By John Boardley
208 pages, hardcover, $40
Published by Bodleian Library Publishing
Type changed history. Gutenberg’s innovations in printing in the fifteenth century made possible the mass production of books. But what has happened to type since then? Quite a lot, as Typographic Firsts by John Boardley reveals.
After Gutenberg’s big bang, typographic invention came fast and furious. Within a scant 50 years, typographers and printers brought forth the first printer’s mark, the first roman typeface, the first printed map, the first decorative title pages and the first book typeset entirely in italic.
Profusely, gloriously illustrated, Typographic Firsts is a scholarly dive deep into the history of type. Readers will learn the precise recipe Gutenberg used to cast his metal type, how long it took for a punch cutter to make a complete set of punches, and the difference between rustic capitals and square capitals produced in ancient Rome.
Boardley showcases block books, the first books printed using woodcuts for illustrations, which came out of southern Germany and the Low Countries around the 1460s; highlights intaglio illustrations in an astronomy textbook from 1476; digs into contributions from the nuns of San Jacopo di Ripoli in Florence, who, in 1481, became the first female typesetters and printers; and covers the first use of italic type, meant to emulate cursive handwriting, in 1500.
Jenson. Bembo. Aldus. Caxton. Caslon. Today, we know their names, immortalized as typefaces. Their contributions would define and codify the conventions of the book for the next 500 years. In Typographic Firsts, Boardley brings their contributions to life. —Sam McMillan