The Printed Book

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

Fifteenth Century Books Part 3

In yet another respect do early printed books often resemble manuscripts. A scribe on completing the copy of a work might add some such expression as 'Finis' to indicate that the end of the book had been reached, or, perhaps' Explicit,' followed by the name of the work and sometimes that of the author; but he seldom went so far as to add his own name and a record 6f the date. So too, a large number of incunabula-as books printed in the fifteenth century are frequently called-contain no intimation of when, where, or by whom they were printed. The Psalter of 1457 again provides the earliest exception. At the end is a paragraph stating that the book had been fashioned by the ingenious invention of printing without any writing of the pen, by the diligence of Johann Fust, a citizen of Mainz, and Peter Schoeffer of Gernsheim, and brought to a completion on the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption in the year 1457.

The early books, too, had no title page, and the information which we now look for on that page-author, title of work, publisher, and date--when given at all, is usually to be found, as in the Psalter, in the colophon, as this particular paragraph at the end of a book is called. The colophon is often accompanied by a pictorial or allegorical device which the printer adopted as his trade mark. Title pages did not come into fashion until about 1480, and at first consisted of one or two lines containing merely the title of the book and perhaps the name of the author, placed in the upper part of the leaf. The tempting blank space below this is sometimes filled ill with the printer's device, or in the case of a book printed for a bookseller, by the device of the latter. Failing a device, the page may display a woodcut illustration more or less relevant to the subject matter of the book. The title pages of Wynkyn de Worde's numerous small quarto tracts usually take this last form, and his selection of a woodcut was wondrously casual. A grotesque attempt at the appropriate is seen in the title page of his edition of Lydgate's The Assembly of Gods, which is adorned with a woodcut from an edition of Chaucer's Oanterbury Tales depicting the company of pilgrims all seated at a huge round table.

The printer's device just referred to was at first regarded mainly as a trade mark. The earliest, that in Fust and Schoeffer's Bible of 1462, consists of two shields suspended from a branch. As these devices developed in pictorial and decorative character, especially in the early part of the sixteenth century, they partook also of the nature of an embellishment, and afforded scope for play of fancy and canting allusion.

The devices of the Italian printers are distinguished by beauty of ornamental design. Those which consist of some variety of the combination of circle and cross in white on a black or red ground are singularly effective. In France, where they are, perhaps, most numerous, they are more pictorial than in other countries.