Books On Books Collection – Alain Hurtig

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1914/2012)

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1914/2012)
Stéphane Mallarmé (text), Alain Hurtig (design), Catherine Belœil (art)
Online and downloadable files for printing at L’Outil Typographique. Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA). Accessed 28 January 2022.
Screenshots: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Alain Hurtig.

Much has been made of Mallarmé’s precision or preciosity in the marked-up proofs of the deluxe edition of Un Coup de Dés. Also, as many scholars, hommageurs and facsimilists have attested, a suitable substitute for the Firmin-Didot typeface that the poet specified for the deluxe has been hard to find. Master typographer Alain Hurtig, however, puts “suitable substitute” into perspective with his essay “À propos du Coup de dés de Stéphane Mallarmé“. The essay offers single pages and double-page spreads set in Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold), Legato, Clifford and the Hoefler & Frère-Jones digital revival of Didot.

Clockwise from the upper left: Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold), Legato, Clifford and Didot.

It seems unlikely that Mallarmé pored over the Didot firm’s type books to choose the Firmin-Didot face, but there is nothing precious about specifying a typeface. Different faces have different personalities. Hurtig enables us to see rather than imagine the effect of choosing the business-card-like Legato — not that that would have been a choice for Mallarmé. Nor would the Clifford, although a plausible (if squat) choice with its contrasting thin and thick strokes. The opportunity for the most extensive comparison comes with Hurtig’s two complete settings of the poem — one in Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold), the other in HFJ Didot. Below, for comparison, is the poem’s central double-page spread — the COMME SI … COMME SI verses.

Above: Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold). Below: Hoefler & Frère-Jones Didot.

Of these two revival faces — Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold) and HFJ Didot — Hurtig himself prefers Bodoni. Bodoni is one of the more attractive alternatives for facsimilists. Neil Crawford chose it for the edition created with Ian Tyson, as did Gary Young for his edition with D.J. Waldie. Hurtig even provides a comparative view of three versions of Bodoni:

Hurtig’s explanations of deciding the trim size and adjusting the size of fonts and spacing fascinate. Likewise his choice of Bodoni because it

s’imposait avec élégance, il rythmait les phrases en les faisant incroyablement vibrer et remplissait de sa grâce les immenses blancs de la double page — ces espaces que, selon Mallarmé, “il n’est pas moins beau de composer que les vers” [Hurtig, 2012]

[imposed itself with elegance, it gave rhythm to the sentences by making them vibrate incredibly and filled with its grace the immense blanks of the double page — these spaces which, according to Mallarmé, “it is no less beautiful to compose than the verse”.]

My vote, however, would be for the HFJ Didot. It has a more upright, steelier and brighter aspect, fittingly constellatory. In other online comments, Hurtig points out, however, that the HFJ Didot is not the Firmin-Didot of Mallarmé:

Le didot d’Hoefler n’est évidemment pas celui choisi par Mallarmé, et pour cause : un siècle les sépare — et Hoefler a, dans son dessin, évidemment tenu compte des conditions modernes de composition et d’impression : au plomb, son travail ne tiendrait probablement pas une seconde, et moins encore sur les papiers utilisés à l’époque. [Hurtig, 2018]

[Hoefler’s Didot is obviously not the one chosen by Mallarmé, and for good reason : a century separates them – and Hoefler has, in his design, obviously taken into account modern conditions of composition and printing: with lead, his work would probably not hold for a second, and even less so on the papers used at the time.]

While carefully experimenting with the choice of faces, Hurtig has no qualms about jettisoning Odile Redon from his edition. He does not like the Redon prints et en plus il est mort (“and besides he’s dead”). Combined with his finer typographic points, Hurtig’s substitution of prints he commissioned from Catherine Belœil heeds the call to which facsimilists and hommageurs such as Jean Lecoultre, Alessandro Zanella and Jacques Vernière, Honorine Tepfer, Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark, Virgile Legrand and Hervé Di Rosa, and Sam Sampson have also responded: to look afresh and even radically at Un Coup de Dés.

Further Reading

Bodoni’s Bicentennial“. 14 December 2013. Books On Books Bookmark.

Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark“. 26 October 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Hervé Di Rosa“. 20 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jean Lecoultre“. 28 March 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Sam Sampson“. 17 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Honorine Tepfer“. 7 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jacques Vernière“. 9 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. 2011. The book as instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the artist’s book, and the transformation of print culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Pp. 231-35, 348n.

Cohn, Robert Greer. 1967. Mallarme’s masterwork: new findings. The Hague: Mouton.

Hurtig, Alain. 28 March 2012. “À propos du Coup de dés de Stéphane Mallarmé“. L’Outil Typographique. Accessed 25 January 2022.

Hurtig, Alain. 11 July 2018. “Remarques typographiques“, responding to Laurent Bloch’s “Le Poème de Stéphane Mallarmé: Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. Son exégèse et sa typographie”, posted 11 July 2018, modified 29 September 2020. Accessed 26 January 2022.

Books On Books Collection – Jacques Vernière


Stéphane Mallarmé/ Translation, Maurizio Cucchi/ Wood engravings, Jacques Vernière
Slipcased, paper bound, sewn. H325 x W260 mm, 70 pages. Acquired from Carla Bellini, 14 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Edizioni Ampersand.

In the Books On Books Collection, there are livres d’artiste of Un Coup de Dés in French, English and German — even Arabic. Edizioni Ampersand brings an Italian edition into the fold. Alessandro Zanella founded Edizioni Ampersand in the early 1980s in Verona, and its second publication was UN COLPO DI DADI. Zanella had been intrigued by the revolutionary typographic layout of the poem and borrowed a first edition copy from Leo Lionni, the children’s book author and illustrator. Presumably for the future flexibility of his printing house, Zanella purchased a set of Caslon type rather than Bodoni in which to set the poem.

The 1914 edition of the poem has no title page laid out as a double-page spread. Why the title is split into four lines for the French and five for the Italian is not clear. The French layout gives a more expected left to right reading across the spread, whereas the Italian jumps back and forth (perhaps more in keeping with Mallarmé’s syntax later in the poem). Otherwise, as seen in the pairing of the “Comme si … comme si/ come se … come se” spreads, Zanella follows the 1914 edition’s layout.

The French printer/artist Jacques Vernière may have destined himself to contribute the artwork to UN COLPO DI DADI. He had introduced Zanella to American expatriate printer Richard-Gabriel Rummonds, proprietor of The Plain Wrapper Press, then also in Verona. Some years after working with Rummonds, Zanella struck out on his own and established Edizioni Ampersand. Whether by research or intuition, Zanella

Although not following Mallarmé’s choice of typeface, Zanella did follow Ambroise Vollard’s instinct that a livre d’artiste edition would sell better than a text-only edition. He also followed Mallarmé’s concern that Vollard should not let the prints and paper used for them detract from the visual impact of the text. Zanella separates Vernière’s wood engravings from the text, placing two after the French version and two after the Italian version of Mallarmé’s preface. Their evocation of the storm, shipwreck, waves and the abyss is unmistakable, as is the folio cover’s image of foam on the surface of waves.

Spread of French preface and image; spread of Italian preface and image.

Close-up of images after the prefaces.

Spread with second image in the French section; spread with second image in the Italian section.

Close-up of second images in the French and Italian sections, respectively.

The watermark in the handmade paper seems extraneous: Veronica’s Veil, the relic capturing Christ’s image, might have interested the otherwise non-religious author of Herodiade, but its bearing on this poem is unclear. A mermaid or siren would have been more suitable. But such a subtle discrepancy or missed opportunity does not sway the balance of text, image, ink and paper that Zanella has achieved here.

Logo of Edizioni Ampersand

Further Reading

Nicolini, Chiara. Summer 2012. “Lines in the Ampersand“, Illustration. Accessed 5 February 2022.

Shaw, Paul. “Alessandro Zanella: In Memoriam“, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah. Accessed 5 February 2022.