July 15

That the century old House of Elsevier was no longer in existence became obvious when the printer-publisher Joseph Athias advertised in the Haarlemsche Courant on this day in 1683 that he had purchased from Madame Elsevier, widow of Daniel Elsevier, the typefoundry attached to the House, and was ready for business in the City of Amsterdam.

It was in 1583 that the founder of the House, Louis Elsevier, with the aid of a lavish loan from the great printer, Christopher Plantin, established himself in Leyden as a book broker, bookseller, and publisher. The city was in the midst of both a commercial and intellectual revival, with the famed University as its hub, attracting scholars of repute from all over Europe. As at present, the reputation of a professor rested upon his publications, so Louis Elsevier made it his business to cultivate the distinguished faculty of Leyden, and thus became their publisher.

Such men as Thomas Erpennius, the orientalist, whose Arabic grammar was in print for well over two centuries, and the greatest scientist of his time, Joseph Scaliger, were published by Elsevier, as were the statesman-historian, Grotius, and the mathematician, Snellius.

It was not until 1616 that the Elseviers established their own printing facilities. Prior to this time, their books were printed by a number of Dutch printing offices. At no time is it apparent that the family ever considered the typography of their books to be of primary consideration. They were content to have their printing readable and competently produced. Since they catered to a scholarly clientele they were concerned about keeping their list nominal in price, and naturally enough adopted the format of the small pocket-size books made popular by Aldus Manutius in Venice. This format elsevierien is considered by modern authorities on printing and the art of the book to be run-of-the-mill Dutch printing of the 16th century.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, however, bibliophiles and book collectors set up the Elsevier editions as being far superior to the products of the other printers of the 16th century, and touted the Elseviers as being the finest printers of their time. For example, Timperley in his Encyclopedia published in 1842, writes: “The Elsevier editions have long and deservedly been esteemed for the clearness, delicacy, and perfect quality of the characters, for their close position together on a solid and very white paper, and the excellence of the presswork. Their Virgil, Terence, and Greek Testament have been reckoned their masterpieces; and are indeed so very fine, that they have justly gained them the reputation of being the first printers in Europe. Their types were so elegant, that their name has been given to all the beautiful letters ever since!’

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