The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Fifteenth Century Books Part 2

In the early days of typography it was customary for the printer to print only the bare text; just that part of the book which, in a manuscript, would be written by the scribe or calligrapher. Blank spaces were left for headlines, initial letters, and other ornamental details which, as in the case of manuscripts, were afterwards added by the rubricator and the illuminator. The circumstance that these decorative features were executed by the same method contributes to the similarity of appearance presented by tlie manuscript and the printed book.

This finishing adornment of a book might be more or less elaborate, from simple red or blue capitals to finely illuminated borders and historiated initials in gold and colors. Like the binding of the volume, it was no doubt generally adjusted to suit the taste and purse of the purchaser; but books are frequently found which have never been through the rubricator's hands, the pages being still in the same state in which they left the press. In these cases it will sometimes be noticed that the irlltial letter to be inserted is indicated by a small letter, called a director, printed in the blank space as a guide to the illuminator. A few printers attempted to dispense with the aid of the rubrisher by printing the capitals and head-lines in red. This was a troublesome and not always successful process; but the very first dated book, Fust and Schoeffer's Psalter of 1457, contains some large and beautiful ornamental irlltial letters printed in red and blue, which are remarkable for the technical skill displayed in their production at this early stage in the art.

The practice of leaving blank spaces for the large capitals to be filled in by hand continued in vogue in some degree throughout the fifteenth century, more particularly in Italy. But the progressive printer was not slow to perceive the advantage of sending out a book complete from the press, and the use of woodcut ornamental initial letters printed in black along with the text soon became general. Borders and other decorative pieces, in imitation of the ornament of manuscripts were also brought into use, in many cases with excellent effect. Some of these borders and initials, such as the outline letters found in books printed by Anton Sorg at Augsburg, were obviously intended to be painted over by the illuminator, the skeleton design rendering his part of the work more expeditious.