Books On Books Collection – Tabula Rasa Press

The Uffizi ABC (1905/1992)

The Uffizi ABC (1905/1992)
Arthur Maquarie & Buona Fortuna (i.e, Lindsay D. Symington)
First published by Giulio Giannini & Son in Florence. Reissued in miniature facsimile by Tabula Rasa Press.
Casebound in patterned cloth with matching paper doublures, headbands. H80 x W62 mm. 64 pages. Edition of 300, this copy unnumbered. Acquired from Rebecca Bingham, 23 November 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Based in Seattle, WA, Tabula Rasa Press was the imprint of John Lathourakis, who printed most of his books by letterpress as well as setting the type by hand and on his linotype machine. His wife, Gizella, sewed and bound the books by hand. In their preface to this miniature facsimile, they note that they do not recall how the original 6×8 inch book came into their possession and they had not been able to find anything about the author or illustrator who signed off as “Buona Fortuna”.

A bit of digging online and at the Bodleian yields a 1908 reprint of the 1905 original, which reveals Buona Fortuna to have been Lindsay D. Symington, an English artist and book illustrator. Good friends together in Florence, Arthur Maquarie and Lindsay Symington were fringe literati in London. An emigrant to London from Australia, Maquarie, who had changed his name from Macquarie by deed poll, wrote verse and plays and even had some of his lyrics adapted by Edward Elgar and Roger Quilter. Symington’s artistic heights seemed to have peaked with the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition’s admission of his oil paintings — “The Potato Garden” (1902) and “Jolly Lot” (1903). His name can be more readily found as an illustrator of several books, some of which unlike The Uffizi ABC are still in print.

Title page from 1905 edition printed by Giulio Giannini & Son and reprinted here in miniature by Tabula Rasa Press.

Title page from the 1908 edition printed by Simpkin Marshall and held in the Bodleian. The title-page illustrations distinguish the two editions.

From A for Angelico to Z for Zucchero, Maquarie indulged his penchant for doggerel, irreverence and showing off his education.

Without the Internet, though, even a degree from the University of Sydney was insufficient to find artists to complete the alphabet between da Vinci and Zucchero. If the two Edwardian tourists had looked beyond the late Renaissance, they might have included Antoine Watteau, François-Xavier Fabre (a Frenchman popular enough in Florence in the early 19th century to be welcomed into the Florentine Academy) or Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes — all of whom have works in the Uffizi.

Symington’s prints, drawn from portraits and self-portraits of the artists, are the best thing about The Uffizi ABC. What he would have made of Watteau’s, Fabre’s and and Goya’s likenesses will have to be left to the imagination. Looking out over the Duomo and enjoying the morning papers and a smoke, Maquarie and Symington must have felt they’d come far enough, so best to leave a blank page for other tourists to fill with such quibbles. And if more space is required, today’s tourists can cross the Ponte Vecchio and visit Giulio Giannini e Figlio, opposite the Pitti Palace, where Maria Giannini continues the family business of artistic bookbinding and hand decorated paper and stocks plenty of notebooks.

The Divine Alphabet (1509/1993)

The Divine Alphabet (1993)
Fra Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli 
Miniature facsimile. Casebound in cloth, spine debossed and gold-stamped with title, A & E debossed and gold-stamped on the front and back covers, respectively; with doublures illustrated with a typesetter’s case; and headbands. H68 x W57 mm. 64 pages. Edition of 200, of which this is #26. Acquired from Lorson’s Books & Prints, 5 December 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In its preface to this miniature, Tabula Rasa Press notes, “The following are reproductions of Pacioli’s alphabet and diagrams together with translations of his instructions. The only change from the original is in scale. Since the translation of De Divina Proportione (1509) appears to be that by George Ives for inclusion in the Grolier Club’s 1933 publication Fra Luca de Pacioli of Borgo San Sepolcro: some consideration of his life and works, designed by Bruce Rogers and written by Stanley Morison, the diagrams reduced in scale must have come from there as well. Photographic comparison casts some doubt on that conclusion though. In the letter B, for instance, note the absence of the compass-point marks in the miniature and their presence in the Grolier Club edition, and the “two circles together” in the miniature are more ovals than the circles they are in the Grolier Club edition.

For the letters, E and F, however, that distortion isn’t present. Without other tell-tale signs like the compass points in the letter B, direct photographic comparison does not confirm or rule out the source for the diagrams to be reduced.

E and F from the Tabula Rasa Press edition.

E and F from the Grolier Club edition at the Bodleian.

More than likely, the text, reset in Berkeley Old Style, comes from the Grolier Club edition because Tabula Rasa found a partner for their Pacioli in another Grolier Club edition with a translation ready made. Better yet, the partner complemented Pacioli’s treatise on the uppercase with one on the lowercase, and the approach was every bit as geometric.

Directions for the Construction of the Text or Quadrate Letters (1535/1993)

Directions for the Construction of the Text or Quadrate Letters (1535/1993)
Albrecht Dürer
Casebound in cloth, spine debossed and ink-stamped with title, a & z debossed and ink-stamped on the front and back covers, respectively; with doublures illustrated with a typesetter’s case; and headbands. H68 x W57 mm. 80 pages. Edition of 150, of which this is #26. Acquired from Lorson’s Books & Prints, 5 December 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Pacioli begins with the letter A and the circle and square to demonstrate divine proportion in his uppercase letters.

Dürer, too, takes a geometric approach, but as if in a neo-Platonic game of oneupmanship (or onelessmanship?), he extrapolates from a single letter and single shape (the i and the square):

Tabula Rasa is off early on the wrong foot here with a typo: “but needlessly” should be “not needlessly”. As with the Pacioli volume, the translation for this miniature comes from another Grolier Club edition. Designed by Bruce Rogers and published in 1917, its translator was R.T. Nichols.

Coincidentally (?), the uppercase letter I figures in an alphabet origin allegory concocted by Geofroy Tory in Champ fleury (1529), which Dürer might well have known. Relying on Giovanni Boccaccio’s telling of the fable in his De Genealogia Deorum (The Genealogy of the Gods), Tory finds his Ionic alphabet allegory in how the river-god Inachus recognizes his lost daughter Io, who had been turned into a heifer by Juno. Tory is almost algebraic in his allegory: Jupiter = the soft air of Ionia; Io = knowledge, which is given by Juno, who = riches; Mercury = all who seek to liberate knowledge from Argus, the many-eyed beast set by Juno to watch over Io and who = barbarism; therefore, I and O are the source of all letters because Inachus recognizes Io from the marks combined in her hoofprint: IΩ. Is this any less complex than Dürer’s instructions? For a bedtime fable, it is at least as entertaining and nonsensical as a cow jumping over the moon.

In any event, for Tabula Rasa, Dürer’s geometric approach to the lowercase made it a natural companion to Pacioli’s geometric approach to the uppercase. But Tabula Rasa must have felt something was missing. Pacioli’s attribution of divinity to the proportions in his alphabet may have led to the third work to join Pacioli’s and Dürer’s in a slipcase. That third work, currently missing in its miniature form from the Books On Books Collection, was Ben Shahn’s The Alphabet of Creation (1954). Fortunately, the original Pantheon edition is in the collection.

The Alphabet of Creation: An ancient legend from the Zohar (1954)
Ben Shahn
Hardcover, tan linen boards with red and gold decorations on cover and spine labels. H275 x 170 mm, 48 pages. Edition of 550, of which this is #497. Acquired from Midway Used and Rare Books, 7 August 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The Alphabet of Creation has a certain rightness for inclusion in the three-volume set even though (or because) it deals with the Hebrew alphabet and is a narrative (the story of why the alphabet begins with alef) with each letter having a voice and character. With Shahn’s work springing from a non-rational interpretation of the letters, Tabula Rasa Press prompts a three-way comparison that makes us think about the alphabet and its relation to the rational and the mystical, about the alphabet and its relation to art, and about alphabets as source.

As good an excuse as any to lay out these works side by side.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Ben Shahn“. 20 July 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Benson, Robert; Hugh, Reginald; Balfour, Charles Ritchie; and Symington, Lindsay D. An Alphabet of Saints. London: Burns and Oates, 1906.

Bibliotheca Thurkowiana Minor in the Meermanno Museum, The Hague.

Bradbury, Robert C. 2000. Twentieth Century United States Miniature Books : With Bibliographic Descriptions of Each Book Arranged by Publisher. North Clarendon Vt: Microbibliophile.

Dürer, Albrecht, and Nichols, R.T, trans. 1917. Of the Just Shaping of Letters: From the Applied Geometry of Albrecht Dürer Book III. New York: Grolier Club.

Morison, Stanley, and Hofer, Philip. 1933. Fra Luca De Pacioli of Borgo San Sepolcro : Some Consideration of His Life and Works. New York: Grolier Club.

Phillips, Elizabeth M., and Friedman, Deborah. Guide to the Miniature Fine Press and Artists’ Book Collection. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

Shpilko, Olga. 2012. A geometrical approach to letter design:Renaissance and Modernism. Diss. University of Reading.

Southey, Robert Francis Aidan Gasquet John GEDY and Lindsay D SYMINGTON. 1907. The Inchcape Rock … with a Note on the Abbot of Aberbrothok [John Gedy] by Abbot Gasquet and Twenty-One Drawings by Mr. Symington. London: Burns & Oates.

Books On Books Collection – Kees Baart, Dick Berendes, Henk Francino and Gerard Post van der Molen

Van Hornbook tot ABC-Prentenboek (2003)

Van Hornbook tot ABC-Prentenboek (2003)
Kees Baart, Dick Berendes, Henk Francino and Gerard Post van der Molen
Double-sided leporello between two pamphlet-sewn booklets and bound between two oversized wooden hornbooks, held in an open cardboard box. H295 x W150 x D 30 mm. First booklet, 18 unnumbered pages; second booklet 8 pages; 52 panels. Edition of 135. Acquired from Fokas Holthuis, 13 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artists.

From Hornbook to ABC Picture Book was organized by four members of the Corps 8 collective. They issued it with the financial backing of the Zeeuwse Nederland Bibliotheek and under the auspices of Drukwerk in de Marge (Printing in the Margin), a foundation established in 1975 by likeminded amateur printers and publishers. Drukwerk in de Marge recalls The Typophiles, a similar group founded in the 1930s in New York that attracted great talents like Frederic Goudy, Bruce Rogers and Beatrice Warde. Like Drukwerk in de Marge, The Typophiles stimulated quirky publications. One of them — Diggings of Many Ampersandhogs (almost the last word on the ampersand) — resides in the Books On Books Collection and, until now, lacked an appropriate partner covering the preceding twenty-six characters of the alphabet.

Van Hornbook includes four brief essays. Following in the footsteps of Andrew White Tuer’s History of the Horn-Book, the first two — “Van Hornbook & Haneboek” / “Of Hornbook & Handbook” and “Van Beeldalfabet & ABC-Prentenboek” / “Of Picture Alphabet & ABC Picture Book” –provide historical context for the format and its successors. Only four hornbooks have survived in the Netherlands, dating from the eighteenth century, so like Tuer, Van Hornbook‘s essayists rely on images from popular historical prints to show the hornbook’s appearance and handling. To the three hundred illustrations of History of the Horn-Book, the Nederlanders add this:

So, Master Jordje!
With AB boardje
And cane on high.
Your earnest weening
Leaves children keening
As school draws nigh!

The print dates to 1785. The Dutch collective’s undertaking and their contributors’ offerings for the leporello are all the more notable for such a narrow historical margin on which to build.

The work’s four editors have the last say with “Verantwoording” / “Explanation”, which is an extended run-up to the colophon. The leporello is printed on 180 gms Antik Gerippt Bütten by Hahnemühle, and the essays are on 130 gms. The heavier weight of the leporello’s panels must have been an open invitation for the contributors to show off. Aside from the constraint of print area, the “Hornbook preparation group” seems to have imposed only one other layout requirement: that each double-panel spread display the same horn-book shape on its left-hand panel. As the images below show, this was just the right touch of uniformity to spark rather than impede the contributors’ creativity and individuality.

In English, the text beneath the two images here reads “A is an Augustin, the standard size in letterpress. An Augustin is equal to a cicero and has twelve points. Two Augustins and 2.5 points equal one centimeter.” Under the image of the shoe, Silvia Zwaaneveldt (De Baaierd, Leiden) converts into points the traditional measure for the “foot”: a foot would equal the size of the king’s foot, which eventually was standardized to twelve inches, which — to save us from chasing after Willem-Alexander or Charles III with a pica stick — is 72 Augustins.

In their contribution for the letter B, Dick Wessels and Ferrie van Ramele invent a fictitious typeface Barbaar, named to allow them an extended joke about the outsider (or barbarian) status of Margedrukkers among traditional printers. If the Dutch reader misses the tongue-in-cheekiness of the entry, the colophon gives away the game:

Realisatie: BYpers, een gelegenheidsinitiatief van Dick Wessels en Ferrie van Ramele. Letters: Barbaar en Yplex (beleg) en Lectura (brood). / “Realization: BYpers, an occasional initiative of Dick Wessels and Ferrie van Ramble. Letters: Barbaar and Yplex (icing) and Lectura (cake).”

Elze ter Harkel (De Vier Seizoenen, Groningen) concocts two panels of verbal and visual puns on the letter C. The alliterative wordplay in the doggerel of “Confetti” is too Dutch and deliberately nonsensical for a satisfactory replica in English, but its reference to cellulose is a clue to the visual papermaking pun in the C’s bubbling up from the pulp vat next to it. Also referring to paper, the panels’ best pun hides in the last altered word of Cicero’s saying “Charta non erubescit“. This is usually translated as “Documents don’t blush”, meaning you can express opinions in print you might blush to express in person, but charta also means “paper”. With the “e” changed to a “c” in the last word, the Latin now means “crumble”. So, it’s “Paper doesn’t crumble”, which ought to make the winking punster blush a little.

Antje Veldstra (Antje Veldstra Grafiek, Groningen) is an award-winning woodcut artist. Almost all of the X-words in her couplet are the Latin names for trees: Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress), Larix (Larch), Quercus Ilex (Holm Oak), Taxus (Yew) and Salix caprea (Goat Willow). The first two words, however, — xeno and xylo — are prefixes. The first means “alien,” “strange” or “guest” as in xenophobia (“fear of foreigners”). The second means “wood” as in xylography (“the art of engraving on wood or of printing from woodblocks”). But what is so strange or alien about these trees? The clue is in the background (lower left) of the birch print. Those are runes, the ancient marks of mystery and secret language. The most easily distinguished are (called Gebo, associated with gift and fortuitous outcome) and (called Ehwaz, associated with horse and movement). In her craft, Veldstra, however, does not leave us with the ancients. The last entry — en bovenal Russisch berkentriplex — is Russian birch plywood, commonly used for engraving.

If there remains any doubt about the tone of the entry for B by Dick Wessels and Ferrie van Ramele, consider their entry for Y.

Y is a special case. Eccentric and rare, barely good for a few pages in the dictionary: it owes its survival perhaps mainly to the strength of conventions and the cultural-historical significance of the alphabet as a whole. Without this support, the Y might have already been killed off, on the advice of a government committee that concluded that we could very well make do with the IJ. Economical and transparent, entirely in keeping with contemporary principles.

But so balanced in form, standing firmly on one foot and evoking thoughts of a glass of sparkling red wine, a vase of roses, arms raised to heaven…. Such a letter deserves to be preserved and added with its own name to the ever-expanding stage of letter designs! The Yplex represents the strength and beauty of the marginal figures among the letters of the alphabet, a few of which we still find in this hornbook.

Although still a marginal appearance, that will soon change after the publication of this hornbook. In the register of the new edition of Groenendaal’s Printing Letters, the Yplex will be the only one shining under the Y. Stand by for the Yplex!”

The last letter of the alphabet bedevils abecedarians in every language. Sjaklien Euwals settles on zetduiveltje: “typesetter’s or printer’s little devil”. Word for word in English, the caption reads “Z is the typesetter’s little devil that will not let me loose”. The image rules out the English expression “printer’s devil”, which refers to the printshop apprentice. Euwals’ little devil is the green and red gremlin who leans over her shoulder, grabs her wrist and makes her drop letters from her composing stick. In other words, the imp on whom to blame typographical errors. To capture Sjaklien Euwals’ humor in translation, we might have to go with “Z iz the typezetter’z gremlin that won’t let looze.”

Given the affinity between artists’ books and children’s books (particularly alphabet books), it is surprising how few works of book art pay homage to the form of the horn-book. Van Hornbook tot ABC-Prentenboek sets a high bar. Perhaps increased awareness of it will prime the pump for primers.

Further Reading/Viewing

Elder Futhark“. Last edited 11 August 2022. Wikipedia. Accessed 27 October 2022.

Tuer, Andrew White. 1897. History of the Horn-Book. London: Leadenhall Press.

Books On Books Collection – Geofroy Tory

Champ Fleury: Art et Science de la Vrai Proportion des Lettres (1529)

Champ Fleury by Geofroy Tory Translated into English and Annotated by George B. Ives, Designed and printed by Bruce Rogers (1529)[1927]
Slipcase, dust jacket over casebound, vellum-backed decorated paper-covered boards, gilt-stamped spine and gilt top edge. H320 x W224 mm, 234 pages. One of 390 copies. One of only ten books printed in the original foundry Centaur type by Rogers. Acquired from Donald A. Heald Rare Books, 26 May 2021.
Champ Fleury: Art et Science de la Vrai Proportion des Lettres (1529)[1998]
Geofroy Tory
Sewn paperback, glued to black card cover with deep flaps. H250 x W172mm, 192 pages. Acquired from Antiquariaat Schot, 19 April 2021.
Photos of the books: Books On Books Collection. Copyright in the books: © 1927 The Grolier Club. © Bibliothéque de l’Image.

The art of the alphabet seems to be a rite of passage for graphic artists. Perhaps it is that art and the alphabet find common ground in the urge to make sense of the world. Perhaps it’s that the alphabet’s invention, development and artistic treatment present a rich tradition for artists to follow or challenge. Perhaps it’s that letterforms and the alphabet offer raw material, subject and organizing principle all in one. Semic or asemic. Calligraphic, typographic or even plastic. Representational or abstract. All are options. But most often, something bookish results. From Islam Aly’s 28 Letters (2013) to Ludwig Zeller’s Alphacollage (1979), a significant part of the Books On Books Collection is taken up with book art based on the ABCs and letterforms. The Collection’s two facsimiles of Geofroy Tory’s Champ Fleury provide a useful historical backdrop that throws into relief several of the Collection’s works and their performance of this rite of passage. 

Left to right: double-page spread and cover from Aly’s 28 Letters; A from Zeller’s Alphacollage. Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection. Copyrights in the works: © Islam Aly. © Ludwig Zeller.

Geofroy Tory de Bourges (c.1480-1533) straddles the letters of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Appointed by François I in 1530 as his printer, Tory operated on the Petit Pont under the sign of le Pot cassé (“the broken pot”) and was known for his workshop’s handwritten Book of Hours (1524). Rooted in the horae tradition reaching back to the 13th century, Tory’s Book of Hours is an early-to-mid-Renaissance version of its predecessors. As beautiful as his Book of Hours is, Champ Fleury (1529) became his best known work. Authored and designed by Tory, it was produced by hand typesetting and letterpress printing in Paris with Giles Gourmont. Printed less than 100 years after Gutenberg’s innovation, Champ Fleury represents the printed book toddling out of its incunabula period.

Book of Hours
Geofroy Tory (1524)
Bound in the 18th century, 113 leaves of vellum. Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection (Library of Congress). Accessed 30 May 2021.

Title page: 1529 original in the Bibliothèque national de France; 1927 translation & facsimile © 1927 The Grolier Club; 1998 facsimile © Bibliothéque de l’Image. Photos of the latter two books: Books On Books Collection.

According to Jeremy Norman’s History of Information site, the first separate printed title page appeared in 1463. Subject indices date back to the 13th century, originating at the University of Paris, and the first printed indices, to 1470. Champ Fleury‘s front matter boasts a title page, two prefaces to the reader, a statement of the King’s Privilege awarded for the book for ten years (a forerunner to the copyright page), a name index without location references and a subject index with folio references. Champ Fleury’s back matter consists of a colophon preceded by a lengthy appendix illustrating various forms of the alphabet (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, etc.).

Tory’s placement of the indices in the front matter rather than the back matter reflects the gradual development of the anatomy of the book towards the structure that would ultimately be codified in reference works like the Chicago Manual of Style. Paratextual elements like the title page, table of contents, page numbers, etc., did not spring up overnight. If, as Eric Havelock and others assert, society, the arts and culture are a superstructure erected on the foundation of the alphabet (see below), Champ Fleury and its “letterology” make for a particularly fitting exemplar of the book as an element of the superstructure arising from the alphabet.

Perhaps book artists sense this, which again leads to that alphabet art rite of passage and the elaborate variations on it. The illustration of various forms of the alphabet in the appendix also draws on another developing tradition: the typesetter/printer’s sample book advertising the firm’s fonts. Abecedaries and artist books have sprung from that tradition, too.

From left to right: Greek, Chaldaic, and Imperial Gothic letters from the 1998 facsimile. Photo of the book: Books On Books Collection. Copyright in the book: © Bibliothéque de l’Image.

Tory was not the first to propose an art and science behind the letterforms of the alphabet. Predating his efforts were Giovanninno de’ Grassi (1390-1405), Felice Feliciano (1463), the Anonymous Chicagoensis and Anonymous Monachensis (1468?), Damianus Moyllus (1480), Fra Luca Pacioli (1509), Sigismondo Fanti (1514), Francesco Torniello (1517), Ludovico Arrighi (1522), Albrecht Dürer (1525) and Giovanni Battista Verini (1527). Leading up to Champ Fleury, these earlier efforts track the development of humanism. Arguably, Tory’s effort is a capstone, combining myth, allegory, metaphysics, geometry, linguistics, calligraphy, typography and cryptography.

Book One, concerned with the mythical origins of the French language, also addresses the fabled origins of the alphabet: the story of Jove, Io and Mercury behind the letters I and O and their claim to being the first letters and also the tale of Apollo’s accidental murder of Hyacinth explaining the letters A and Y and their similar claim. Two works in the Collection built on alphabet origin stories are Francisca Prieto’s Printed Matter series (2002-2008) William Joyce’s The Numberlys (2014), but many more follow in Champ Fleury’s art and science footsteps.

Tory’s late medieval/early Renaissance perspective gives way to 20th and 21st century poetics and phenomenology in most works of the Collection. Aaron Cohick’s The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) (2017) offers a good example. Another — closer to Tory’s moral and geometric perspective but of a more modern spirituality — is Jeffrey Morin and Steven Ferlauto’s Sacred Space (2003).

Clockwise from upper left: B+8 from Prieto’s Printed Matter series; cover of Joyce’s The Numberlys; double-page spread from Cohick’s A New Manifesto; Morin and Ferlauto’s Sacred Space. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Copyright in the works: © Francisca Prieto. © Michael Joyce and Christina Ellis. © Aaron Cohick. © Jeffrey Morin and Steven Ferlauto.

Compile all the abecedaries ever created and it would approximate the result of Adam and Eve’s task of naming all the creatures and things of the world. Leonard Baskin echoes that innocence in Hosie’s Alphabet (1972) with its words and animals supplied by his children. If Adam and Eve had had an alphabet, they might have been tempted into pareidolia, which is represented in the Collection by VUES/LUES: Un Abécédaire de Marion Bataille (2018) and Typographic Universe (2014) by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. Heller and Anderson’s compendium extends to letters formed of natural and drawn objects from the real world, which Champ Fleury’s appendix foreshadows with its floral and fantastic alphabets.

Clockwise from upper left: Baskin, Hosie’s Alphabet letter H; Bataille’s VUES/LUES letter O & P; Ceol Ryder’s My Type of Film from Heller and Anderson’s Typographic Universe; Tory’s lettres fantastique and fleuries from 1998 facsimile.
Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection. Copyright in the works: © The Estate of Leonard Baskin; © Marion Bataille. © Ceol Ryder. © Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. © Bibliothéque de l’Image.

Of course, Tory’s work is not an abecedary. In Books Two and Three, it develops into a full-blown treatise on letterforms whose meaning and appearance are explained allegorically and driven by the compass, rule and geometry expressed within a 10x10x10 cell cube. It would overstate the case to call it “typographic design”. As drawn, Tory’s diagrams would serve poorly for cutting and forming punches or matrices (although it has been done). Nevertheless, his geometric approach foreshadows the grids and algorithms of Wim Crouwel’s New Alphabet (1967), Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans’ Alphabet (1970) and Ji Lee’s Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004).

OAHK pages showing the grid approach. 1529 original from the Bibliothèque national de France; 1927 translation & facsimile © 1927 The Grolier Club; 1998 facsimile © Bibliothéque de l’Image. Photos of the latter two books: Books On Books Collection.

Clockwise from top left: Crouwel, Lee and Epps/Evans. Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection. Copyright in the works: © Wim Crouwel. © Ji Lee. © Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans.

Before the age of computers and algorithms, though, the artist and designer Bruce Rogers did bring typographic design to bear on Champ Fleury. The Grolier Club sponsored the printing of George B. Ives’ English translation. Rogers’ design “translates” Champ Fleury just as much as Ives does, perhaps more so. The Grolier Club edition is one of only ten books to be set completely in the Centaur typeface designed by Rogers.

Bruce Roger’s typeface Centaur, as presented in Paul McNeil’s The Visual History of Type (2017), pp. 196-97. Photo: Books On Books Collection. © Paul McNeil.

Of course, the translation entails a complete resetting of the text, and Centaur naturally delivers crisper letters. Also, in redesigning with Centaur, Rogers alters the original’s layout and, therefore, the reader’s experience of it. Notice in the OAHK pages above and in the three double-page spreads below how Rogers changes Tory’s flow or jumpiness to something fixed or stately. Attention to the page and its layout offers book artists as well as book designers yet another creative avenue. For proof of that, compare the Collection’s entries for Angel, Baskin and de Cumptich.

Rogers’ change in layout (© 1927 The Grolier Club) shown between 1529 original (from the Bibliothèque national de France) and 1998 facsimile (© Bibliothéque de l’Image). Photos of the latter two books: Books On Books Collection.

Architecture is another of Tory’s well-developed analogies and explanations of the ancients’ thinking behind the letterforms. In his drawings below, he aligns the letters AHKOIS with the parts of a building and letters IL with floor plans. He connects the circularity of the Coliseum’s exterior and the ovalness of its arena with the proper shape of the letter O. In the Collection, the analogy reappears fantastically in Johann David Steingruber’s Architectural Alphabet (1773/1972), Antonio Basoli’s Alfabeto Pittorico (1839/1998) Antonio and Giovanni Battista de Pian’s efforts in 1839 and 1842.

Architectural analogies: 1529 original in the Bibliothèque national de France; 1927 translation & facsimile © 1927 The Grolier Club; 1998 facsimile © Bibliothéque de l’Image.

Left to right: Steingruber, Basoli, Antonio de Pian and Giovanni Battista de Pian. Photos of the books: Books On Books Collection. Copyright in the books: © Ravensburger Buchverlag, Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franssens Vogel.

The architectural analogy provides Tory with his segue from plane to solid geometry in aligning the shapes of letters with human anatomy and virtues. His three-dimensional analysis of letterforms also finds contemporary analogues in two of Pieter Brattinga’s Kwadraat Blad series: Crouwel’s, mentioned above, and Anthon Beeke’s Alphabet (1970). Tory’s three-dimensional letterforms foreshadow Crouwel’s investigation of units based on the assembly of organic cells and his later musings on a laser-generated four-dimensional typography (Elliman, 62). And it is hard to evoke anything more humanoid and three-dimensional — albeit far less analytical or prudish — than Beeke’s alphabet formed with naked female models. (Tory comments that in a correctly drawn A, the crossbar will virtuously cover the genitals of Vitruvian man inscribed in the 10×10 grid. Modesty seems to extend to H as well but not so much to O and K.)

Following Beeke’s design, the photographer directed the models into position then took the shot from above. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Images in individual folios: ©Geert Kooiman. Copyright in the work: ©Anthon Beeke Archive Foundation.

Other less humanoid but still three-dimensional analogues to Tory’s letters appears in various sculptural bookworks by Marion Bataille, Helen Hiebert, Takenobu Igarashi, Ron King, Scott McCarney, Claire Van Vliet and the 25th anniversary compendium from the Movable Books Society.

Top row from left to right: A from Bataille’s ABC3D; EFGH from Helen Hiebert Alpha Beta; b from Ron King’s Alphabeta Concertina Miniscule.
Bottom row: ABC… from Scott McCarney’s Alphabook 3; AB from Claire Van Vliet’s Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce; box opening from The Movable Book Society’s 25th Anniversary.
Photos of the works: Books on Books Collection. Copyright in the works: © Marion Bataille; © Helen Hiebert; © Ron King; © Scott McCarney; © Claire Van Vliet; © The Movable Book Society.

The calligraphic impulse that underlies Champ Fleury‘s typographic representations shows itself clearest in the woodcuts for the Cadeaulx alphabet in the appendix. The Books On Books Collection has its share of calligraphic abecedaries such as Marie Angel’s An Animated Alphabet (1996) and Andrew Zega and Bernd Dam’s An Architectural Alphabet (2008) as well as more purely calligraphic alphabets such as Islam Aly’s, mentioned above, and Suzanne Moore’s A Blind Alphabet (1986) .

From the appendix to Champ Fleury. Photo of the book: Books On Books Collection. 1998 facsimile © Bibliothéque de l’Image.

Clockwise from the left: A from Angel’s An Animated Alphabet; U from Zega and Dam’s An Architectural Alphabet; BC from Moore’s A Blind Alphabet. Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection. Copyright in the works: © Marie Angel; © Andrew Zega and Bernd Dam; © Suzanne Moore.

Two artists whose abecedaries blend the calligraphic and typographic are Robert de Vicq de Cumptich and Cathryn Miller. In de Cumptich’s Bembo’s Zoo (2000), letters and punctuation marks from the Bembo typeface form calligraphic animal shapes. Miller’s L is for Lettering (2011) joins up the alphabetic rite of passage, calligraphy and typography by allying each of her hand-drawn letters with the name of a typeface from “A is for Arial” to “Z is for Zapfino”.

Left: A from De Cumptich’s Bembo’s Zoo. Right: Z from Miller’s L is for Lettering. Photos of the books: Books On Books Collection. Copyright in the works: © Robert de Vicq de Cumptich; © Cathryn Miller.

The last page of Tory’s illustration of additional alphabets is not the end of his work. The colophon plays that role. Curiously, Tory misses out the character that plays that role for the alphabet itself: the ampersand. “Curiously” because the character & appears throughout Champ Fleury — even at the end of the colophon’s fourth line in French — and it is after all the most flowery of the alphabet’s characters. Perhaps some book artist will follow Bruce Rogers’ example in his joking Depression-era homage to Tory on the back of Champ Rosé and create an homage to Tory and Rogers of three-dimensional ampersands.

Colophon: 1529 original from the Bibliothèque national de France; 1927 translation & facsimile © The Grolier Club; 1998 facsimile © Bibliothéque de l’Image. Photos of the latter two books: Books On Books Collection.

Champ Rosé (1933)
© Bruce Rogers
Photos of the book: Left, Courtesy of Veatchs; Right, Books On Books Collection.

The 1529 original of Champ Fleury can be viewed online in Gallica (BnF), de France, the Library of Congress or the British Library. The V&A’s National Art Library and a few other venues also have physical copies for inspection.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress), Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

The Colophon and the Left-over ‘i’“. 23 April 2019. Books On Books Collection.

Bowen, Barbara C. 1979. “Geofroy Tory’s “Champ Fleury” and Its Major Sources.” Studies in Philology 76, 1: 13-27. Accessed May 28, 2021.

De Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Elliman, Paul. Spring 1998. “My typographies: A personal view on the kinship of type and things“. Eye Magazine, 27: 58-63.

Gelb, Ignace J. 1974. A Study of Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Golec, Michael. 2015. “Champ Fleury in the Machine Age”, lecture at the School of Visual Arts, NYC. Uploaded 4 June 2015. Accessed 12 May 2021. Good slides and a comparative look at Tory’s original and Rogers’ resetting.

Havelock, Eric A. 1986. The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ivins, William M. 1920. “Geoffroy Tory.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15, 4: 79-86. Accessed May 13, 2021.

McNeil, Paul. 2017. The Visual History of Type. London: Laurence King Publishing.

Books On Books Collection – Bruce Rogers

Champ Rosé (1933)

Champ rosé: wherein may be discovered the roman letters that were made by Geofroy Tory and printed by him at Paris in his book called “Champ fleury” (1933)
© Bruce Rogers
Bound by Peter Geraty at his Praxis Bindery in 1988. Red goatskin with green morocco panel gold tooled with the Roman Capitals GT (for Tory) and BR (for Rogers); BR’s IOU in a Tory-like cube is gilt on the lower cover; red & gold endpapers; cloth tray case with red leather label. Acquired from The Veatchs, 11 June 2021.
Photo: The Veatchs. Reproduced with permission.

Rogers constructed the IOU device in a joking Depression-era homage to Tory. Referencing the mythological tale about Jupiter, Juno and poor IO who was turned into a cow, Tory maintained in Champ Fleury that all the Roman letters were fashioned from the “I” and the “O.” By placing Roger’s IOU on the back cover, binder Peter Geraty doubles Rogers’ pun on the debt to Tory’s “letterology”. Both Geraty and Rogers are acknowledging a debt to Tory as a book designer.

Adding to his joke, Rogers printed the whole of Champ Rosé in red, which Geraty follows. Rogers explained the red ink in his poor man’s Champ Fleury “as in these aforesaid days of hardship & depression much Book-Keeping is being written down in red…perhaps it would be better for Book-Selling too if Printing were done in that cheerful colour.…”

Geraty’s binding was part of the 1989 Guild of Book Workers exhibition.

Photos: The Veatchs.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The Books On Books Collection also holds a copy of George B. Ives translation of Champ Fleury, designed, typeset at printed by Rogers.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Geofroy Tory”. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Bruce Rogers and His Centaur”. September-October 2006. Harvard Magazine.

The Bruce Rogers Collection”. Last updated 27 May 2021. E.H. Little Library, Davidson College.

Kelly, Jerry, and Misha Beletsky. 2016. The Noblest Roman: A History of the Centaur Types of Bruce Rogers. Boston: David R. Godine.

Updike, Daniel Berkeley. 1939. The work of Bruce Rogers: jack of all trades, master of one : a catalogue of an exhibition arranged by the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Grolier Club of New York. New York: Oxford University Press.