Printer’s ornaments are small decorative woodcuts or metal cuts used in letterpress printing as fillers on title-pages, and to demarcate the beginning and end of chapters or other sections.
They may be described as head-pieces (at the head or top of the page) or tail-pieces (at the end or foot of the page); larger images may be described as vignettes. Ornaments include the large initials used to mark the opening section of text, and factotums, which form a decorative border into which any letter can be inserted in printing. Fleurons are flowers or other small pieces of ornamental typography.
Woodcut ornaments in particular show the wear and tear of repeated use, and can be used in dating and localizing publications, although in practice type may have been loaned or sold between printers. A change of ornament can also be used to identify a variant printing. In rare cases where the ledgers of a printing business survive, such as those for the firm of William Bowyer, ornaments provide rich supplementary evidence to identify anonymous printing by comparison with known imprints.
Although ornaments are generally decorative and are not used to illustrate a specific accompanying text, they may be pictorial in themselves, and are a charmingly various source for design history.
The Nuremberg Chronicle (Liber Chronicarum in Latin or Das Buch der Croniken und Geschichten in German) is one of the most important books in the history of printing.
Produced on commission from Nuremberg merchants Sebald Schreyer (1446-1520) and Sebastian Kammermeister (1446-1503) in 1493, the 600 page text is attributed to Nuremberg doctor and humanist Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514). Drawing heavily from earlier, medieval and Renaissance sources, Schedel purports to tell the history of the Christian world from its creation to the time of writing. The text incorporates its fair share of myth and fable – with geographical and historical information on European counties and towns written alongside tales of epidemics, monsters and comets.
What makes this work remarkable however, is not so much the text itself, but rather the beauty and skill of the images that accompany it – bringing to life the biblical and historical events, major cities and important figures from myth and history within the text. Indeed, the Nuremberg Chronicle is the most lavishly illustrated book of the 15th century. In total, the work boasts 1809 images, produced using 645 woodblocks, many of which were used more than once. A mere 72 blocks were used for the 596 portraits of emperors, popes and other celebrities, for example – so each was used to represent 8 or 9 different people, changing only the caption.
As you can see from the above image, the woodcut images were incorporated closely within the letterpress text. A feat of considerable technical skill on the part of those involved in its production, this resulted in a particularly elegant and satisfying mise-en-page. To enable this, the work was first carefully planned in manuscript drafts (called ‘exemplars’) before printing. Remarkably, complete exemplars of both the Latin and the German edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle survive, and indicate that the images were sketched first, with the text inscribed to fit within the remaining space.
The woodcuts and exemplars for the Nuremberg Chronicle were produced by Michael Wohlgemut (1434-1519) and his stepson Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (c.1460-1494), and the work was printed and published by Anton Koberger (1445-1513) – the largest printer and publisher in Germany at the time. Koberger printed the Latin version on the 12th July 1493, with a German translation following shortly after, on 23rd December 1493. The University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) is fortunate enough to hold three copies of the 1493 Latin edition, and one of the German translation. A final copy of the Chronicle in SC&A is a pirated edition, printed by Johann Schönsperger (d. 1520) in Augsberg in 1500.
That SC&A holds so many copies of such an early printed book is perhaps rendered a little less surprising when we learn that no other 15th century book survives in as many copies as the Nuremberg Chronicle, undoubtedly an indication of its popularity at the time, as well as its enduring interest to collectors and researchers alike. Indeed, the SC&A copies were given to us by some of the most important donors in the history of the library – Charles Sydney Jones, Henry Tate, Thomas Glazebrook Rylands and Robert George Morton, and we were recently very excited to have all five SC&A copies of this important work on display in the reading room at one time, having beeen ordered up by Dr. Nina Adamova, as part of her research into marginalia in copies of the Chronicle.
References and further reading:
Wilson, Adrian. The making of the Nuremberg Chronicle. (1976)
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, ed. Worlds of learning: the library and world chronicle of the Nuremberg physician Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514). (2015)
For the last few months, I have been undertaking a SOTA300 work placement here at the Special Collections and Archives. The key focus of the placement has been to catalogue the literary annuals collection; we have around 200 literary annuals in the collections. The literary annuals were popular in Britain in the early-mid 19th Century; most of the annuals we have are dated from 1830-50 and span across many different titles. I have been cataloguing the binding details and inscriptions found in the collection. The annuals were typically targeted as gifts for the female audience with many even written by women. This is evident in the inscriptions as many of the annuals have been dedicated to women: family, friends, and sometimes prospective lovers. The annuals were often extravagantly designed with the content being made up of short poems and pictures. They ranged from tiny pocket-sized annuals to larger ‘scrapbooks’ and ‘drawing room’ books which were intended to be displayed in cabinets. Many prominent authors disparaged the literary worth of the annuals, but they nevertheless have proved important in literary history; the annuals influenced the publishing market and invoked changes due to their sheer popularity.
There are distinct differences between the older annuals;
like the early Forget me Nots (the first of their kind in Britain) and the
later annuals as seen in the pictures below. The annuals saw the introduction
of new binding techniques.
Silk was used on some of the earlier annuals, with leather or cloth covers increasingly used for durability. The use of bright colours and embossed designs were introduced in this period, and it became incredibly commonplace for gold to adorn the annuals; gilt-tooled/blocked designs and gilt edges became almost synonymous with the annuals. The literary annuals were innovative, for example by using steel plate engravings. The standard gradually increased as audiences desired the most attractive books to own.
The annuals were ideal Christmas and New year gifts. They
were released late in the year and were dated for the following year, much like
modern annuals. The Forget me not pictured above provides an example of an
annual gifted at Christmas. This particular copy in our collection is inscribed
‘To M. A. Garle From Mr J Garle. December 25th 1823.’ This appears
to be a gift from a husband to his wife; the presentation plates were provided
in order to prompt buyers to dedicate their editions.
Some of the annuals were even published in Liverpool, and
many of the copies in our collection have links to Liverpool as they have been
gifted by prominent locals such as the Rathbones, the Holt family, Sir Henry
Tate (1819-1899), and Sir. Charles Sydney Jones (1872-1947). Meanwhile, there
are some other annuals in the collection from America and mainland Europe; the
annuals proved popular worldwide. With their beauty and poetic contents making
them ideal Christmas gifts, it is easy to see why they reigned for so long.
Some of the annuals will be presented in our upcoming
exhibition. From the beginning of second semester, the display will show a
selection of the bindings and the interesting inscriptions alongside further
details and information. Visit the exhibition in the Sydney Jones Library from
February 2019 to see more!
The first of the private presses, and one of the most famous, was the Kelmscott Press, which was founded by a key figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris (1834-1896), in 1891.
The Arts and Crafts Movement aimed to preserve traditional craftsmanship against what its proponents saw as the insidious growth of new technologies and mass production during the 19th century. They considered the industrialisation of the arts and crafts to be responsible for a decline in design and quality, and thereby in working and living conditions, with damaging detrimental effects on moral and social health. In book production these ideas led to the founding of ‘private presses’ – usually defined as printing presses that aimed at craftsmanship and artistry rather than profit, advocating a return to the materials and techniques used in early book production. The Kelmscott books were produced in a “quasi-medieval” style, drawing on Morris’s admiration for the design and craftsmanship of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books – in particular the work of 15th century Italian printers. Care was taken over all aspects of the book’s production – with Morris designing his own types, sourcing ink from Germany and paper handmade (in a 15th century Italian style) in Kent, and paying meticulous attention to all aspects of design. For many, the results of this painstaking craftsmanship are amongst the most beautiful books ever created.
“The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer” (1896) is arguably the greatest accomplishment of the Kelmscott Press, with 87 woodcut illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones.
From “A note by William Morris on his aims in founding the Kelmscott Press…”, the last book to be printed at the press, in 1898.
Again replicating 15th century craftsmanship, many of the Kelmscott books are bound in stiff parchment, with silk fore-edge ties.
The Kelmscott Press, which closed in 1898, two years after Morris’s death, produced over 50 works, all in limited editions of on average around 300 copies. The University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives is very lucky to hold a complete set of the Kelmscott publications. They were bequeathed to the University by William Noble (1838-1912), who as well as being Treasurer of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, was an avid collector of illustrated, finely printed and limited editions of English books of the late 19th and early 20th century.
The colophon to Morris’s reprinting of William Caxton’s 1481 translation of “The History of Reynard the Foxe”. Morris’s edition had a print run of 300 copies.
Further reading: Peterson, William S. The Kelmscott Press: a history of William Morris’s typographical adventure (1991).
Morris, William. “A note by William Morris on his aims in founding the Kelmscott Press: together with a short description of the press by S.C. Cockerell, & an annotated list of the books printed thereat” (1898).
Juvenile was a term used by publishers to distinguish books and magazines produced for children – now more usually called children’s books – from those marketed to adults. The extensive Children’s Books collection in Special Collections at Liverpool includes several titles which make their target market clear, for example: The Juvenile: a magazine for the young and Juvenile anecdotes, founded on fact: collected for the amusement of the young. Many such titles provided more instruction than amusement and look very little like contemporary books for infants, children or the more recent publisher’s categories of teen and young adult.
Fisher’s juvenile (left) and drawing room scrapbooks (right)
The distinction between adult and juvenile markets was also made clear in the best-selling literary annuals of the 19th century. Fisher’s drawing-room scrapbook (1832-1852) sits next to the slightly smaller Fisher’s juvenile scrapbook (1836-1850), and the earliest and most enduring titles: Forget-me-not (1823-1847) and the Keepsake (1828-1857) are echoed in The juvenile forget-me-not (1828-1862) and The juvenile keepsake (1829-1850).
JUV 125: Juvenile forget-me-not (1830)
JUV 125: The juvenile keepsake (London & Liverpool, 1830)
Juvenile literature was a well-established category by 1888, when Edward Salmon published Juvenile Literature As It Is based on a survey of the reading habits of two thousand 11-19 year-olds.
Juvenilia is used specifically for ‘juvenile’ writings, as in the poet Leigh Hunt’s 1802 Juvenilia: or. a collection of poems. Written between the ages of twelve and sixteen (SPEC Fraser 293).
Resources and further reading: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature (2006)
Incunables are books printed with moveable type before 1501. Incunable comes from the Latin incunabula – a fake plural Latin noun derived from in cunabulis (in the swaddling clothes). According to S. H. Steinberg’s Five hundred years of printing, the term incunabula was first used in the context of printing at the celebrations of the second centenary of Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable metal type printing press. A tract printed in Cologne in 1639 described the later fifteenth century – from Gutenberg to 1500 – as ‘prima typographiae incunabula’, the time when typography was in its swaddling clothes.
SPEC Inc CSJ.D12.OS: Pliny, Historia naturale (Venice: Nicolas Jenson, 1476)
Incunables have many features in common with manuscript books of the same period, and even more with the books printed in the first half of the sixteenth century, but owning incunables retains a particular cachet and many libraries have separately catalogued collections of incunables.
The British Library’s Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) is an international database of European fifteenth century printing listing more than 30,500 editions and library catalogues of incunables will often cite the ISTC number.
Liverpool University Library has more than 250 incunable volumes, thanks chiefly to the fortunate coincidence of a revived interest in the medieval period in the late nineteenth century, when the University of Liverpool was founded with the support of many Liverpool benefactors.
Incunables given to the University of Liverpool by Sir Charles Sydney Jones
Further reading: S. H. Steinberg, Five hundred years of printing first edition 1955, 1996 British Library.
A half-title is a leaf that directly precedes the title-page proper and contains a title or short title, and perhaps the name of the author, or a volume number.
Half-title page for a pamphlet of 1691.
Given that the details recorded on a half-title are generally repeated, and elaborated upon, on the title-page which follows it, one might well wonder what purpose this extra leaf serves.
The title-page of the same pamphlet, which directly follows the half-title page shown above.
A favoured explanation* takes as its starting point the fact that, in the early printed book trade, the printing of the book and the binding of the book were two quite separate activities. Initially, printers would produce the pages of a text – the text-block – which they sold unbound. The text-block’s new owner would then have these pages bound into a volume according to their tastes and budget (or, in the case of a bookseller, the taste and budget of the customer they hoped to attract). To help protect the first page of the text-block from dirt and dust, it was customary for early printers to put a blank sheet on top of the unbound text-block.
Here it should also be noted that the very earliest printed books did not contain a title-page. The blank sheet, originally intended for protection, came to be marked with a ‘title’, then, in order to help printers to quickly differentiate one text-block from another. From here, this added sheet developed into the full title-page as we have come to know it; with publication details, and perhaps even some illustration, as well as author and title added to it.
But as this page became increasingly important in its own right, it became necessary to protect it from dirt and dust too, and so the process was repeated. A blank page, laid on top of the title-page to protect it from dirt and dust, had a short version of the title added to it to help with identification in increasingly busy printing houses and binderies, during the second half of the 17th century.
It is worth noting that there was arguably little clear impetus for this half-title leaf to be retained in the finished, bound version. Indeed, according to John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors, binders removed these sheets more often than not – not just because they were inessential, but because waste paper of this sort could be sold back to the paper mills, creating an extra mode of income for bookbinders. This helps to explain why half-titles aren’t more common in early printed books.
In the example above, however, the printer has found a use for the extra paper, putting the verso of the half-title to good use as a space for advertising his wares:
*This is the explanation provided by Philip Gaskell, in his renowned A new introduction to bibliography, for instance.
‘It is now given out as official that the armistice has been signed; and by the paper we see that the Kaiser has abdicated. These are great happenings, and though peace has yet to be declared we may safely regard them as marking the actual end of the war.’
Entry dated November 11th 1918, War Diary 1917 – 1919, by Aleyn Lyell Reade [ALR. A. 1. 2].
A ‘printer’s device’ (also known as a printer’s mark or emblem) is a form of trademark, used widely by early printers from the 15th to the end of the 17th century. Devices were initially employed primarily as a means of differentiating a printer’s work from forgeries and imitations. However, they soon came to be seen, in addition, as a marker of quality, familiarity, and style. In effect then, they represented an early form of logo; a marketing tool and security device.
One of the most instantly recognisable printer’s devices is the dolphin and anchor of the important, innovative Venetian printer Aldus Manutius (this book (EP.B08) was printed in 1523).
Devices are most often found directly above or below the imprint (publication details such as name of printer, and place and date of printing). As very early books were printed without a title-page, it is not uncommon to find these details at the end of the main text, in what is called a colophon, particularly in books printed before 1500.
This is the device of the famous printing partnership of Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer, printed beneath the colophon in a book of 1473 (Inc.JWH.7/OS). Fust and Schoeffer, who were responsible for printing the Mainz Psalter of 1457, are credited with being the first printers to use a device.
The imagery used in a device can be armorial, or might involve an allegorical vignette, or a pun on the printer’s name or character. Jacques and Estienne Maillet’s device includes a picture of a mallet, for example, whilst Gaillot de Pré used an image of a ship’s galley and both Sebastian and Antonius Gryphius a griffin:
Sometimes devices also includes the printer’s name and/or motto, as in this more modern exmple from the Kelmscott Press:
‘The war news is excellent now, and we can do more than see light through the tunnel at last. I am only afraid that the foolish people who abound everywhere in public as in private life will be tempted into too premature a discussion of peace terms. It is quite evident that the Hun now feels the hopelessness of his position, so it behoves us to wire into him with redoubled fury and finish the job thoroughly, once and for all.’
Entry dated October 9th 1918, War Diary 1917 – 1919, by Aleyn Lyell Reade [ALR. A. 1. 2].