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Mike Parker’s Story of Type: Plantin, de Sanlecque, & Le Bé

This eighth installment is as much about printers in the late 16th century as it is about the punchcutters. The Plantin-Moretus Museum, the famous printing house mentioned in earlier installments, finally comes to life with its founder, Christopher Plantin. The inventories from the Le Bé type foundry in Paris illuminate the two de Sanlecques, father and son, and shed light on other notables in type history, until we're finally led to the underpinnings of David Berlow’s Eldorado.

II. Old Style Roman and Italic Typefaces (continued)

Christopher Plantin (French, c. 1530-1589)

Plantin was not a designer but a publisher and printer, the largest and most influential of his time. He ran as many as eight presses. During the Wars of Religion, he acted as Philip II of Spain’s Catholic censor for all of Northern Europe, firmly setting the typographic center in Antwerp, Belgium.

Plantin invested heavily in a huge antiphonary for Philip II of Spain (the type for which is still tightly wrapped, unused, bright as new). Philip could not pay, and Plantin settled for a monopoly on all Spanish religious printing, in perpetuity. The most conservative printing in Europe was in Spain and the most conservative printing in Spain was for the Church, so Plantin’s long-term success was secured.

A large Rotunda face (approx. 48 point), cut by H. van den Keere at Plantin's request, intended for use in a monumental antiphonary for Philip II of Spain which was never printed.

The printing house remained in the family, intact, long after Plantin’s death in 1589. Then one afternoon, late in the 19th century, alderman Max Rooses walked in, realized what he was looking at, and had the city of Antwerp buy it and make him the first curator. Everything is original, a small city block containing everything from three centuries of publishing: 1500 volumes of business archives, the types, the molds, the presses, even the children’s toys — a museum beyond compare . . .

If you find yourself in Northern Europe, set aside at least two days and visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Only publishing displays its past in such depth and splendor.

Jacques de Sanlecque, the elder (French, died 1598)
Jacques de Sanlecque, the younger (French, died 1649)
Guillaume Le Bé (French, c. 1530-1598)

The two de Sanlecques, father and son, are known to us through the inventories of the Le Bé typefoundry in Paris, which survive in a transcription by Jean Pierre Fournier, l'aîné, who acquired the foundry in 1730. This inventory was later published, with a far-sighted commentary, by Stanley Morison in 1957.

This inventory confirms that, among others, the elusive Antoine Augereau, a creative punchcutter, was master of apprenticeship to Claude Garamont, confirming the originality and date of the document. Jean Jannon of Sedan (who cut the inferior fonts mistaken for the work of Garamont at the turn of the century) also makes an appearance in the inventory.

For the lowercase of his Eldorado typeface, W.A. Dwiggins followed a late-16th-century original cut by Jacques de Sanlecque, the elder, in Paris, using a roman by Robert Granjon as a model. From the hand of David Berlow, Font Bureau’s Eldorado fully develops the potential of Dwiggins’s original series.

Types used by A. de Sancha in Madrid, 1774, likely cut by Jacques de Sanlecque, the elder, in Paris nearly two centuries earlier and modeled after types by Robert Granjon.

For Eldorado, W. A. Dwiggins took his inspiration from the A. de Sancha sample (shown in D. B. Updike's Printing Types Vol. II, fig. 236). “The outcome,” he said in the 1953 Linotype specimen, “is in no direct way a copy of the de Sancha face (which, be it noted, is more French than Spanish) but it has called on the Madrid specimen for help in the anatomy of its arches, curves, junctions, etc.” David Berlow, along with Tobias Frere-Jones and Thomas Rickner, created FB’s digital version in 1993.


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