Historical Significance of the Printer's Device

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Historical Significance of the Printer's Device

  1. 1. Jennifer WileyIST 632 Dr. Lavender11/30/10 Historical Significance of the Printer‟s Device According to the Dictionary of Publishing and Printing a printer‟s device is “anornamental design used by a publisher or printer as part of their logo.” Though accurate indefining the technical purpose of the mark used by printers and publishers for centuries, thisdefinition fails to acknowledge the cultural and historical significance found in the details ofsuch marks. Going back to the fifteenth century, these devices have been used by the men in thetrade of bookmaking as a way of laying claim to the craft that required a great deal of both skilland labor. In the mark each designed or adapted himself, a window is opened into the origins ofthat book, but also, more importantly, into the printer, a commonly faceless name that is often ofno matter, if even known, to the typical reader. Through their designs, printers left clues ofreferring to their personal connections to other printers, to their physical location, to theirpersonal philosophies, to their family histories and more. Often these symbols are clear andtelling, but sometimes the choices made by the printer responsible for the design have only led tomore questions and puzzles about who the printer really was or what was really involved in hispast. However, even though it would be easy to let these cases slip into the cracks, scholars havevalued these sparse clues enough to take the time to study and attempt to solve those mysteries.Today, publishers still use a form of these marks, though some in the field consider it to be asuperfluous trend, showing how truly significant the history of the printer‟s device is to the worldof printing. The history of the printer‟s device is one steeped in tradition reaching all the way back toancient times. In the ancient world merchants used a very similar method of marking the itemsthey created and sold to their patrons. These were used initially as a tool of security, to mark therightful property of one merchant over another. As time progressed and the trade industrycontinued to grow, merchants took the use of the mark a step further began to use thesetrademarks as a way to identify the source of products, allowing for items to be identified forquality as well as for security. Later, when the printing industry began, the tradition of thetrademark used by merchants for centuries became adopted in the book printing industry as theprinter‟s device. However, it‟s important to note that during the era of manuscript books, scribesnever used their own version of a trademark. This serves as an important indication of the
  2. 2. communal knowledge that printed books were different from books made from scribes in themost essential ways (McMurtrie 289). Printed books were, at the core, “articles of commerce”(McMurtrie 289) and therefore required the steps taken by merchants to protect their product thatscribes didn‟t require. The value of the printer‟s mark from the very beginning came from its ability to “serve asa hall-mark of quality and to safeguard what later became known as copyright” (Steinberg 96)across the board. It protected both the printer and the patron by ensuring credit went where itwas due and by promising a book worth its price. This, in many ways, is a fact that remains truetoday, though the legal rights may have changed. Though the purpose was largely a standardacross Europe, popular trends in design varied century to century, and even country to country.For example, the first era of devices often used the double-shield, following the tradition of thetrademarks used by medieval craftsman while later, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,the popular art trend of Baroque began to influence the designs of devices. Additionally,throughout the hand-press era, the basic design of a serpent coiled around a cross or a floweringbranch remained popular in Spain (Steinberg 96) while all over France, devices becameespecially elaborate during the fifteenth century (McM 301). These variations have served animportant purpose in helping to fill in the gaps sometimes left in the lives of printers and theirdevices. But with the increase in technology and industry occurring in the world, times werechanging and the printer‟s device, as important as it was, was almost lost. England‟s CopyrightAct of 1709 revolutionized the industry, giving the legal rights of a book not to the printeranymore, but to the author (Gaskell 308). This, for all intents and purposes, made the traditionof the printer‟s device superfluous in England. But that wasn‟t the only change happening in theworld of book printing. As the industry continued to grow and flourish, emphasis began to shiftfrom the printer to the publisher. This further made reference to the printer within the finalproduct less and less necessary. Surprisingly, however, there is little evidence that the printers atthis time were bothered by this, a fact that has been attributed by some to fact that these changeswere taking place during the Age of Reason. It is possible, with that fact being kept in mind, toassume that the printers of this period looked to the tradition of the printer‟s device as nothingmore than a pointless survival of a trend from a less enlightened age (Steinberg 214). With noone to fight for it, the printer‟s device became obsolete.
  3. 3. However, “a happy combination of good business instinct and good taste led to therevival of the printer‟s device in the middle of the 19th century” (Steinberg 214). Around 1850Charles Wittingham the younger was credited with beginning a revival of the tradition of using atrademark. Thanks to him and his connections with other printers such as R. and R. Clark, T.and A. Constable, and William Morris, the printer‟s device again made its way into the pages ofthe wide majority of books. “The reason for this resumption of the old custom was artistic aswell as economic.” (Steinberg 214). Morris would go on to be a leading figure in the private-press movement, which refocused the world of bookmaking on quality “with boundless care forlayout, paper, ink, impression, and binding” (Gaskell 285). The artistic nature of this movementwas an ideal catalyst for the revival of the printer‟s device, allowing those who would be moreinterested in the publicity opportunities it offered to take notice and adopt it for themselves. Charles Ricketts, another big name in the movement, designed several devices during thistime period in order to lay claim to books he worked on that were then handed over to large scalepublishing firms. The firms never used his mark for books without a connection to Ricketts andnever removed it during their own publishing process (Revival 373). Interestingly, there isquestion as to whether Ricketts chose to design these devices himself or whether the firms askedhim to do so. Most devices in use at the time were simple monograms, a foreshadowing of theincreasing trend toward a more economic and less artistic purpose. But Ricketts, as part of theprivate-press movement, was much more along the lines of an artist than the average publisher atthe time and was in need of a special design that supported the asymmetry of his typographicaldesigns. This further required him to create several different designs as each book wasfundamentally different from the one before it. However, the basic design at the heart of each ofthese versions used the image of “two hands holding a caduceus between two horns of plentysurmounted by Pegasus.” (Revival 375). Though the image cannot be credited as entirelyoriginal to Ricketts (it actually can be traced back to a pair of booksellers and printers in Paris inthe sixteenth century) (Revival 375), it did strongly stand to represent Ricketts as an artist in thepublication trade promising prosperity to any involved in the process (Revival 371). Though thetrend did eventually fall away from the artistry utilized by publisher‟s such as Ricketts, it wasclear by the beginning of the twentieth century that devices had reclaimed their place in thebookmaking industry.
  4. 4. Throughout the scope of this history, the design of these devices usually remainedsymbolic in some way of the actual craft of printing or of the individual printer‟s name orancestry, though there were many different common trends used in creating those symbols. Theearliest known device is credited to Fust and Schoeffer in 1457 (McMurtie 289). It was a doubleshield hanging from a branch with symbols in the shields that have been the cause of muchspeculation as to what they are (McMurtie 290). Though today no one knows what the symbolswithin those shields were meant to represent, the general concept became very popular at thestart of the history of the printer‟s device. In some cases, Fust and Schoeffer were “boldlycounterfeited” (McMurtie 291), but many printers also developed their own style based aroundthe same general concept. Some used different symbols, others used only one shield (McMurtie291). But other printer‟s developed completely new designs, each representing that individualprinter. There are a number of other classifications for the symbolic designs utilized by printers‟devices. The “imitations of armorial bearings” devices were purposefully designed to look like acoat of arms from knighthood. Most of the printers who used these designs, however, were notactually entitled to do so as no one in their family had actually been knighted. There wereoccasionally printers who had been knighted and thus used their real coat of arms, but theseinstances are rare in comparison (McMurtrie 291). Another design technique used by manyprinters was a pictorial representation of the printer‟s name. In these examples, the printer woulddevelop a symbol that visually represented his real name. Among the many examples for thesedesigns are a rose for the name Rose, a mallet for the name Maillets, and a mill for Myllar (McM292). Similar to these were “punning” devices. In these devices, the printer would create animage out of a pun, usually stemming from his name. For example, Richard Grafton designed adevice depicting a tree grafted onto the head of a hog, often referred to at that time as a tun.(McM 297). Other designs simply show the printing press or tools of the printing trade (McM293) or are classified as “myriad” showing a range of images including animals, trees, flowers,or people. Some of these “myriad” designs are elaborately pictorial (McM 294). A hugelypopular design used by printers was the “orb-and-cross” design. There were many variations ofthis device design, but “the exact significance of the symbolism in the orb-and-cross has neverbeen satisfactorily determined” (McMurtrie 292). Some believe its roots are deeply connected toreligion, others believe that it has connections to the pagan symbols for Mercury/Hermes, the
  5. 5. ancient god of merchants, but most likely its popularity stems simply from pure imitation(McMurtrie 292-293). Sometimes, a printer experimented with his device, changing it several times beforefinally deciding on one to stick with. Wynkyn de Worde, for one, had at least nine differentmarks after he took over for William Caxton (McM 296). This certainly seems to defeat thepurpose of creating a trademark at all, but he was not alone. Richard Pynson created at least sixmarks (McM 297), the Oxford University Press‟s mark has had several forms (McM 298), andBerthold Lembolt, believed to be the first printer with a device in Paris, had four designs (McM300). In all of these cases, the majority of the variations had strong similarities to one another,showing in many ways the creative process one printer may go through to find a device hebelieves truly represents himself. In Worde‟s case, for example, his first device is very similar toCaxton‟s and his second device has been described as an elongated version of the first (McM297). One could argue that this pattern is a clear example of Worde‟s attempt at honoring hispredecessor and maintaining the reputation gained through Caxton, yet also trying to showhimself as an individual. In many other cases, though individual printers may not have changed their deviceseveral times, new generations within families of printers would tweak the design of the device.Sometimes this was as small as simply adding an additional character to a scene. Other times theentire device would be outright replaced. In the case of the Aldus family of Italy, the firstadopted device in 1502 depicted an anchor and a dolphin. This was used as was until 1546 whenthe new generation added an embellishment of cornucopias, cupids, and more around the anchor.In 1574 the overall shape of the device was changed from a square to an oval. Then in 1581 theanchor was almost completely covered by a coat of arms, legitimately granted to the family byEmperor Makimilian (McM 300). The Elzevier family, with nine devices overall (PDF 2), wentthrough five important changes with their design. The first design, credited to the elder Louis,depicted an eagle with arrows, a motto, and the year 1597. The younger Louis used a similardesign with just some small changes, but Issac, his successor, eventually designed a hermitstanding under the branches of a tree. The third major change made the tree a palm tree andadded the motto “Assurgo pressa,” a device that had been used by Erpenius, a professor who hadat one point operated a printing office and of which the Elzevier‟s took the equipment. Thefourth change of the device shifted to the Roman goddess Minerva and the fifth change became
  6. 6. what is known as the “Elzevier sphere,” a typical representation of the globe by geographers atthe time (McM 303). In comparison to the individuals who changed their marks multiple times,these generational changes are far more drastic, but it still shows how personal the design of aprinter‟s device was to an individual. Though most trends of design can be lumped into generalizations, each printer made hisdevice his own. It is through these individual touches that the greatest cultural significance canbe found in this trend that has spanned centuries. By examining an individual design, whetherthere is much known about the printer behind it or not, the world is left with the opportunity tosee what other printers influenced the device‟s own printer, how that printer might have traveled,where that printer might have called home and much more. Richard Fawkes, for example, wasan English printer whose device shows heavy French influence, indicating a personal connectionin some way to the French bookmaking industry. Robert Estienne and his family used differingversions of an olive tree, their shop‟s address being “At the Sign of the Olive.” Estienneeventually also used a serpent on a rod wrapped with a climbing stem which represented his timeholding office in the “Printers of Greek to the King,” which was used by seven of his successors(McM 301). Christopher Plantin‟s device utilizes less the more obvious forms of symbolism, buthas been described as truly epitomizing the life of its printer. He chose for his design a goldencompass in the act of drawing a circle as directed by a hand coming from the clouds with themotto “Labore et Constancia” (translated “Labor and Constancy”). This device does not tell astory about the man‟s physical life, but instead speaks to who he was as a printer and what hevalued in life (McM 303). Sometimes, a device does not readily answer questions, but instead initially brings aboutfurther ones. In one such case, a device was found with only a part of a name, “Salvioni”, andappears in the same book as another device. Though through research it was at least deducedthat the name could belong to that of either Marcus Salvionus or Joannes Marcus Salvionus, thedevice‟s purpose remains especially confusing as the other device clearly identifies the publisherof the book. What then did this “Salvioni” do to contribute enough to earn the right to includehis mark? (Italian 3). Interestingly enough, the presence of more than one device or of differentdevices being used in different copies of the same book serves as an indication that some in thebookmaking trade split the expenses of editions in order to make the whole process moreeconomically manageable (Italian 4). In other words, “Salvioni” may have printed part of the
  7. 7. book to help the previously identified publisher manage the expenses of a process that was oftenvery costly for the bookmaker, a fact that could make the printing of a book a dangerous one ifsales did not balance out the price. Another device that has created riddles for itself is a second mark of Italian decent. Thisone single device can be attributed to three different towns, all of rather considerable distancefrom one another. Though answers can be reasoned to answer the question as to why, there areseveral options. One possible cause could be the fact that some printers took devices fromothers. This was usually done when one printer retired and another takes up his device. Anotherreason could be that printers did not always stay in the same town their entire lives. Though notcommon, it was not unheard of for printers to move nor was it impossible that this might happenmore than once in the lifetime of a printer. A third option that could result in this type of thingcould be that sometimes when one printer sold his typographical material to another, the devicewas included. This possibility can lead to more mysteries as sometimes the buying printeralready had a device of his own and therefore ended up with two devices, very likely of littlerelation to one another (Italian 5). In other cases, a great deal is known about the printer, but the device remains a mystery.William Caxton‟s device, the first printer in England, is one of the more famous marks knowntoday, yet it is a very cryptic example. Everything from its deepest symbolism to its most basicphysical design are argued by scholars across the board. Some believe the mark reads “W74C”with the “W” and “C” representing his initials and “74” representing the year that printing wasintroduced to England. However, historically it is believed that printing did not come to Englandfrom continental Europe until 1476. Others agree that the “WC” stands for William Caxton, butthat the “74” represents the year of an unknown significant event in Caxton‟s life (McM 294).One scholar doesn‟t believe it represents a year at all, believing them to be nothing more than“printer‟s marks” (McM 295). The outlying details have also been argued over, the discussionbeing over whether they are an “S” and a “C” or merely decorative vines. To add to the riddle,the device does not appear until 1487, well after England had entered the bookmaking trade foritself (McM 295). A final argument has been made that the device was designed ten years afterCaxton had established himself as part of a special project he wished to be part of but did nothave the tools necessary for in England. He thus sent the job to Paris and had the device createdto mark the project on its return to emphasize his own part in the process. It was in the Sarum
  8. 8. missal that Caxton‟s device first appeared, giving this version of an explanation some additionalweight (McM 296). In other cases the device and the known history of the printer serve to supplement oneanother, helping both to be understood more. Frans Houttuyn of Amsterdam was a booksellerand publisher in the mid-eighteenth century. The main picture in his device is an example of apunning device, his name translating to “timberyard” and the picture, though there is no way toknow for sure that it depicts a timberyard that ever actually existed, shows a scene of industrialAmsterdam. However, certain details within the scene do indicate is was a view he was familiarwith, such as a “humpback bridge”. A second pun is utilized in the motto “Aedificando floret,”echoing “the name of the „builder‟” (Frans 84) and small pictures of a printing press and abookshop in the top corners of the device depict his combined form of business. Above it all is aportrait of Isasc Newton, the only piece of the puzzle that requires a little more exploration tounderstand (Frans 84). Though Houttuyn did share include more information from time to time within his books,it was not as common as some, making the missing pieces available, though not always quick tofind. His address, for one, is rarely included on his title pages, though it strengthens the theorythat his device may be designed from his actual home as it reads “on the River Amstel…oppositethe Papen Bridge” which very well may be that humpback bridge in the image. The biggestdifferences in versions of this device in fact lie in the presence of the address, as well as in thequality of the device as a whole. A bigger clue, however, has only been found on one title pagein 1748, stating that his house was actually called the Isaac Newton. Not only does this explainthe portrait, but it could further indicate that the site in the device is based on his real home(Frans 86). There are several examples of writing in which Houttuyn expressed his enthusiasmfor Newton. Among these are a long editorial preface in which Newton is the only scholarspecifically named amongst an otherwise general account of the progression of knowledgethrough history. He also printed twenty-four pages in defending Newton in response to what hasbeen described as “very mild” criticism of him. Interestingly though, he never independentlypublished any of Newton‟s work (Frans 88). The case of the Elzeviers in Hungary presents an entirely different showcase of history inthe world of bookmaking. It has already been discussed how the living members of the familychanged the device generation to generation, but what is interesting in this case is the number of
  9. 9. times the device representing a tree with the motto “Non Solus” has been found in books notprinted by the Elzevier family. It first appeared outside family use in connection with AbrahamSzenci Kertesz in 1650 and is last seen in use by the Press of the Reformed Church College inKolozsvar in 1794. During that span of time, three versions of the device were used a total oftwenty-seven times, none of those versions being the same as any of the nine versions used bythe Elzeveirs. It was in most frequent use during the 1650‟s while two Hungarian shops used itsimultaneously (Ecsedy 125). Even more interesting is that of the twenty-seven uses, only twowere used after the Elzeveirs‟ closed their shop in Leiden meaning it was in use while theElzeviers themselves were using other designs (Ecsedy 126). However, no matter how manyother printers adopted the device for themselves, the device remains credited to the originalfamily. Instead these adoptions serve as a historical trail, always leading back to the Elzeviers,showing the true reach of one family of printers across Europe. To begin, Szenci Kertesz‟s useof the device indicates that, though he did the majority of his work in Transylvania and was infact from there, it is very likely that he learned the craft of printing in the Netherlands and evenmore likely from the Elzeviers themselves. This apprenticeship may have lead the family togrant Szenci Kertesz‟s use of their device. However, there is little evidence to support the claimthat this act of adopting the device from a famous print shop by an apprentice, even a foreigner,actually occurred in practice. Even so, it was no unheard of in Hungary for foreign symbols tobe used in devices dating back to the sixteenth century. Though still not hard evidence, this doesindicate that the idea may not be entirely improbable. However, in the majority of these cases itis not possible to identify a strong connection between the original and the adaptation, theadopting printer usually making significant changes to the essential details of the original. If thisis what happened between Szenci Kertesz and the Elzeviers it is clear that this example wouldstand as an exception to that rule. It is also important to keep in mind when deciding how muchSzenci Kertesz‟s use of this device indicates about the history of the device that therepresentation of a tree with a person or of a tree with an inscription was quite common all acrossEurope, though the similarities between his and the Elzeviers are certainly noteworthy at the veryleast (Ecsedy 127). Like the rest of Europe, devices in Hungary were falling out of use and had almostdisappeared entirely by 1640 only to be revived in 1650. This makes the motivation behindthese adaptations of the Elzeviers‟ device even more interesting. Was it an accident that caused
  10. 10. as a result of the sudden revival? Or is there a deeper meaning? Of the nine versions of thedevice the Elzevier family used, the copies have been attributed to four cuts. Cut I was usedprimarily by Szenci Kertesz. Though other‟s did use this version later, it is likely that this is aresult of the common trend wherein a device cut was sold along with the type faces when theequipment of one printer was bought by another, leaving it up to the new primary user whetherhe would actually use the cut or not. It is also important to remember that though the clues doseem to point there, there is no physical proof that Szenci Kertesz actually studied under theElzeviers, only assumptions. After all, the device had long been connected to the family andknown as a symbol of good standard and quality in Europe by later generations. Szenci Kerteszhimself was known for a high level of quality
  11. 11. Today the tradition lives on, though it has taken a different tone. The reason for therevival of printer‟s devices in the mid nineteenth century was both economic and artistic. Therewas something appealing about the typographical aspect of the device as much as there was forthe publicity it allowed for. For these reasons, publishers, who by this point had developed theirown niche in the field separate from printers, began to design their own devices (St 214). Thesedevices, however, now focus less on the individual behind the machine. In a world where thebook trade market encompasses the entire world, and can do so quickly and cheaply, it would beimpossible for one person to keep up with the demand. Penguin, for example, was not anamesake of its creator. It was born from a merger of publishers G. P. Putnam‟s Sons andMinton, Balch & Co. But the individual is no longer personally responsible for the quality of thework. Penguin in the United States alone publishes under more than sixteen imprints andtrademarks. Furthermore, it has publishing groups in nine countries (Penguin Site). With such awide reaching scope, it is only natural that the identify of the company as a whole becomes thefocus over the individual. Also, since the first Act of 1709 that gave the author copyright rights, there have beenthree more important laws that have further cemented the rights of the author around the world.This has further made it less important for the printer or publisher to individually be recognized. Still, the devices remain understood the world over as a reassurance of quality and avisual reminder of copyright. Recent lawsuits like that of Penguin Group (USA) versus Googleare clear reminders of this. Even then the publisher‟s acted more in representation of the authorsin connection with them. According to the settlement (which is still being reviewed), thoseindividuals who actually hold the copyrights of the books in question must each fill out claimsforms in order to receive what is believed to be owed (googlebooksettlement.com).

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