Innovation and change

Innovation and change as in life is not always Chiaroscuro and Contropasto, less rather than more dramatic, except in nightly news and advertising. In less we talk about the likes of Gutenberg.

In speaking about poetry Borges said he thought of himself “as being essentially a reader . . . I have ventured into writing; but think that what I have read is far more important than what I have written. For one reads what one likes—yet one writes not what one would like to write, but what one is able to write.” How gracious Borges is being when he says this. With all the learning and studying and practice, we are allowed to be literary by being solely a reader. This is important to us all as artists, being creative in whatever work we are doing, because reading is a personal association, we are connected by thought to another and at the same time with our own thought, we only need to be validated in our selves. Our inner creative foundation is constantly being thwarted by experience in the outer world. It must be maintained as a balance or we lose touch with creativity. Easy to say. By being innovative in our thought we can change the way we look at creativity.

A fragment of a message from a friend about design and the title page:

Alan Bartram’s Five Hundred Years of Book Design. In the event you don’t know the book, here are the opening sentences of the Introduction:
‘The history of printing is in large measure the history of the title-page.’ Stanley Morison’s little finger knew more about printing history than I have ever known, but that remark of his has always baffled me. How the text pages I show here could be extrapolated, or guessed at, from title-pages, as Morison seemed to claim, I do not know. It is they, not title-pages, that show the remarkable changes that have taken place over the centuries.

See this paper on title pages and design .


the California type case


The title page for The New Typography- Jan Tschichold

After reading the email I began to recall the history of title pages, which were largely non-existent before printing, and after were almost always static lines of type centered on an axis, at least into the nineteenth century before machine composition and the Arts & Crafts and Private Press movements, Bauhaus, and designers like Jan Tschichold in the early 20th C. tschichold 605px-Tschichold_medieval_canon.svg This is partly due to the fact that designers were not a creature of norm per se, although the master of a printing houses, such as Aldus Manutius might be considered a designer, book formats were based on paper sizes and how they folded down into sections or gatherings. The page margins having been established somewhat geometrically since the days of manuscript scribes using something of the golden rectangle proportion to determine them. Almost design by rote. Composition by hand was the method for almost 500 years, individual types being set on lines of 2 point lead all the same length, such as 20 pica, hence: the leading, whatever space was used between lines throughout a book. Early printing in Europe had its own system of measurement. All this is documented in Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises.

In relation to title pages, printing history and design, I don’t think the Morison statement was meant as an “on the surface” idea, but perhaps a reference to innovation; as the title page became and developed, one can see a display of new methods and techniques on title pages, kind of an expression of trends in printing.


Aldus Manutius was probably the first printer to invent the pocket or portable book. Small volumes, truly a “design” innovation from his imagination and attention to customer use. These small volumes must have been something of a compositors nightmare. Even though hand type setting on a stick was normal and the compositors memorization of the “type case” (learned by rote) meant that it almost didn’t matter which size the type was as all fonts sat in the cases, by letter of the alphabet, in the same location. Still, if you’ve set any type by hand, you know the “dance” involves more than type alone, and setting equivalents of 8 point or 6 point type can be visually challenging. Speed and not correctness may have been more important since the first page proof would reveal the accuracy of the compositor and his knowledge and ability at setting according to the case, oh, and the distribution of any types either from fresh castings or from previous printings. There could be problems in reuse since damaged letters were probably common and most printers of Manutius size would have a casting operation. The punch cutter Griffo worked for Aldus and one of his faces, renamed Bembo, was widely used in the 20th C because it’s alphabet length is short. This meant you could fit more on a page. Determining the size of a book is or was called the “cast off”.

Innovation sometimes comes from an idea and sometimes from something new being introduced. Times became harder for scribes as the printing from moveable types spread. Then their work, which had been to copy entire books by hand, was only used to rubricate printed pages with initials. Rubrication was one of several steps in the medieval process of manuscript making. Practitioners of rubrication, so-called rubricators, were specialized scribes who received text from the manuscript’s original scribe and supplemented it with additional text in red ink for emphasis. The term rubrication comes from the Latin rubrico, “to color red”.

littlepretty_titlepg_largeHere is a gallery of early title pages.

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