December 24

On this day in 1572 a printer named Jacques Sabon became the owner of a in Frankfurt for the sum of 425 gulden. This business had originally been set up by Christian Egenolff in 1530. It had been operated successfully until his death in 1555, when it was continued by his widow under the name of Egenolff’s Heirs. Christian Egenolff II, preferring religious orders to printing, was unable to help his mother, she turned to Sabon, a printer from Lyons, for practical assistance. Several years later he left for a period, working in several locations including Antwerp, where it is known that he worked for Christopher Plantin, completing a set of punches which had been left unfinished by Claude Garamond.

Sabon returned to Frankfurt to contract a liaison with Judith Egenolff, grand-daughter of the founder of the firm. The lady had already survived two suits of breach of promise, but Sabon’s action resulted in marriage, which made Sabon a partner in Egenolff’s Heirs in 1572. It is from this point that the foundry grew until it became the principal German typefoundry during the 16th and 17th centuries. Following Sabon’s death in 1580, Konrad Berner married Judith and secured full ownership.

In 1592 Berner issued the first type specimen sheet ever to be issued over the name of a typefounder, that of Egenolff-Berner. This sheet has since become the best known of all early type specimens. The only known copy was reproduced by collotype by Gustav Mori in 1926 and returned to the Haeberlin collection at the Stadt-und Universitats-Bibliothek, where it was unfortunately destroyed during World War II.The types shown in the specimen are from the hands of some of the best of the European punch-cutters, including Claude Garamond and Robert Granjon, although it is not known exactly how the foundry acquired these types. Several of the contemporary cuttings of the Garamond fonts woe modeled from the letters shown here.

The 8-line heading of the specimen is in Roman capitals and reads: “A specimen of characters or most approved types, arranged not for continuous reading bat so as to show the gradations of the types, in the way most useful and convenient to the printer and to the writer of books.”

The colophon of the sheet follows the tradition of the early printers’ colophons by praising both the printer and his types: “Specimen and print of the finest and most beautiful types ever yet seen, assembled with great trouble and cost at first by the late Christian Egenolff himself, the first printer in Frankfurt, and then by his widow; and thereafter by the successors of the same, namely Jacob Sabon and Conrad Berner, with the utmost zeal collected together and published for the benefit of all who use a pen, but principally for the particular advantage of authors of printers’ copy, so that they may judge in what type their work may best be done. . . .”

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