Chapter 24 - Emergence of the Modern Print, Poster Design, A History of Typeface, and A History of Book Covers

Table of Contents:

According to the Müller-Brockmans, a poster ‘should inform, stimulate, activate, expound, query, provoke, convince.’ As Tony Fusco writes:
From the years 1890 to 1900, Europe and America were in a frenzy over a new form of advertising, which was also a new form of art: the illustrated colour advertising poster. Gone were the drab streets and boring broadsides. The boulevards of Paris, the tiny streets of Belgium and Holland, the otherwise solemn squares of London, and the shop windows of America proliferated with colourful images, a veritable public poster parade, created by some of the most talented artists of their times.


Johann Gutenberg and Modern Printing Techniques

The history of modern posters is intimately linked with the invention of modern printing techniques by Johann Gutenberg in 1450s, with the publication and design of modern books by Aldus Manutius in Italy and William Caxton in England in 1480s , and development of lithographic process by Alois Senefelder in Austria in 1798. It is also related to the development of engraving and etching techniques.

Johann Gutenberg (1396- 1468) was born in Mainz, Germany into a patrician family. Trained in crafts such as goldsmithing and gem cutting, he left Mainz for Strasbourg around 1428 as a political exile. According to a lawsuit of 1439 he began experimenting with printing techniques in Strasbourg. In 1450, the financier Johann Fust, who was also a lawyer, invested in Gutenberg's printing firm, and became his partner. The firm employed Gutenberg's inventions of movable metal type cast in separate letters and a type-casting machine, but he lost the firm to Fust in 1455, mainly due to the investor's unhappiness with the slow pace of business. Gutenberg's main innovations were the use of individual metal letters in raised type and the use of a pressure press in the printing process. The metal letters, as compared to earlier used wooden letters, were more durable and their printed text were more clear and sharp. Gutenberg's first book ever printed from movable type, is the "Forty-Two-Line" Bible. This bible (Which was named so because of the number of lines in each column of its double-column pages),was set up during 1452-3, and was published on August 1456. It was a two volumes lectern book, comprising of 1286 pages. Copies of this bible were sold across northern Europe and, when illuminated, could be mistaken for manuscEightripts. There over 40 extant copies. After the loss of his firm, he published a beautiful Psalter in 1457. Only some other minor works are still attributed to him.

In Gutenberg's lifetime the technology of printing spread slowly, to Strasbourg, Bamberg, Cologne, and into Italy, reaching Rome in 1467. But the printing surge began in 1469 and after, when printing was first introduced to the great trading city of Venice. By 1500, printing shops had been introduced to more than 250 European cities and towns, although many of these were the sites for only brief experiments. Concurrently, a strong consolidation of shops began to form in a dozen or so cities—Venice, Paris, Milan, Strasbourg, Nuremberg, and others—which among them produced nearly twothirds of the approximately 28,000 surviving printed editions of the fifteenth century. As can be expected, from about 1475 onward, the production of manuscript books plummeted.

The Gutenberg Bible, the first substantial book printed with movable type,Volume 1, Old Testament, Book of Judges, pages 114 verso and 115 recto


The Book Design of Aldus Manutius

Gutenberg's printing press made books widely available in Europe. The book design of Aldus Manutius developed the book structure which would become the foundation of western publication design. Aldus Manutius was born in 1452 in the small town of Bassiano, some 80 km south of Rome. He was a student in the Faculty of Arts in the University of Rome during the 1467-1473 period. Around the late 1470's he enrolled in the University of Ferrara, where he studied Greek. In 1480, he was employed as a tutor to the children of the Duke of Carpi. But in 1480, he quit teaching and moved to Venice, the centre of the publishing industry, where he became partners with an established printer, Andrea Torresano. Manutius adopted the Anchor and Dolphin design as the printer's logo.

Manutius published fine editions of Greek, Latin and Italian Classics. His was the first press to print Greek and Latin classics. In some of these books he used a printing type known as Italics fonts. The Aldine Press was the first press to use the Italic type also. A grammarian and humanist, Manutius ' fame is above all emanates from being the leading publisher and printer of the Venetian High Renaissance, he set up a definite scheme of book design, produced the first italic type, introduced small and handy pocket editions (octavos) of the classics and applied several innovations in binding technique and design for use on a broad scheme.

Examples Aldus Manutius's printed books


William Caxton and his Printing Establishment

William Caxton was born in around 1422 in Kent. He went to London at the age of 16 to become an apprentice to a merchant, later moving to Bruges, the centre of the wool trade, where he became a successful and important member of the merchant community. From 1462 to 1470 he served as governor of the 'English Nation of Merchant Adventurers', which allowed him to represent his fellow merchants, as well as act as a diplomat for the king. Caxton affiliated himself with the household of Margaret, the duchess of Burgundy, sister of the English king Edward IV. She became one of his most important patrons and encouraged him with his translation of 'The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye' from French to English. In the early 1470s Caxton spent time in Cologne learning the art of printing. He returned to Bruges in 1472 where he and Colard Mansion, a Flemish calligrapher, set up a press. Caxton's own translation of 'The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye' was the first book printed in the English language.

In 1476 Caxton returned to London and established a press at Westminster, the first printing press in England. The first dated book he is known to have printed is dated 1476. Mansion and Caxton were partners or associates at Bruges, where Caxton printed his Recuyell around 1474. His second book, The Game and Playe of Chesse, was also finished in 1474, and printed soon after; the last book printed by Mansion and Caxton at Bruges was the Quatre derrenieres choses, an anonymous treatise usually known as De quattuor novissimis. Amongst the books he printed were Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales', Gower's 'Confession Amantis' and Malory's 'Le Morte d'Arthur'. He printed more than 100 books in his lifetime, books which were known for their craftsmanship and careful editing. In 1483 he embarked on his most ambitious production of the Golden Legend, which is based on the lives of the saints as given in the 13th century Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine. The book is illustrated by seventy woodcuts, with the support of William, Earl of Arundel. His output as a printer was over 18,000 pages, and he published ninety-six separate works or editions of works, with apparently little skilled assistance, though later printers, Wynkyn de Worde, Robert Copland and possibly Richard Pynson, were trained under him. He died in 1492.

Examples of the printed pages by William Caxton


Development of the lithographic process

The lithographic process was invented by a Czech named Alois Senefelder in 1798 in Austria. Senefelder (1771, 1834) was born in Praque. Between 1783 and 1793 Senefelder went to school in Munich and studied law at the University of Ingolstadt. After the death of his father, an actor, in 1791 he was forced to quit school to support his mother and eight siblings. He tried somewhat unsuccessfully to support himself as a performer and author. He purchased a small printing press to enable himself to print and publish his own plays.

Problems with the printing of his play, Mathilde von Altenstein caused him to fall into debt, he attempted to engrave plates himself. He made numerous experiments with little success. Using copperplates for engraving was expensive, and to reuse them he had to undergo a tedious process of grinding and polishing. He experimented with a fine piece of Solnhofen limestone which he had purchased for the purpose of grinding his ink. In attempting to perfect his ability to engrave reverse images on copper plates, Alois Senefelder began practicing on cheaper slabs of Bavarian limestone. In addition to introducing the use of the limestone slab, Senefelder concocted a mixture of wax, soap, lamp black and rainwater that he used as a correction fluid on the copper plates. He was encouraged by the ease at which the stone could be ground and polished afresh. Soon he joined with the André family of music publishers and gradually brought his technique into a workable form, perfecting both the chemical processes and the special form of printing press required for using the stones. He called it "stone printing" or "chemical printing", but the French name "lithography" became more widely adopted.

The Street Singer, engraved by Alois Senefelder

Senefelder died at Munich in 1834, having lived to see his invention brought to full development. The appearance of stone lithography changed the technology of printmaking in a radical way. In time, the stone print technology evolved into the modern offset lithographic printing. Yet many artists still feel that Senefelder's traditional method allows for a genuine artistic freedom that would facilitate the creative act of making art.

 Art book, 1912


A History of Posters

Although handmade posters existed before, they were mainly used for government announcements. William Caxton , who in 1477 started a printing company in England produced the first printed poster. As Fusco writes:

There was a veritable poster collecting "craze" from the late 1880's until after the turn of the century. The new and exciting medium was quickly seized upon by collectors. Poster shows and exhibitions abounded, drawing thousands of visitors, and poster collecting clubs, societies, and publications sprang up all over Europe and the United States. It was not long before poster artists and publishers realized they could overprint a commercial edition and make it available for sale through print dealers, such as Sagot in Paris. At the time the posters were issued through Sagot in the 1890's, posters such as Toulouse-Lautrec's La Revue Blanche sold for 5 francs (Has sold in Auction for over US $40,000). Cities were burgeoned with the rise of a new merchant class, which sought to put art into their homes. Posters were inexpensive and decorative works. In addition, illustrated advertising posters were a new notion and had given the drab streets of Paris the aspect of a public gallery. Each new poster was eagerly anticipated, talked about, and written about.

The first advertising posters appeared in 1870 . In the 19th and 20th century artists like Jules Chéret, Daumier, Manet, Picasso, Ben Shahn, Norman Rockwell, Alexandre Steinlen, Alphonse Mucha, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec made compelling posters advertising products entertainments and restaurants. Matt Morgan's circus advertisements (c.1890) started the American poster, and this was followed by Edward Penfield, Will H. Bradley, Maxfield Parrish, Howard Chandler Christie, James Montgomery Flagg, Charles Dana Gibson, and Harrison Fisher. However, before studying the works of these artists we need to lookmore closely at the works of those artisans and craftsmen who pioneered in the technologies of engraving and etching.

Engraving is the practice of incising a design onto a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The process was developed in Germany in the 1430s from the engraving used by goldsmiths to decorate metalwork. Engravers use a hardened steel tool called a burin to cut the design into the surface, most traditionally a copper plate. Gravers come in a variety of shapes and sizes that yield different line types.


Theodor de Bry
Theodor de Bry (1528 – 1598) was an engraver, goldsmith and editor. He was born in Liege in modern day Belgium in 1528. During the Spanish invasion of the Netherlands he fled to the German city of Strasbourg, where he set up as a goldsmith and engraver studio around 1570 . De Bry travelled to London in 1587, and met Jacques le Moyne, a Frenchman, who had partook in the French attempt to settle in Florida in 1564 and had made a series of illustrations depicting life at the French settlement at Fort Caroline. De Bry hoped to use Le Moyne's paintings for a series of engravings. Le Moyne refused, but 1588, after the Le Moyne death, De Bry renewed the offer to his widow, who accepted it.

However, before publishing a book from the Le Moyne works, a friend suggested that he should use the illustrations
by John White, governor of the English colony at Roanoke, and publish a book based on the more recent English attempt to settle a colony in Virginia. DE Bry accepted and the book; Collectiones Peregrinationum in Indiam Occidentalem et Orientalem was published in 1590 . He then proceeded with the project based on Le Moyne's images, and published the book Brevis Narratio Eorvm Qvae in Florida Americae Provicia Gallis Acciderunt in 1591. Both books were well received by the public and he now planned a series of other books, known as Grands et Petits Voyages, and by the time he died in 1598 he had completed six and his sons Jan-Theodore and Jan-Israel published eight more parts of the series until Jan-Israel's death in 1611.

Samples of engraving by De Bry


Martin Schongauer

Martin Schongauer (1448-1491), is the pioneer of the German engraving school . Gasper Schongauer, Martin's father , was a goldsmith at Colmar, where Martin was born. He apprenticed in his father's studio, where he learned both drawing and engraving. In 1465, he entered Leipzig University, and around 1469 he travelled to Burgundy and the Netherlands as journeyman. He started his engraving trade with copying directly from images by Rogier van der Weyden, Dieric Bouts and Jan van Eyck. After returning to Colmar in 1473 he painted his only dated panel painting , the 'Madonna im Rosenhag' for St Martin's in Colmar, and then in 1489 he began a period of mural paintings in Breisach Minster, but unfortunately before their completion he died, probably due to plague, in 1491.

During his relatively short life Schongauer completed close to one hundred and sixteen prints, which are among the most celebrated in the history of Western graphic art. His works are remarkable because of their strong compositional balance and the artist's sensitivity in dealing with human feelings. He invented cross-hatching, which provide a three dimensional impact . He established at Colmar an engraving movement, from which a number of later generation engravers emerged. According to Giorgio Vasari Michelangelo copied his work ; the "Trial of St Anthony." In general, his works were widely copied and imitated, sometimes even with his monogram. Among the most compelling of Schongauer's engravings are the series of the "Passion" and the "Death and Coronation of the Virgin", and the series of the "Wise and Foolish Virgins."

Samples of Schongauer's engraving


Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Durer (1471- 1528), is the most imprtant German artist of the Renaissance era. He started his trade as an apprentice with his father, a Hungarian who had emigrated to Germany in 1455. Although they were practicing goldsmith in Nurenberg, Albercht were dabbing in painting by 1484 and in 1486 he became apprentice to the painter and printmaker Michael Wolgumut and began to work with woodcuts and copper engravings. At age 21 he went to Breisach to make Schongauer's acquaintance but met only his brother, who handed over drawings by the master to the aspiring artist.

Two years later, Durer travelled to Italy in 1494 and again 1505-7 and to Antwerp and the Low Countries in 1520-1, mainly to study painting and engraving techniques. During his second Italian trip to Venice He became acquainted with Giovanni Bellini and his brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna, both masters were at their advanced ages . Durer's journeys enabled him to synthesize the Gothic traditions of the German artists with the Italian perspective sensitivities to achieve a formidable compositional aesthetics. During the period 1496-8, Durer published a collection of his woodcuts based on the The Apocalypse of St. John, which perhaps was an indication of his support for the Reformation movement. Durer also created many portraits of the prominent people of his era including those of Emperor Maximilian I, Christian II of Denmark, 1521, Jacob Fugger as well as a number of other merchants, clergy and government officials. Durer explicated his theories on composition in The Four Books on Human Proportions, published posthumously in 1528.

Etching is the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio in the metal. This technique is believed to have been invented by Daniel Hopfer of Augsburg, Germany.


Daniel Hopfer

A contemporary of Dürer's, Daniel Hopfer (1471-1536) is the most important member of a family of artists formerly of Kaufbeuren and later of Augsburg. Hopfer was a successful etcher of armour as well as a draughtsman and designer of wooodcuts for the printing of books. Hopfer's main body of work includes 154 iron-plate etchings. He worked on a broad range of themes including not only the scenes from everyday life, but also religious, historical and mythological compositions, as well as portraits, architectural depictions, ornamental designs and elaborate lettering. Prints with added texts, rather like flyers, were used to spread Protestant ideals and show the artist's familiarity with the Lutheran body of thought.

His copies of Italian masterpieces and variations on these themes are of far-reaching importance, and their reproduction assisted the rapid spread of the Renaissance throughout Germany.
Daniel Hopfer's prominence is ultimately due to his invention in the early 1490s of iron-plate etching. This process had been familiar to armourers for some time and used for the elaborate decoration of armour plate or swords by precisely etching with acid to produce incised ornamentation and figurative motifs that could then be blackened or gilded. Hopfer discovered that the areas eaten away by acid on plates that had been treated - or etched - in such a way were able to hold ink and could be used to print copies on paper. Hopfer was the first and by far the most productive etcher among his contemporaries. Hopfer's epochal invention ultimately led later generations to their breakthrough when etching finally replaced woodcuts and copperplate engraving almost entirely, and artists such as Rembrandt and Goya adopted the technique devised by Daniel Hopfer exclusively for their graphic works.
Examples of etching by Daniel Hopfer

A History of Typeface


William Caslon

The standard English typeface of the early 18th century was Caslon, named after William Caslon.  The first of a family of English type founders, he was born at Cradley, Worcestershire in 1692. He was taken in as an apprentice engraver in London at the age of 13; by age 24 he had become a successful independent engraver and in 1716 started business in London as an engraver of gun locks and barrels, and as a bookbinder's tool-cutter .  In 1720, Caslon began his career in type design by accepting a commission to create a typeface for the New Testament in Arabic. His subsequent roman typeface was an instant success. The distinction and legibility of his type secured him the patronage of the leading printers of the day in England and on the continent. 

 Based on specimen pages printed by William Caslon between 1734 and 1770

Caslon type fell into disuse at the start of the 19th century. But in 1844, Charles Whittingham initiated a Caslon revival by using the typeface to create an archaic effect for the Chiswick Press publication of The Diary of Lady Willoughby. This revival was taken up in America by L.J. Johnson, who copied the Caslon face in 1858, and sold it under the name "Old Style." Though often criticized, the Caslon typeface remains one of the most popular of all.  


John Baskerville

John Baskerville (1706,  1775) a towering figure in the history of English typography, he broke one tradition and started another.  Baskervillle was born in the village of Wolverley, and was a printer in Birmingham, England. He was a member of the Royal Society of Arts, and an associate of some of the members of the Lunar Society. He directed his punchcutter, John Handy, in the design of many typefaces of broadly similar appearance.

John Baskerville printed works for the University of Cambridge in 1758 and, although an atheist, printed a splendid folio Bible in 1763. His typefaces were greatly admired by Benjamin Franklin, a printer and fellow member of the Royal Society of Arts, who took the designs back to the newly-created United States, where they were adopted for most federal government publishing. Unfortunately, his type was severely criticised due to the thinness of the strokes. Critics maintained that his type "hurt the eye" and would be "responsible for blinding the nation". It was a commercial failure and wasn't revived until the 1920s when many new fonts based on his work and mostly called 'Baskerville' have been released by Linotype, Monotype, and other type foundries. 


Giambattista Bodoni
Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813)  was born into a family of typographers in Italy.   He moved to Rome, at the age of 18, where he was introduced to Cardinal Spinelli.  After a trip to  England, in 1766, a battle with malaria, he returned home.  He then was hired by the Duke Ferdinand of Bourbon-Parma,  as head of the Stamperia Reale. His early books show the influence of the types used by Pierre-Simon Fournier. He developed a dramatic, bold style, exemplified by the Epithalamia (1775), which celebrates the wedding of the sister of the French king Louis XVI.

Bodoni's  mature style achieved a stark brilliance and Neo-classical purity, and from the 1780s he worked with his brother Giuseppe Bodoni to produce his own typefaces. He achieved an unprecedented level of technical refinement, allowing him to faithfully reproduce letterforms with very thin "hairlines", standing in sharp contrast to the thicker lines constituting the main stems of the characters. He became known for his designs of pseudoclassical typefaces and highly stylized editions some considered more apt "to be admired for typeface and layout, not to be studied or read."  His most celebrated books include Q. Horatii flacci opera (Rome, 1791) and the two-volume P. Virgilii maronis opera (Rome, 1793). In 1806 he exhibited 14 of his books at the Exhibition of National Industry in Paris, where he was awarded gold medals. In 1810 he was granted a pension by Napoleon and awarded the Order of the Réunion. 

Firmin Didot

Firmin Didot (1764-1836)  Firmin Didot was born in a Parisian dynasty that dominated French typefounding for two centuries. His family owned their own printing firm which was called  the House of Didot.  Firmin Didot created the first modern Roman typeface in 1784, and he’s remembered today as the namesake of a series of Neoclassical typefaces that exquisitely captured the Modern style. He also created the typeface Ambroise, which  is a contemporary interpretation of various typefaces belonging to Didot’s late style, conceived circa 1830, including the original forms of g, y, &; and to a lesser extent, k. 

The types that Didot used are characterized by extreme contrast in thick strokes and thin strokes, by the use of hairline serifs and by the vertical stress of the letters. Many fonts today are available based on Firmin Didot's typefaces. These include Linotype Didot  and HTF Didot. In the second half of the 19th century, it was normal to find fat Didots in several widths in the catalogues of French type foundries, mostly alphabets of capitals only. The narrow versions were widely used for heavy titlings in theatre posters. These same typefaces continued to be offered by French foundries such as Deberny & Peignot (in Spécimen général des fonderies Deberny & Peignot, Paris, 1955) until the demise of the last type foundries in France at the end of the 1960s.

A History of Helvetica

Today many companies around the globe are using Helvetica typeface in their logos, these include; American Airlines, American Apparel, Comme des Garçons, Evian, Intel, Lufthansa, Nestlé and Toyota.
The font is also used on the logo of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the album sleeve of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," and all of the signage on the New York subway system.

It is belived that a typical Western consumer sees more than 3,000 corporate messages every day, and many of them are printed in Helvetica.  In 2007, the Museum of Modern Art in New York celebrated its 50th anniversary by opening a "50 Years of Helvetica" exhibition and acquiring a set of the original lead type, making it the first typeface to become part of the museum's collection. According to Christian Larsen, curator of the MoMA exhibition; "Helvetica delivers a message quickly and efficiently without imposing itself ...When reading it, one hardly notices the letter forms, only the meaning, it's that well-designed. It's crisp, clean and sharply legible, yet humanized by round, soft strokes. Many type designers have said that they can not improve on it."

Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann

Helvetica was developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann in Münchenstein, Switzerland. The font was originally called Neue Haas Grotesk based on a typeface called Schelter-Grotesk, the main aim of Helvetica as a typeface was to create something that was quite neutral and could be used on a wide variety of signage. The Name was changed to Helvetica in 1960 which was derived from Confoederatio Helvetica which is the Latin name for Switzerland, this was an idea to make it more marketable internationally.

The rebranding worked. Helvetica proved so popular, especially among U.S. advertising agencies, that it became the default typeface for any 1960s company wishing to project a dynamic, modern image.
By the late 1980s, Helvetica was ubiquitous. A digital version of the font, Arial, was introduced in 1990. Arial has since proved popular, but design buffs dismiss it as a cheap pastiche.


A history of Book Covers and Dust Jackets

Traditionally, most manuscripts were covered in materials such as vellum or calf lather, but with the mass production of printed books, in the early nineteenth century, publishers began using cloth bound covers for their books. Given the need for transportation of the books from the printing firms to bookstores, publishers had to protect these delicate covers with book jackets. These early versions were simple functional dust jackets, which paid scarce attentions to the advertisement about the contents of the books. Most of these dust jackets were discarded by the bookstores upon receiving the books and thus very few of them have survived.


The Keepsake, published by Longmans of London in 1832 was covered by the earliest known printed dust jacket, which was illustrated by a photograph. Up to the last decade of the nineteenth century most of these jackets used typographical designs with no illustration.  Russian artist Aleksander Rodchenko and English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley were among the most influential early book cover designers.  Beardsley created artwork for Henry Harland's popular "Yellow Book" series of the 1890s. The dust jacket for The Shadow of a Dream, by William Dean Howell published in New York in 1890 is the first known dust jacket with illustration. The book cover designers of the early twentieth century used mostly decorative floral or scroll designs on a protective dust jacket, which had a cut out circle to reveal the title of the book and the name of its author. With the advancement in printing technology the costs of mass production of color printing were reduced substantially and printing on the flaps  become possible. The book cover designers gradually began to use more artistic creativity in their designs, and publishers who noticed that a good design can attract the attention of prospective buyers and can improve the sales began to pay more attention to design.

  • Davies, Martin. The Gutenberg Bible. London and San Francisco, 1996.
  • Fusco,Tony.Posters, House of Collectibles,New York, 1990.
  • Ing, Janet. Johann Gutenberg and His Bible: A Historical Study. New York and London, 1988.
  • M. Rickards, ''The Rise and Fall of the Poster'', 1971 ;
  • J. Barnicoat, A Concise History of Posters: 1870–1970, 1972
  • D. Ades, The Twentieth Century Poster, 1984
  • J. Barnicoat, Posters: A Concise History, 1985 
  • Tebbel, John William, A history of book publishing in the United States,  R. R. Bowker Co., New York,  1972. 

Go to thr next chapter; Chapter 25 - Pioneers of the Art Nouveau

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