September 7

“September the seventh, 1480, thirteenth indiction. The most honorable tradesman, Nicolas Jenson, alien and printer of books, dwelling at Venice in the Parish of Saint Cancianus, being, by the grace of God, sound in mind and understanding though infirm of body, did send for me, Hieronymo Bonycardi, Public Notary under imperial license, and did seek of me this, his last Will and Testament, the which I have drafted conformably to the law-customs of the Empire, at the desire, consent, and express command of the said testator, in this form, to wit. . . .”

Thus began the will of the French craftsman, Nicolas Jenson, who rose to be master of the mint at Tours and was sent by Charles VII to Mainz to learn the new art of printing. However, along with numerous early practitioners of this craft, he chose instead to journey to Italy rather than to return home. In 1470 Jenson set up a press in Venice, receiving a privilege to print in that city when the monopoly of John of Speier was cancelled.

His first book, the Epistolae ad Atticum of Cicero, was composed in a roman font, based upon the humanist manuscripts so much admired in Italy. This letter, cut in a size of about 16-point, was used for scores of books which issued from the press prior to Jenson’s death in 1480.

The Jenson type has become justly famous as the first purely roman letter to be cast in metal. It is not known that it was cut by Jenson himself or at his command, but the letter itself has been model for countless recuttings.

The typographic historian Stanley Morison quotes with some approval the encomium of an associate of Jenson concerning the type: “. . . the quality and value of his types is another marvel to relate. . . . the characters are so methodically and carefully finished by that famous man that the letters are not smaller or larger or thicker than reason demands or than may afford pleasure.”

Probably the most famous of all the Jenson books was the De evangelica praeparatione, written by the 4th century theologian Eusebius, which issued from the press in its first year. William Morris first revived the type used in this volume in the form of his Golden type in the last decade of the 19th century, and it was also the model for the famous Doves Press type of Cobden-Sanderson.

The best of all the modern copies is Centaur, designed by Bruce Rogers, the first use of which—aside from a few private press books—was in the monumental two-volume folio bible which Rogers designed for Oxford University Press. No doubt echoing the praise of many typographers, Centaur is presently being advertised for sale in fonts as “the noblest roman of them all!”

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