This is a delightful book to be asked to review. It is based upon the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam; which includes the Library of the Dutch Booktrade Association and the Typographical Library of Typefoundry Amsterdam. It provides a generous overview of 125 examples of the most significant books produced since 1471 until 2010. The University is to be congratulated for encouraging a focus upon book and type design, as well as poster design. Indeed it has established a Heritage Centre for Graphic Design, Typography and Advertising.
The book is edited by Mathieu Lommen, a curator at the Special Collections of the University, with contributions from eight contributors. The aim is to provide a visual history of ‘Western book design’. It seeks also to place this in a broader context by the inclusion of ‘printers’ manuals, illuminating the printing process, and also type specimen and writing master’s copybooks. A real feature of the publication is its compelling and authoritative demonstration of the evolution of techniques of graphic reproduction of imagery.
The large format presents a rare opportunity to view some examples actual size*, such as
Martin-Dominque Fertel’s La science pratique de l’imprimerie (which extended Moxon’s Mechanick Excercises: to include advice on typographic design); and Tucholsky and Heartfield’s Deutschland, Deutschland über alles: ein Bilderbuch. The quality of the reproductions is impeccable. Another of the strengths of the book is the numerous authoritative and informative brief vignettes of the various fonts employed in the examples. These are credited to John A. Lane. author’s interpretation of its significance.
After a short introduction the book is subdivided into ten chapters. The choice of these is somewhat misleading, as the contents do not in every instance marry happily and correspond exactly, due to the examples being selected on a chronologogical basis, and spanning more than a single century.
The first chapter describes the invention and spread of printing. It introduces Nicholas Jenson, and the Hypnerotomachia Popliphili by Aldus Manutius and observes that during the period from 1471 to 1499 the principle conventions of the printed book had evolved into their now familiar forms. One intruiging nugget of information is the reference to the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 providing the first surviving layouts and contracts relating to its production. ...
* Some of the illustrations are in fact reproduced larger than the original (eg Morris’s edition of Rossetti’s Hand and Soul (pp 276–79); and Teige’s Viteszslav Neval, Abeceda (pp 328/9).