November 14

The Senate of Venice upon this day in the year 1502 granted to the publisher, Aldus Manutius, the exclusive privilege of the use of a new type introduced in April of the previous year. This type was a letter which the Italians called Aldino. but which in France became known as Italic, a subterfuge based upon the name of Italy to disguise its copying by the French printers, particularly those of the important printing center of Lyons.

The books of the incunabula period were generally large volumes, competing as they were with the manuscript texts still being widely used. Aldus believed in stimulating the advancement in learning via the printed word. After receiving some criticism concerning the more than adequate margins of his books, he began to experiment with the small format book.

He finally used as the model for his new type the sloped handwriting of the poet Petrarch. It offered space-saving qualities and indeed made it possible to produce books at a considerable saving, thus making them more readily available to a new group of purchasers, a process not discernibly different from present-day book marketing procedures.

The new style of type became so popular that Aldus used it for almost his entire “list,” and according to Theodore L. De Vinne italic became for a century the rival of roman letters for book composition. For a number of years the capitals used with the italic lowercase letters were roman, or upright characters, and considerably shorter in height than the accompanying ascending lowercase letters.

Such capitals are now used by printers under the general term of small caps. Aldus was thus responsible for creating the “family” principle in types, so commonly utilized by contemporary printers for changes in typographical style when variants must harmonize with the originals. It is, in fact, now quite unusual for a new roman type to be introduced without its accompanying italic. Since the introduction of the two-letter matrix for line-casting machines, the mating of the two styles, roman and italic, has supposedly been canonized. While Aldus might have readily agreed with the economies represented by such a combination, he would have been distressed with the fitting of the italic characters resulting from such a partnership, depending upon mechanics rather than aesthetics.

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