Bearing Type (Blind Impressions)

[see Tanselle, ‘Treatment’ cit., pp. 41-43: “Impressions from material non meant to print”]. In early printing the press-platen hung by cords from the hose and therefore had a delicate balance. If the page in the forme contained empty space, it had to be filled with supporting material. The most common practise was to place lines of supporting type, often taken from a forme in distribution, which, though usually covered by the frisket, left an indentation in the damp paper or vellum. If in turn a copy has not been harshly treated by posterity and above all has not suffered unduly the violence of the binder’s hammer, the supporting material can sometimes be identified. For a basic introduction with a list of examples, see David Paisey, ‘Blind Printing in Early Continental Books’, in Book Production and Letters in the Western European Renaissance: Essays in Honour of Conor Fahy, eds. A.L. Lepschy, J. Took, D.E. Rhodes (London, MHRA, 1986, pp. 220-233). Sometimes types are arranged to form invisible texts: Paisey describes an example of ‘CHRISTVSIESVS...’, and more recently Detlef Mauss has described a seven-line support in a 1478 Aquinas containing a amusing hidden salutation from two German printers in Renaissance Venice; see ‘Ein bislang unbeschriebener Stützsatz’, Gutenberg Jahrbuch (1996), pp. 72-73. Otherwise an obstacle to the study of  bearing type is the attitude of some bibliographers who consider it a typographical freak, not worthy of serious scrutiny. Of course this is nothing more than truth when the examples concerned are isolated or when the texts are jumbles of letters chosen at random from the type-case, but where we find a systematic re-use of settings of type from earlier formes, blind impressions can tell us a great deal about the making of a book. Matters are however changing. The work of Randall McLeod on the 1528 princeps of Castiglione’s Cortegiano shows how the bearers provide a key to the making of an important literary text in the printing shop; see Random Cloud [i.e. R. McLeod], ‘Where Angels fear to  read’, in Ma(r)king the Text: The Presentation of Meaning on the Literary Page, eds. Joe Bray, Miriam Handley, and Anne C. Henry (Aldershot, Ashgate Publishers, 2000, pp. 144-192), which has also circulated as a home produced extract. My own work on the forty pages containing bearers in the 1499 Hypnerotomachia Poliphili reveals the complexities surrounding the construction of Aldus’ typographical masterpiece; see Neil Harris, ‘The Blind Impressions in the Aldine Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499)’, Gutenberg Jahrbuch (2004), pp. 93-146, which includes an extensive photographic documentation (an interim report has also appeared in ‘Il Polifilo: la cecità che non si vede’, in the electronic journal Discipline del libro, n. 2, giugno 1999, at link http://www.uniud.it/libroantico/discipline/, while a reduced version in Italian appears in "Il colophon perduto dell’Hypnerotomachia Poliphili", in Storia della lingua e filologia: per Alfredo Stussi nel suo sessantacinquesimo compleanno, a cura di Michelangelo Zaccarello e Lorenzo Tomasin, Firenze, Edizioni del Galluzzo per la Fondazione Ezio Franceschini, 2004, pp. 241-262).

Another habit of Renaissance typography that produces a blind impression is when they print a trial uninked run of a forme, most likely as a way of testing out the register with what has previous been executed on the other side of a sheet. As a result books can be found in which the uninked impression underlies the inked one, but sometimes with minor differences in the typesetting. Some examples are described by Gabriella Leggieri in Sara Centi [and others], "Vademecum per conoscere il manufatto tipografico del Quattro e Cinquecento", in Catalogo degli incunaboli e delle cinquecentine della Biblioteca Comunale di San Gimignano, a cura di Neil Harris, San Gimignano, Città di San Gimignano, 2005 (Fonti e ricerche, 2), vol. 2, pp. 65-109.

Otherwise, and indeed most often, the bibliographical literature draws attention to mistakes made by the printer, due to the fact that, when the support is well away from the inked letter-press, the frisket was not necessarily employed. At times, however, the beaters misunderstood or forgot their instructions and inked the support: some examples – not recorded in Paisey’s article - are pointed out in Curt F. Bühler, ‘A Note on a Fifteenth Century Printing Technique’, The Library Chronicle, vol. 15 (1949), pp. 52-55; ‘A Misprinted Page in a Fifteenth-Century Book’, ibid., vol. 21 (1955), pp. 3-5; ‘The First Edition of Ficino’s De Christiana Religione: A Problem in Bibliographical Description’, Studies in Bibliography, vol. 18 (1965), pp. 248-252, reprinted in his Early Books and Manuscripts: Forty Years of Research by Curt F. Bühler (New York, The Grolier Club & The Pierpont Morgan Library, 1973), pp. 307-312; John R. Turner, ‘The Printing of Trissino’s De la volgare eloquenzia’, The Library, s. 6, vol. 4 (1982), pp. 307-313, with a further note by Peter Blayney, ‘Trissino’s De la volgare eloquenzia: A question of bearing’, 5 (1983), pp. 175-176. Very recently indeed Brian Richardson has pointed out an example in the 1517 Milan edition of Fortunio’s Regole grammaticali della volgar lingua, see the critical edition by the same (Roma-Padova, Antenore, 2001, p. 191).


Concept suggested by Rolf E. Du Rietz to cover situations in which we have insufficient information to draw up a description of the ‘ideal copy’; see ‘The concept of “Bibliotype”’, Text (1974), pp. 78-92. My personal opinion is that the term derives from a methodological misunderstanding of what bibliographers mean by ‘ideal copy’, though this last concept certainly requires further definition, and therefore that the proposal is largely redundant. Obviously there are situations in which virtually every exemplar of a book differs from its companions in some feature of its making, and in such cases the description of the ‘ideal copy’ has to embrace the known variants. Where it might be useful to have an alternative term is in library cataloguing, since, though a catalogue description makes reference to a perfect or complete copy of an edition (even when the only copy owned by the library performing the operation is acephalous or mutilated in some other way), the concept followed is not quite the same, though very nearly, as the bibliographical one (i.e. a bibliotype could be termed a single perfect copy of a state, or of an issue, or of an impression, or, where all these terms are synonymous or bibliographical research has not established any distinctions, of an edition, present as a physical object in a particular collection).

Binding up

Now here is a useful term and an even more useful concept. While an issue always has to do with the printing of a book, in that something has to be done typographically that makes the sheets different, at times a nucleus of sheets can be bound up to form a discrete unit, which is bibliographical but is not typographical. I cannot better on the illustration of the concept provided nearly eighty years ago by Michael Sadleir: “A ‘binding-up’ ...is the mere replenishment of the stock in a publisher’s warehouse. He has caused to be printed (say), 2,000 copies of a book in sheets. Before first publication he had bound, say, 1,000 of these sheets. As the book sells, his bound stock gets low and he thinks it prudent to bind-up another instalment of his waiting sheets. He gives a binding order for, say, 500 copies more. That is a ‘binding-up’ and not an issue. If it be ordered long after first publication it will perhaps show variants of advertisement material and, in so far as it is therefore obviously of later date than its otherwise identical predecessor, it will take second place in the heart of the first edition fanatic. And yet in reality the question of ‘edition’ does not enter into the matter at all. The second binding up is far from being a second edition; it is not even a second issue; it reproduces merely the commonsense of publishing practice” (cfr. M. Sadleir, Trollope: A Bibliography. An Analysis of the History and Structure of the Works of Anthony Trollope, and a general survey of the effect of original publishing conditions on a book’s subsequent rarity (London, Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1964 [1st ed. 1928]), p. xiii).