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A: Antwerpen, Vlaanderen, Belgium

Christophe Plantin Publishes the Earliest Description of the Printing Process


In 1567 Belgian printer Christophe Plantin (Christoffel Plantijn) issued from Antwerp La première, et la seconde partie des dialogues françois, pour les jeunes enfans, with texts in French and Flemish on facing pages. The technical nature of the writing of this work suggests that it was intended to be read by parents, who might pass the information onto their children, rather than necessarily intended to be read by children, themselves. Though 1500 copies were printed, the work is exceptionally rare.

Dialogue IX (pp. 218-255) concerns writing and printing. It is thought that the physician and dramatist Jacques Grevin was the general editor of the Dialogues, but that Plantin, who signed the Preface, was the author, or at least the editor, of the section on writing and printing.

"The chief interest, hwoever, of the Dialogue lies in the later section, which is introducted with a reference to 'the marvellous art of printing.' Here follows an elementary account of typefounding, including a detailed description of the mould and a list of the names of the several sizes of type cast. The compositing furniture, the frames, the form and the chase are all specifically mentioned. The most important portion of the whole is doubtless the section which describes the press. It is a careful description, which, while not comparable with Moxon from the point of view of detail, is very precious as giving us a clear picture of the press nearly one hundred and twenty years earlier than that of the 'Mechanick Exercises' " (Stanley Morison, Forward to Calligraphy & Printing in the sixteenth century.  Dialogue attribributed to Christopher Plantin in French and Flemish facsimile. Edited with English translation and notes by Ray Nash [1964] 13-14).

Nash's edition was first published in an edition of 250 copies in 1940. The slightly revised version in my library is one of 500 copies issued in 1964. The translation is given on rectos with a running commentary and illustrations on versos, followed by a facsimile of the original printing. Barber, French Letterpress Printing (1969) 1.

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