The history of print from 1550 to 1599

Until the second half of the 16th century, printers were also acting as publishers, editors, and booksellers, next to being type foundries. During this era, specialization starts to occur, for example with people like Claude Garamond and Jacob Sabon establishing dedicated type foundries. Another phenomenon is the establishment of many official presses, printing offices run by governments, universities, or other public organisations. The third trend characterizing this era is that Germany and Italy start being surpassed by France and the Netherlands as centers of printing excellence.

1551 – Pietro Bembo

The Historia Veneta (History of Venice) is one of the many books of Pietro Bembo, a Venetian scholar and cardinal who is most famous for his work on the Italian language and poetry. The Bembo typeface is named after him.

1555 – Christophe Plantin

Christophe Plantin is one of the most famous printers of his time. In his print shop in Antwerp, he produces fine work ornamented with engravings after Rubens and other artists.

Christophe Plantin - famous printer from Antwerp

The publishing and printing company of Plantin and his son-in-law Jan Moretus remains in business until 1867. Nowadays it is a museum with an interesting collection of old presses, type and books. To see a small part of the collection, visit the page about the Plantin-Moretus museum.

1556 – Printing in India

In India, the first printing press is installed in Goa by the Portuguese. The Jesuits use it mainly for evangelization.

1561 – Garamond’s typefaces become widely used

When French type designer, publisher, and punch-cutter Claude Garamond passes away, his widow is forced to sell his punches. This causes the typefaces of Garamond to become widely used for the next two centuries. Garamond (or Garamont) was one of the first punch-cutters to work independently instead of working in-house for a printer.

Example of typeface of Claude Garamond

Another famous French punch-cutter from the same era is Robert Granjon who in 1557 designs a typeface called Civilité that will become a popular choice as a display font for use in advertisements and posters. Granjon sells his matrices not only in France but also in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

1564 – Volvelles

Volvelles in the first printed pop-up book

Cosmographia Petri Apiani is one of the first printed pop-up books. It contains a series of volvelles, circular pieces that revolve around a grommet.

1568 – Der Buchdrucker

Jost Amman’s woodcuts in Der Buchdrucker (The Printer) show how books are produced in this era. The image below shows a type caster pouring molten metal into a mold.

Casting metal type

The same artist also creates this image of a printer’s workshop. At the back, compositors are setting text while the printer in the foreground is removing a printed sheet of paper from the press. His colleague is applying new ink to the type using a pair of dabbers.

Printer workshop in the 16th centrury

1582 – First specimen type book

Willem Silvius is a printer in Antwerp who publishes the earliest known type specimen book in the low countries, the Leyden Afdrucksel.

1583 – Elzevir

While Plantin dominates the market of Roman Catholic publications, a second dynasty of printers, Elzevir, are equally influential in the market of Protestant publications. Lodewijk (or Louis) Elzevir originally works for Plantin but after moving to Leiden in the northern part of the Netherlands, he prints his first book in 1583. Five of his sons also become printers and their descendants continue the family business until 1712. The publishing house Elsevier takes its name from this dynasty.

Elsevier printer's mark
The Elsevier printer’s mark (1653, source: Wikimedia)

Also in 1583 a university press is founded in Cambridge, followed by that of Oxford in 1585.

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