Printing type: 1450 to 1830 (2017)

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Some knowledge of printing type is essential in describing printed materials, and it can be of vital importance in assigning a reliable date and a place of printing to documents in which these details are either absent or misleading. The object of this course is to trace the development of type and letterforms from the period of the invention of printing until its mechanization during the 19th century.

It will concentrate on the development of the design of printing types, and it will look at the relationship between letters used in other fields such as writing, sculpture and architecture, and explore the cultural, technical and economic factors that have had an influence on their development.

The course offers a broad historical overview under the following general headings: gothic hands, gothic types, the revival of ‘antique’ capitals in Italy, the humanistic script and early roman and italic types, the ‘Aldine’ roman type in 16th-century France, types in the ‘Dutch taste’ (le goût hollandois, a term used by Fournier le jeune) in the 17th century, the ‘chancery cursive’ hand (cancellaresca corsiva) and the calligraphic revolution of the later 16th to 18th centuries, new types of the 18th century in France, Britain and Italy, and the commercial types of the first decades of the 19th century.

There will also be sessions in which original artefacts and documents at the Museum of Printing in Lyon will be examined and studied.

The course includes a session devoted to the traditional process of making types with a punch, matrix and mould, with a demonstration of casting type by hand. Nelly Gable who is punch-cutter (National Craft Living Treasure) at the Atelier du livre d’art et de l’estampe of the Imprimerie Nationale and who is responsible for its material collections of punches and matrices will give a demonstration of her work.

Course in English with the possibility of discussion in both English and French.

Plan détaillé du cours: 

Monday morning (Enssib)

Introduction to the course and source materials

History of letterforms

Evolution of scripts, from Antiquity to the Middle Ages

The invention of printing and the making of type. Gothic types

Monday afternoon (Enssib)

The Renaissance discovery of the Antique capital letter. Humanistic minuscule and chancery script

Early roman types, Jenson, Aldus

Tuesday morning (Enssib)

The ‘aldine’ roman in France: Claude Garamont, Robert Granjon and their contemporaries. Italic types

Types in the ‘Dutch taste’: Van den Keere, Briot, Van Dijck, Kis, Caslon

Tuesday afternoon (Musée de l’imprimerie)

Demonstration of cutting punches and casting type with Nelly Gable and James Mosley

Wednesday morning (Enssib)

Handwriting, 17th and 18th centuries

Neo-classicism. France: from the romain du roi to Fournier le jeune

Neo-classicism. France: the Didots and their contemporaries

Wednesday afternoon (Musée de l’imprimerie)

Looking at selected books and type specimens

Typesetting with Fernande Niçaise

Thursday morning (Enssib)

Neo-classicism. Britain: Baskerville, Austin, and others

Neo-classicism. Italy. Netherlands. Spain. USA.

Thursday afternoon (Enssib)

New commercial types of the 19th century, fat-face, slab-serif, sanserif.



This is ‘recommended’ – not ‘required’ – reading, some texts that, if they can be located, should give useful background information to introduce the history of printing types.

Carter, Harry, A view of early typography up to about 1600 (Oxford, 1969). Reprinted with an introduction and notes by James Mosley. London: Hyphen Press, 2002.

Gaskell, Philip, A new introduction to bibliography. Corrected reprint. Oxford, 1974.

Knight, Stan, Historical types from Gutenberg to Ashendene. New Castle, Delaware, Oak Knoll Press, 2012.

Mosley, James, "Médailles sur les principaux événements du règne de Louis le Grand, 1702: the making of the book", Bulletin du bibliophile, 2. 2008, pp. 296–350.

Moxon, Joseph,  Mechanick exercises on the whole art of printing, 1683–4; edited by Herbert Davis and Harry Carter. 2nd ed. London, 1962.

Fournier, Pierre Simon, The Manuel typographique of Pierre-Simon Fournier le jeune, together with Fournier on typefounding, an English translation of the text by Harry Carter, in facsimile; with an introduction and notes by James Mosley. Darmstadt: Lehrdruckerei der Technischen Hochschule, 1995.

Vervliet, H. D. L., The palaeotypography of the French Renaissance: selected papers on sixteenth-century typefaces. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2008.

Vervliet, H. D. L., French Renaissance printing types: a conspectus. London: Bibliographical Society, 2010.

Wardrop, James, The script of humanism. Oxford, 1963.