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The printed page

The typefaces of Garamond

Opening showing a decorative head-piece and initial letter, embellished with Italianate designs of swirling shapes and fantastical figures. Both pages also show evidence of past depredation by a bookwormOpening showing a decorative head-piece and initial letter, embellished with Italianate designs of swirling shapes and fantastical figures. Both pages also show evidence of past depredation by a bookwormThe vast majority of printers of the hand press era did not manufacture their own type; instead they acquired it from specialist type founders, who cut founts, or sets, of metal type.

Many of the typefaces still in common use today: Baskerville, Bodoni, Caslon, Garamond, to name but a few, bear the names of the type designers who first cut punches of these types hundreds of years ago, their continued popularity a testimony to the enduring value of good design.

The typefaces designed by the Parisian punch-cutter Claude Garamond (1480-1561) dominated the European market from the 16th to the mid-17th century. 

Heavily influenced by the great Venetian printer Aldus Manutius (c1452-1515) in both his Roman and Greek type designs, Garamond created a Greek fount whose cursive style and abundant use of ligatures (tied letters) and contractions made it pleasant to the eye but not always easy to read nor straightforward for the printer to adopt.

François I of France commissioned Garamond’s Greek type, hence known as the grec du roi, and it was used by the king’s printer Robert Estienne (1503-59) for his Greek New Testament and also for the edition of Xiphilinus’s epitome of Dio Cocceianus’s Historia Romana, shown here.

The publication history of the book featured here is curious. Estienne’s editions of the Bible, which included new translations alongside the Vulgate text, had brought him into conflict with the theologians of the Sorbonne and were eventually banned in 1547.

Although he secured a guarantee of immunity from prosecution in 1548, Estienne fled Paris for Geneva in 1550, where he openly embraced Calvinism. However, a number of books that he had already announced or begun working on, such as this edition of Dio Cocceianus, continued to be issued in his name from the Paris press.

The opening reproduced here includes a decorative head-piece and initial letter, both embellished with Italianate designs of swirling shapes and fantastical figures. Both pages also show evidence of past depredation by a bookworm.

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