letter). By the middle of the 19th century, when the long s had long been dropped from use, special ‘news founts’ with unkerned f were made for the printers of newspapers, who printed from stereotype plates.
Graham Pollard, a bibliographer who thought he had made a coup and identified a forgery by making much of its use of a kernless f apparently before its time, might have got himself into trouble if his antagonist, Thomas J. Wise (who was certainly guilty), had not been too old and tired to defend himself. Pollard had failed to look in specimens of the 1850s for kernless ‘news founts’.

As this image shows, the elimination of the kern from f did nothing to discourage the use of the fi and fl ligatured forms.
By the end of the 19th century, the practice of using non-kerning f for type for text setting was so widely accepted that for the makers of the Linotype machine, in which kerning was technically impossible, the limitation did not appear to be a significant handicap. Early designs made for the Monotype machine, which cast separate types, did not kern the f, perhaps principally to save trouble, since it was in fact possible. Eventually it was found by Monotype that kerned characters made italics that were better-spaced. Moreover this feature gave a conspicuous advantage over Linotype when traditional designs were made. And so the practice of kerning was reprieved, although in the last days of independent typefoundries the process was often handled with ever-decreasing understanding and skill. The italic of Monotype’s so-called Garamond type (series 156) handled the kerned characters very well: the long s is kerned even more generously than the f, demonstrating engineering skills that were no doubt those of the works manager F. H. Pierpont. The swash capitals are based on some made by Granjon for his Parangon italic, a type found in much printing in Paris and shown on the Berner specimen sheet of 1592. This is a specimen of Monotype’s 14-point Garamond italic. In this special version of the type, with its many archaic swash capitals and ligatured sorts, it seems likely that the long s was combined with some of the vowels that followed to make a single piece of type. Morison showed a synopsis of these characters on page 30 of his monograph On type faces, London, 1923.

But the machine could produce some impressive examples of kerning. The tail of the capital Q of Monotype Van Dijck (example below) runs right over the following letter.

For Linotype, for a long time the dominant system for typesetting in the United States, only a technical change would eventually overcome the limitations. In due course the liberating but flawed technology of filmsetting, and then its digital successors, notably OpenType, would do something to save the kerned f and to preserve the mandatory accompanying set of the five ff, fi, fl, ffi and ffl ligatures for painstaking and pedantic typographers.

French type and its nicks: a footnote
I wrote above that French type ‘usually’ has the nick on top. In fact I know of one exception to that rule, for a special reason.
The so-called Garamond type of the Imprimerie nationale has had much documenting in this blog (and of course in the magisterial Garamont website of the Ministry of Culture in France, introduced in October 2011). One odd result of the preserving of the matrices of Jean Jannon, acquired in 1641, is that as one can see that they have an unusual appearance : they are struck ‘upside down’. That is, the top of the letter is at the lower end of the matrix.
Traditionally the top of the letter in the matrix is at the end that is placed first in the mould. Making contact with the heurtoir, the ‘stool’ inside the mould, it sets the alignment of the type. The usual orientation of the letter on the matrix can be seen seen in this Figgins type of about 1810. The notch at the lower end is there to make it easier to tie a piece of leather to it so that it can be held in the mould, something that can be seen in the image of the mould by Simonneau:

The Jannon matrices were struck the other way round, so that the letter looks ‘upside down’. Perhaps it shows how new he was to typefounding. (As John Lane has noted, matrices for a very few English types of the 17th century were also struck in this manner, which perhaps tells us how isolated some English founders were from conventional practice.) Here is a matrix for Jannon’s Gros Canon (36-point) roman:

There is one result from Jannon’s habit that is perfectly logical but which surprised me at first. If type is cast from this matrix in a normal French mould the type itself will be ‘upside down’ on its body, so its nick will be ‘below’ the letter, as any English compositor would expect. This can be seen in examples of the 36-point Jannon type that have been cast at Ivry. I’m not sure that there is any moral to this anecdote, except that I find it reassuring that a kind of logical explanation can be found for such a minute variation from what seems like a rigidly undeviating and disciplined practice.

Note on nicks, etc.
Anyone at all interested in the discussion of this detail of the mould should look at Carter’s notes on its construction in ‘The history of the typefounder’s hand-mould’ in the Davis and Carter edition of Moxon, Mechanick exercises, revised edition, 1962, pp. 377–9. Kerning is dealt with pretty thoroughly by Fournier (Manuel typographique pp. 98 ff.; Carter, Fournier on typefounding, pp. 109 ff.).
An oversight. I am grateful to Stan Nelson for drawing my attention to the following passage, which I should have quoted in this post:
‘T. B. Reed noted (Old English Letter Foundries, 1887, p. 204) that the matrices for the Union Pearl, the Alexandrian Greek, the Court Hand, and the Scriptorials were struck with the letters upside-down. The same is true of Nicholls’s Great Primer Roman and Italic and the Great Primer Ethiopic at Oxford. If fitted in English moulds, therefore, they produce type with the nick at the back, which is normal in France. A possible explanation is that they were made for use with French moulds so as to cast type with the nick in front. Moulds of the kind appear, therefore, to have descended from Nicholls to Grover.’
Edward Rowe Mores, A dissertation upon English typographical founders edited by Harry Carter and Christopher Ricks,(London, 1961), p. 112. Horace Hart had already made some remarks on the orientation of the Nicholls matrices in his Notes on a century of typography at the University Press, Oxford (1900), at page 139.

Notes on some sources of images
I am grateful to those who have granted access to the materials shown here.
The image of the mould engraved by Louis Simonneau in 1694 is one of a series of plates illustrating typefounding that were prepared but never published, and copies are almost unfindable outside Paris. (But it is known that some proofs escaped. Copies of these may possibly exist in libraries or print collections, perhaps, since they have no captions, mistakenly identified as plates made for the Encyclopédie.) I showed these images with a commentary for the first time in an article, ‘Illustrations of typefounding engraved for the Description des Arts et Métiers of the Académie Royale des Sciences, 1694 to c. 1700’, Matrix 11 (1991), pp. 60–80. They match the manuscript description of punchcutting and typefounding compiled by Jacques Jaugeon for the Description des Arts et Métiers in the Bibliothèque de l'Institut de France, Paris. Fred Smeijers later showed them in his book Counterpunch (1996). The originals were from an album at the St Bride Library, London. The printed image of the mould is missing from this set of plates but the original copper plate had been acquired by the Newberry Library, Chicago, which was kind enough to have a few new impressions made from it, from one of which this detail is taken.
The two details of sketches showing a printing type for capital A appear on leaf 80 of an album relating to the Description des Arts et Métiers (Gr. fol. 114) at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris.
The early types from the University Press, Oxford, are among materials that were transferred to the St Bride Library in 1989.
The matrix of the Gros Canon roman of Jean Jannon is in the Cabinet des Poinçons of the Atelier du livre d’art et de l’estampe of the Imprimerie nationale, Ivry-sur-Seine.
The detail of the word faciem from the 42-line Bible (Leviticus 20:3) is from a single leaf at the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, one of several from a broken copy that were sold in New York in 1921 with a common title-page reading A noble fragment, being a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible.
There are selected articles from the Encyclopédie in Giles Barber’s Bookmaking in Diderot’s Encyclopédie: a facsimile reproduction of articles and plates, with an introduction (Farnborough: Gregg, 1973)