March 16

Aldus Manutius

A weary Venetian printer named Aldus Manutius on this day in 1503 finally decided that he had had enough and thereupon broke into print to announce the fact. Aldus was primarily concerned with the pirating of his printed works.

One of the great publishers of any era, Aldus had been meticulous in the editing of his texts, using as his correctors only scholars of reputation. Although he had established his press just a few years previously—in 1495—his editions had quickly been recognized as the most authoritative available for scholar or student alike. Thus, no sooner was one of his books published than it was pirated in a dozen localities.

In addition to utilizing the Aldine texts, the imprint of the press itself was copied. Finally even the types were duplicated. Aldus therefore resorted to the warning of all his competitors by appealing to the readers and purchasers of his books.

“When I undertook to furnish good books to lovers of letters, I thought that I need only see that the books issued by our academy should be as correct as care could make them. . . . But four times within the last seven years I have had to protect myself against the treachery of my workmen. . . . I have defeated their plots and punished their perfidy. Yet, in the city of Lyons, books are fraudulently printed under my name. Those books do not contain the name of the real printer, but are made in imitation of mine, so that the unwary reader will believe them printed in Venice. . . . Their paper is inferior and has a bad odor. The types do not please the eye, but have French peculiarities and deformed capitals. The letters are not connected as mine are, in imitation of writing.”

Unfortunately the scholarly attributes of Aldus were not matched by his business acumen. His standards of production were so high that he was unable to receive a sufficient return for his efforts. He died in 1515, in financial distress. We owe to his remarkably high standards, however, the small format book, italic type, and cuttings of roman types which surpass in beauty the earlier designs of Nicolas Jenson.

Two well known contemporary types are modern adaptations of Aldine letters, both of which have been cut for the Monotype machine. Bembo is patterned from the type used in Di Aetna written in 1495 by the humanist Pietro Bembo. Poliphilus is taken from the types of one of the great books of the Italian renaissance, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

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