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The Book As Artifact: Typography

Western typography emerged in the mid-fifteenth century with the introduction of movable type printing. The handwritten letterforms of the past began to be standardized.

In A Brief Survey of Printing (1923), Morison and Jackson provide a visual timeline of typography.

try itTry It!
Explore pages 55 though 64 of A Brief Survey of Printing. Notice the changes that took place in typography over the centuries.

Read Warde, Beatrice (1956). The crystal goblet or printing should be invisible. In, The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography. World Publishing Company. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Do you have a passion for typography or is it something that you ignore when you read?

Understanding Typographers through Primary Sources

When studying the history of a book through typography, the book as a physical artifact is essential. Using magnifying devices and digital scans, it's even possible to match the original metal type to specific books.

However, insights can also be gained by studying the individuals involved in designing typefaces, producing the metal type, and selecting particular types for specific books.

Books like The World of Aldus Manutius (1979) by Martin Lowry and Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script and Type in the Fifteenth Century (1992) by Nicolas Barker explore the person behind the type by examining not only the typeface, but also the social and political situation, the trends in printing and publishing, as well as the evolution of type.

15th Century

gutenberg bibleMany of the early typefaces reflected local forms of writing. Most European typefaces were modeled on forms of Gothic script used by German scribes.

For instance, Peter Schoffer was employed by Johannes Gutenberg to design the letter punches for the first metal typeface around 1450.

The image on the left shows the Gutenberg Bible.

In 1476 William Caxton printed the first English books in Batarde type.

In Italy, Nicolas Jenson created a type in 1470 including the Venetian type family. The Venetian, old style, or antiqua type displaced the gothic style.

The first printers of Rome created a style known as Gotico-antiqua and later what is known as roman type.

According to Lommen (2012, 16), the

"earliest type followed gothic manuscript hands that were often associated with specific genre of text: formal Textura (for northern Bibles and liturgical texts), Rotunda (for legal texts), and the more cursive bastard (for indulgences)."

16th Century

Venice continued to be a leader in printing including typography design. From the early 16th century, the French created new type styles inspired by Italian models.

typeIn Germany and Switzerland, the roman typefaces became popular in the early 1500s.

Johann Froben from Basel Switzerland established a set of standards that became commonly used throughout the German and Spanish speaking countries.

Geoffroy Tory Italian semi-floral, semi-architectural typefaces to French books and introduced the idea that typefaces didn't need to replicate hand writing.

In 1541, Claude Garamond was commissioned to create a set of fonts for King Francis I of France. Similar to roman type, the Garamond type became widely used.

The image on the right show a piece of cast metal type in the Garamond style.

By the late 1500s, Aldus Manutius was using italic type. During the sixteenth century, most Italian books were being printed in italic types.

17th & 18th Century

As engraving techniques were refined in the 17th and 18th centuries, typographical styles became more detailed, clean and precise. Designers were able to make more effective use of thick and thin strokes.

calsonThe 18th century can be considered the "Golden Age of Italian typography". According to Lommen,

"the Enlightenment encouraged the scientific study of trade practices that had been passed down by apprenticeship" (Lommen, 2012, 210).

English typefounder William Caslon I (1693-1766) established a number of well-known typefaces. The first printing of the United States Declaration of Independence was printed with one of his types.

In 1720, Caslon set up a typefoundry in London and cast well-known old face fonts. Caslon's son took over the business and it remained in the family until the 1930s.

The image on the right shows examples of his work.

try itTry It!
Read Specimen of Printing (1785) or Specimen of Printing (1798) by William Caslon. It's a great example of how typographers shared their typefaces. Compare the types in these books to those that you use today. How are they alike and different?

FournierPierre-Simon Fournier (1712-1768) was a French punch-cutter and typographer famous for his rococo forms designing typefaces like Fournier and Narcissus.

During the 1720s, the French government established standards for types. Fournier developed his own system in 1737 using 72 points to the inch. He established his own type foundry.

Along with J.G.I. Breitkopf, Fournier developed a new musical typestyle in the 1750s that was elegant, yet easy to read.

The image on the left shows a typeface graphic by Pierre Simon Fournier.

Lommen (2012, 174) notes that

"after about 1775, a rejuvenating rediscovery of classical antiquity followed the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and influenced a turn towards a purer, more geometrically constructed typography."

In the late 18th century, books were constructed with more white space around type. Title pages relied on beautiful typography rather than ornaments.

John Baskerville (c. 1706-1775) was an English printer and businessman well-known for his typography.

The image below left shows a portait of John Baskerville by James Millar in 1774.

Influenced by the pointed pen and engraving letters, he followed the style of contemporary calligraphy. He also made improvements in printing, paper, and ink production.

For instance, he developed a smoother white paper. He was known for reproducing works like Virgil (shown below right).


Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813) was an Italian typographer and printer. He modeled his Bodoni typefaces after then work of Fournier and Baskerville. He was known for his quality work and his editions of classic works were prized by collectors.

19th Century

During the 19th century few stylistic changes were make. However innovations were made in terms of the technical aspects of printing such as automation and the creation of factory-produced movable types. The invention of hot metal typesetting reduced the use of movable type.

figginsThe Caslon family tradition continued in the the 19th century. William Caslon IV produced the first san serif type in the early 1800s.

English typefounder Vincent Figgins (1766-1844) then introduced the second sans serif in 1828. He also introduced typefaces like Antique.

The image on the right shows the typeface Antique by Vincent Figgins.

Beginning in the 1890s, the Art nouveau movement introduced curved forms and new type styles such as Eckmann.

Publisher Theodore Low De Vinne (1828-1914) stressed the need to return to quality typography. His book The Practice of Typography stressed composition, spelling, and proof-reading.

20th Century

Publishers like William Morris along with the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement reintroduced many of the classic types. However by the 1920s, these old ways were once again abandoned for sleek, tidy type.

The 20th century saw continued developments on the manufacturing side. Because new typefaces were easy to produce, many new typefaces were developed. The move toward digital typesetting increased the options dramatically.

The impact of the modern art styles is reflected in typography beginning in the late 1800s. In particular Art Nouveau influenced type designers. With its curved forms and floral ornaments, many innovative type styles were created.

In a time when many publishers were stressing photographs and images, some private presses continues to focus on typography. British typographer and historian Stanley Morison (1889-1967) published First Principles of Typography focusing on traditional book typography. He and his friend Beatrice Warde coined the phrase "Printing should be invisible". Morison revived historical typefaces and developed Times New Roman in 1931 which continues to be a standard today.

American Bruce Rogers (1870-1957) was a well-known book designer and typographer focusing on classical designs such as Caslon and his typeface Centaur. He worked at a number of publishers producing fine editions that are now highly collectable.

The image below left shows the Centaur typeface. The image below right shows the Gill Sans typeface.

centaur Gill Sans

Eric Gill (1882-1940) was a British typographer and printmaker. Best known for his Gill Sans typeface, he wrote An Essay on Typography in 1936 that explored how typography can be connected to cultural criticism.

Jan Tschichold (1902-1974) published The New Typography in 1928 focusing on the A5 format. The book stresses functional, standardized, machined produced materials. Typefact like Futura and geometric san serif became popular.

In the 1930s, Futurism took hold in Italy. This movement advanced work in the visual aspects of book including typography and illustration. According to Bonciarelli (2012), Futurists chose cheap, concise book formats while selecting bright book covers and included visual aspects such as headings and subheadings to assist readers. The type sizes, weights, and spacing were selected based on what was best for eye movement and reading. The focus was on middlebrow literature that would be accessible to a larger public.

With the introduction of computers in the second half of the 20th century, typography changed. Software was developed that allowed users to easily design new fonts. At first, many of the traditional fonts were simply translated into the digital format. However by the 21st century many original types were being designed.

In 1992, Robert Bringhurst first published The Elements of Typographical Style. Now in its third edition, it provides a basic list of working principles for those interested in typography. In the foreword of his book, Bringhurst states (2013, 9)

"Typography makes at least two kinds of sense, if it makes any sense at all. It makes visual sense and historical sense. The visual side of typography is always on display, and materials for the study of its visual form are many and widespread. The history of letterforms and their usage is visible too, to those with access to manuscripts, inscriptions and old books, but from others it is largely hidden... The principles of typography as I understand them are not a set of dead conventions but the tribal customs of the magic forest, where ancient voices speak from all directions and new ones move to unrememberd forms."


Barker, Nicolas (1992). Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script and Type in the Fifteenth Century. Fordam University Press. Preview Available:

Bonciarelli, Sarah (2012). Page composing and lettering games: experimentation in Italy in the 1930s. Authorship, 2(1). Available:

Bringhurst, Robert (2013). The Elements of Typographical Style, Version 4.0. Hartley and Marks Publishers. Preview at Amazon:

Cormack, Bradin & Mazzio, Carla (2005). Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700. Available:

Darnton, Robert (1979). The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800. Harvard University Press. Preview Available: and full-text is available at

Gaskell, Philip (1972). A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford University Press.

Lommen, Mathieu (ed.) (2012). The Book of Books: 500 Years of Graphic Innovation. Thames & Hudson.

Lowry, Martin (1979). The World of Aldus Manutius. Cornell University Press.

Morison, Stanley & Jackson, Holbrook (1923). A Brief Survey of Printing: History and Practice. Alfred A. Knopf. Available:

Tanselle, Thomas G. (1995). Printing history and other history. Studies in Bibliography, 48, 269-289.

Warde, Beatrice (1956). The crystal goblet or printing should be invisible. In, The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography. World Publishing Company.

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