Book Shorts

A catalogue of break-throughs in the history of printing and books

Book collects the first illustrations, scores, maps and children's books

Aldus Manutius's Printer's Mark © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Every schoolboy and -girl knows that Gutenberg was the first to invent moveable type and to usher in the age of printing, the World Wide Web and IT of its day. This book by John Boardley is a kind of typographical Guinness Book of World Records in that it records all the other "firsts" in printing—the first fonts, first italics, women typographers, illustrated books, colour printing, printers' marks, title pages, music, maps and children's books—so that many of the aspects of books we take for granted turn out to have been invented as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries. Boardley shows how the book developed by chance and technological innovation. His book is full of illustrations, many in colour, that show, for example, the complicated processes involved in printing music and the way printers created their often witty "copyright" marks (such as late 15th- or early 16th-century dolphin and anchor mark of the world-famous Venetian printer and publisher, Aldus Manutius). The book only incidentally touches on the reproduction of works of art, although it could be argued that many aspects of the book are works of art, especially the architectonic title page. Looking at many of the examples, one soon realises what a visually barren world the web and social media are.

  • John Boardley, Typographic Firsts: Adventures in Early Printing, Bodleian Library, 208pp, £25 (hb)