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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 1

Microscopic Types. (By Theo. L. De Vinne, in Inland Printer)

page 25

Microscopic Types. (By Theo. L. De Vinne, in Inland Printer).

The smallest good type of the fifteenth century known to me is a remarkably neat Roman letter on nonpareil body (about 12 lines to the inch), which type was used by Giovanni and Gregorio de Gregoriis, in 1498, in printing a beautiful book of the offices of the Roman Church.

Considering the difficulty of cutting symmetrical letters on so small a body, and of casting them in types at this early period in the history of typefounding, when tools were imperfect and experience was limited, this fount of nonpareil may be regarded as a feat in typefounding.

Types as small had been made before. In 1490, John Froben, of Basle, printed an octavo edition of the Bible in Latin, from types on nonpareil body; but these types, of Gothic form, although fairly printed, were not well cut nor cast.

This size of nonpareil, apparently made to meet a growing demand for smaller books, was not so popular as had been supposed. The book-buyers of the sixteenth century did not encourage the printing of books in any size of type smaller than brevier, which size is about 9½ lines to the inch. Brevier was largely made use of by the Elzevirs, but it was grudgingly tolerated by the book-lovers of that period. One writer sweepingly condemns the Elzevirs' duodecimos, which were practically no larger than the modern 32mo, as « petty types on a niggardly page. »

This scholarly dislike of little books did not put small types entirely out of fashion, nor did it prevent some typefounder, unknown to me by name, from attempting the still smaller size of pearl (about 15 lines to the inch), which was in use in the earlier part of the seventeenth century, which may have been made in the preceding century. In the year 1625, John Jannon, Printer and Typefounder, at Sedan, made a neat Roman type on a body now known as diamond, which size is about 17 lines to the inch. The first book printed in this size was a Virgil in 32mo, dated 1625. It could not have sold rapidly, for the same edition, with a new title, bears the date 1628. In this diamond type, Jannon printed six more books, all of which are now held in the highest esteem.

Louis Luce, a typefounder of the Royal Printing House of Paris, in 1740, showed a specimen of diamond type which he made at the order of the king. It was not a creditable production. Didot sneers at it as a type that could not be read.

Types on diamond body were also made by John Jonsson, at Amsterdam, in 1653. Diamond types were used in England at the close of the eighteenth century; but I do not find the size diamond advertised in any of the specimen books of British typefounders of that century.

In 1834, Antonio Farina, of Milan, cut punches for a small type, which he called occhia di mosca (flies' eyes). The type foundry of Corbetta tried to cast them, but found the work so difficult that they abandoned the enterprise. Twenty years after, Giovanni Gnocchi, of Milan, undertook the work with better success. From this type was printed an edition of the Divine Comedy, which attracted much attention in the Exposition of 1867. The types of this book are about 20 lines to the inch. Although this book has received great praise, it is not a good piece of typography.

The greatest feat in the cutting of microscopic types was done by Henri Didot, who, in 1827, at the age of 60 years, cut and cast a fount of small Roman types on a body which he called demi-nonpareil. In this type he had printed by his brother an edition, in 64mo, of the Maximes of La Rochefoucauld. Firmin Didot says, with pardonable pride of kin, that there has never been anything done as small as this before or since, nor has there been any approach to it. I find that the types in this edition of the Maximes measure a little more than 25 lines to the inch. Henri Didot describes the type as on a body of 2½ points. He probably means Fournier points (a system in which the point was on a little larger body), which were then in common use. This half nonpareil is certainly the smallest type ever made. It was cast by the polyamatype (a mould which easts many bodies at one operation), also the invention of Henri Didot. It probably could not have been cast at all in the ordinary mould of the period.

In 1849, Laurent and Deberny, typefounders, of Paris, published a miscroscopic edition of the Fables of La Fontaine, which was exposed at the Universal Exposition of that vear. This edition of 260 pages, in 128mo, was printed by Plon Frères. The leaf was 2 1/10 inches high, and 1 ⅕ inches wide.*

In 1855, the same foundry published a still smaller volume, Gresset, Ver-vert and other pieces, 160 pages and table. The size of the leaf was ⅞ inch wide, 1½ inches high, 33 lines to the page. The same size of type was employed for each book, but the last book was leaded. The body of the type is between 2½ and 3 points.

In 1858, Edwin Tross published an edition of De Imitatione Christi, printed by Giraudet and Jouaust. It consists of a title and 150 pages, 38 lines to the page. The leaf is 1 ⅕ inches wide and 1⅞ inches high. The type of this edition is smaller than that of Laurent and Deberney. It appears to be the type of Henri Didot.

In 1876, the University Press of Oxford printed an edition of the Holy Bible in diamond type. Each page has two columns of 70 lines. The leaf is 2¼ inches wide, and 4½ inches high. When bound, the thickness is about ½ inch, and the weight about 3oz.

In 1873, John Bellows, of Gloucester, England, printed a French-English and English-French Dictionary, containing 548 pages of text and 16 pages of preface matter. It was beautifully printed, in two columns, with a red border on each page. The page of type is 2 3/10 inches wide, and 3⅞ inches high. This book was eight years in press. It has since been printed in many editions. The types made specially for the work were cast by Messrs. Miller & Richard of Edinburgh. They measure about 20 lines to the inch.

In 1822, Pickering began the publication of a series of small editions, beginning with Cicero de Officiis. In this style he published Virgil, the Jerusalem Liberated of Tasso, the Sonnets of Petrarch, Horace, Terence, the Divine Comedy of Dante (in two volumes), Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius. All these were printed in a beautiful manner by Mr C. Corrall, of London. In 1831, he had printed in two volumes, by Mr Charles Whittingham, of London, the Greek texts of the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. All of these were in diamond types, about 17 lines to the inch.

Jules Didot, the elder, who took the first prize for Printing in 1823, began the publication of the complete works of Voltaire, which were followed by the complete works of Molière, Plutarch, and a collection of French classics.

It would be impossible to give an account of all the meritorious works that have been printed in very small types, of which the number is increasing every year.

Nothing, as yet, has been made smaller, or even as small, as the types of Henri Didot; but no small types yet made are as clear and perfect as those of the brilliant of Messrs. Miller & Richard.

The smallness of a leaf does not necessarily indicate diminishing smallness in the size of the type. The smallest book I have ever seen is about ½ inch wide and 1 inch long, but the type was of the size of nonpareil, and the words were of one syllable.

* Mr DeVinne gives some of these measures according to the French scale. To save our readers the necessity of reference to a comparative table, we have taken the liberty of reducing them to the British national standard.

We have altered the measurement, there being a manifest error in our copy, which reads « sixteen millmetres. » Seventy lines of diamond occupy 4⅛ inches.