December 31

On this closing day of the year 1467 was published the first book to be printed within the confines of the city of Rome. While the monastery town of Subiaco near Rome was the scene of the earliest printing to be produced in Italy two years previously, the press there—operated by Sweynheim and Pannartz—removed to Rome in November 1467. By the end of the 15th century there were thirty-eight printing offices in Rome, all operated by German printers.

The Abbot Turrecremata of Subiaco, the patron of Sweynheim and Pannartz, was awarded the red hat and was transferred to Rome, whereupon he invited Ulrich Han, a German printer from Ingolstadt, to establish a press. The first publication was the new Cardinal’s own Meditationes, which was also the earliest Italian woodcut book and was printed in a round gothic type.

Meditationes in the 1467 edition is a very rare book. The 19th century bibliophile, Dibdin wrote about the volume, “What a day was that in the bibliographic annals of my humble life when I first beheld the Turrecremata of 1467! What neither Maittaire, nor the De Bures, nor Marchand, nor his annotator, the Abbé Merceir de Leger, nor Meerman, nor Heincken, nor Audiffredi, nor Santander, nor Bruner had ever beheld, I have seen and closely examined! The decorations are in outline, rudely conceived and still more rudely executed, probably by Han himself. It was rather whimsical of Han to insert all the decorations on the reverse of the leaves with the exception of that on folio xxx.”

Historians have been mystified that Turrecremata should have requested Han to print his book, since he had worked so closely with Sweynheim and Pannartz at Subiaco. Dibdin suggests that it was the Cardinal’s insistence upon having woodcut illustrations in the volume which placed its execution beyond the skill of the two German printers.

In 1468 Han issued Cicero’s De Oratore and Tusculanae Questiones, for which he cut a roman type. Although appearing two years before the roman of Nicolas Jenson, the Han type is not considered to be the first purely roman letter. Updike says of it that it was difficult to determine whether it was a roman letter under gothic influence or a gothic letter under roman influence. He believed it to be distinctly inferior to the type of the Subiaco press. Before his death in 1478 or 1479, Han produced sixty books, outstripping all of his rivals in the city of Rome.

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