Books On Books Collection – Johann David Steingruber

Architectural Alphabet (1773/1972)

Architectural alphabet (1773/1972)
Johann David Steingruber
Casebound, sewn, headbands. H356 x W260 mm, 112 pages, including 33 facsimile prints. Published by Merrion Press, London. Edition of 425, of which this is #9. Acquired from Chevin Books, 24 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Several professional and academic architects and designers as well as academics from other disciplines have delved into the intersection of the alphabet and architecture. A few of them have also noted the intersection’s expansion to include artist books and fine press works. Since Johann David Steingruber’s effort in the 18th century, it has become quite a busy intersection.

Originally published in installments at Steingruber’s own expense, the volume opens with its gloriously long title in an “arch of contents”, the columns inscribed with thumbnail images of the letter buildings to come. Although the title page lists 1773 as the publication date, the last installment came in March 1774. In his lifetime, Steingruber published three other works, illustrated and described toward the end of this facsimile, but Architectonisches Alphabeth became his most famous — “postcard” famous.

Architectonisches Alphabeth: bestehend aus dreyßig Rissen wovon Jeder Buchstab nach seiner kenntlichen Anlage auf eine ansehnliche und geräumige Fürstliche Wohnung, dann auf alle Religionen, Schloß-Capellen und ein Buchstab gänzlich zu einen Closter, übrigens aber der mehreste Theil nach teutscher Landes-Art mit Einheiz-Stätte auf Oefen und nur theils mit Camins eingerichtet, wobey auch Nach den mehrest irregulairen Grund-Anlagen vielerley Arten der Haupt- und Neben-Stiegen vorgefallen, dergleichen sonsten in Architectonischen Rissen nicht gefunden werden, zu welchen auch Die Façaden mit merklich abwechslender Architectur aufgezogen sind.

Steingruber dedicated his Architectural Alphabet to Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, and his first wife Frederica Carolina, not to be confused with the paying dedicatee of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. By a baroque coincidence, however, the first Brandenburg concertos, the ones composed by Giuseppe Torelli and influencing Bach, were dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, then George Friedrich II, Alexander’s great-uncle who employed Torelli as court composer. Like Torelli, Steingruber too had to be satisfied with his payment as an appointee — court and public surveyor, and later principal architect of the board of works — even though he went to the trouble of making sure that his employers’ monograms and their associated buildings appeared in the span above the roman arch.

Steingruber seemed unaware of other building designs from alphabetical foundations. This facsimile’s editor gently and genially fills in the missing context. John Thorpe (1565–1655?), an English architect, drew up a property based on his initials. Thomas Gobert (1625-90), a French architect, produced Traitté d’Architecture dedié à Louis XIV, a manuscript whose building plans spelled out “LOVIS LE GRAND”. Anton Glonner (1723–1801) designed a Jesuit church and college around the monogram “IHS”.

There was not much chance of these letter-shaped edifices’ being built. Nevertheless, Steingruber adds matter-of-fact descriptions to his elevations and plans, calling out heating, kitchen, toilet and servants’ arrangements as if conferring with a prospective client ready to commission one of these typographic palaces. Who would not want a serif with a view? Or conduct guests on a tour of the bowl, capline, crossbar, stem, stroke and tail of the property?

The main text appears to be set in Van Dijck (before Robin Nicholas’ revision between 1982 and 1989) and printed on a cream laid paper. The special earmarks of Van Dijck — the sloped apex of the A, the stepped center strokes of the W, the non-lining numerals and especially the downward stroke at the top of the 5 , the tilted lower bowl of the g, etc., identifiable in Morison’s A Tally of Types and Rookledge’s Classic International Type Finder — all seem to be present.

The laid paper is not only tactilely pleasant, it visually supports the clarity of the facsimile prints. Their sharpness outdoes what is achieved even with the zoom function applied to the freely available digital version, which can be seen in the interactive comparison below.

Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel edition (1995)

Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1995)
Johann David Steingruber
Facsimile edition prepared by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel. H356 x W260 mm, 80 pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Terrahe & Oswald, 14 March 2021.

In smaller dimensions, this edition does not present the prints in their full size. Partially making up for the deficit is the Munken Pure paper’s brightness, against which the Garamond Berthold typeface and photolithography work well. Also, the book includes French, German and English text as well as illustrations that broaden the context to the present. Alongside Steingruber’s elevations and plans, Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel have included several birds-eye views of inventive roofing of 20th-century architectural models inspired by Steingruber’s plans.

Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander’s monogram buildings reduced alongside reductions of Steingruber’s original foreword and explanations of Federica Carolina’s and Alexander’s buildings.

Not satisfied with some of his efforts, Steingruber offered second options; here, for the letter A, and later, for the letters M, Q, R and X.

Verso: Paula Barreiro’s roofing design for Steingruber’s letter B.

Verso: Helge Huber’s and Alexandra Krull’s roofing designs for Steingruber’s letter C.

In another instance of positioning Steingruber’s book in the history of alphabetic architecture (or architectural alphabets), the editors include a complete set of small reproductions of Thomas Gobert’s designs and elevations spelling out “LOVIS LE GRAND” from his manuscript mentioned above. Although created a century before, his drawings do not seem as stylistically distant from Steingruber’s as those of the 20th-century rooftop drafts do. Driving home their point that “the design of alphabetical buildings must not be based slavishly on a Baroque roman type or a classicist roman version”, the editors conclude by drawing attention to Takenobu Igarashi‘s 20th-century sculptural celebrations of the alphabet in aluminum, concrete, wood, chrome and gold.

Photo: Mike Sullivan, “Igarashi Alphabets“, Typetoken, 25 November 2013. Accessed 26 March 2021. Displayed with permission of the reviewer.

In print and online as well, new original and secondary works have continued to busy the intersection of the alphabet, architecture and artist books. Richard Niessen’s The Palace of Typographic Masonry (2018) and Sergio Polano’s “Architectural Abecedari” (2019) are two recent examples. And, as if to confirm the busying of the intersection, we have Takenobu Igarashi: A to Z (2020) in print and making up for the scarcity of Igarashi Alphabets (1987).

Further Reading

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

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 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.

Igarashi, Takenobu. 1987. Igarashi alphabets. Zurich: ABC.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Morison, Stanley, and Brooke Crutchley. 1999. A tally of types: with additions by several hands. Boston: D. R. Godine.

Nomiyama, Sakura, and Takenobu Igarashi. 2019. Takenobu Igarashi: A to Z. London: Thames and Hudson.

Perfect, Christopher, and Gordon Rookledge. 2004. Rookledge’s classic international typefinder: the essential handbook of typeface recognition and selection. London: L. King Publishing.

Polano, Sergio. January 2019. “Architectural Abecedari“, Casabella, 893, pp. 62-75 + 100-101 (eng.). Milan.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich

Bembo’s Zoo: An Animal ABC Book (2000)

Bembo’s Zoo: An Animal ABC Book (2000)
Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich
Hardback. H222 x W340 x D1.0 mm, 32 pages.

Each animal is drawn using the Roman letters of the Bembo font family, based on a letter cut by Francesco Griffo (1450-1518) for the Venetian printer for Aldus Manutius (1450-1515) and named after the prolific Renaissance scholar Pietro Bembo (1470-1547). Stanley Morison (1889-1967) revived the font while at the Monotype Corporation.

For the Books On Books Collection, Bembo’s Zoo is a light-hearted reminder of the abecedaries and typographic themes of more serious works.

Further Reading

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

Aldus Manutius, 6 February 1515 – 6 February 2015“, Bookmarking Book Art, 8 February 2015.

Heavenly Monkey“, Books On Books Collection, 23 November 2020. For a bio-bibliography of Francesco Griffo.

More Manutius in Manchester and More to Come“, Bookmarking Book Art, 1 June 2015.

Books On Books Collection – Heavenly Monkey

Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020)

Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020)
Rollin Milroy
H234 x W159 mm, 114 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #32. Acquired from Heavenly Monkey, 4 November 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Several collections of Aldine volumes made themselves known around 2015, the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius. Several have digitized their collections to make them more accessible. By gathering these fragments and glimpses of the hand behind the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic typefaces designed and cut in late 15th-century and early 16th century Venice for those volumes, Heavenly Monkey (founded and run by Rollin Milroy) has followed a different path. A collector himself and artist of the book, Milroy has created this work to bring himself and the reader closer to Francesco Griffo da Bologna and the historical and contemporary hunt to identify him and appreciate his typographic accomplishment.

He presents a letterpress work in the modern version of the Bembo typeface cut by Griffo for the Aldine printing of Pietro Bembo’s tract De Aetna (1495), whence the typeface gained its name. In another step closer to Griffo, not only does Heavenly Monkey use simplified versions of initial letters attributed to Griffo, he offers up a note and display page that include those letters not used in the text (see below).

Note that distortion of the letters is due to photography of the curved page.

Physically true to its title, the book consists — except for the frontmatter, backmatter and brief explanatory text — of fragments: extracts from secondary sources and an actual leaf from the Aldine edition of Ovid’s Heroidum Epistolae set in Griffo’s first italic type. The leaf comes from the second of the three-volume Aldine Ovid, which over time was subject to prudish excision of racier parts, which Heavenly Monkey speculates may have led to the break-up of the copy used here to supply the leaf included. Some historians and collectors may question the inclusion of the leaf. Others as well as artists of the book will thrill to it as an act of preservation, appropriation, dissemination and homage.

The book’s prologue is an English summary of a passage from Giuseppe Fumagalli’s 1905 lexicon of Italian typography that sets out and settles the 19th century debate about the identity of Griffo, a confusion that would resurface for the legendary typographer Stanley Morison in 1923. With a narrative technique similar to an epistolary novel, Milroy lays out extracts from histories of printing, prefaces to reprints of Aldine works, biographies of the historians in the debate, the Fine Arts Quarterly Review and bibliographical journal articles to tell the story of “which Francesco was he?” The same technique lays out the development and differing opinions in reception of Griffo’s cutting of the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic types. While following the stories of those faces, the reader walks through a hall of illustrious historians and typographers — Nicolas Barker, Joseph Blumenthal, Philip Meggs, Giovanni Mardersteig, Stanley Morison again, Alfred Pollard, David Pottinger, Daniel B. Updike and many others. The next set of extracts explores the feud that led Griffo to leave Aldus Manutius and Venice to set up on his own in Fossombrone.

The next set of extracts attests to Griffo’s typographic legacy, and then comes the tipped-in foldout that protects the leaf taken from the Aldine Ovid, followed by the listing of Griffo’s six works published on his own, documented in F.J. Norton’s Italian Printers 1501-1520.

An important contribution comes in Appendices I-IV with Emma Mandley’s translations of key passages from books, letters and documents of the main protagonists in the debate over Francesco da Bologna’s identity: Antonio Panizzi, Giacomo Manzoni, Adamo Rossi and Emilio Orioli. Lovers of type specimens and the style of Stanley Morison will welcome the samples of the modern versions of the roman fonts for Poliphilus and Bembo and the italic fonts for Blado and Bembo. In a grace note, Heavenly Monkey includes samples for the italic and roman fonts of Mardersteig’s Dante, which Robert Bringhurst opined “has more of Griffo’s spirit than any other face now commercially available” (The Elements of Typographic Style, 1996, p. 213)”.

Dante is the typeface Heavenly Monkey wanted initially to use but, on deciding that the main text would be set in italic, declined it. The Dante samples offer the reader the chance to compare and contrast it with the other faces and weigh Bringhurst’s opinion and Heavenly Monkey’s choice.

Like many fine press editions, Francesco Griffo da Bologna treads the boundary of the artist’s book or the work of book art. It certainly resonates with different works in the Books On Books Collection:

The leaf from the Aldine Ovid chimes with Jacqueline Rush Lee‘s sculptural interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Ian Hamilton Findlay’s The Errata of Ovid.

Milroy’s “scrapbook” protrayal of Griffo and contemporaries will remind some of Russell Maret‘s typographic adventure in Hungry Dutch.

Anything to do with Venice brings to mind Peter Koch‘s edition of Joseph Brodsky’s love letter to Venice Watermark and Bodil Rosenberg‘s sculptural evocation of that city in Canal Grande.

But overall, Griffo‘s bibliographic historical nature resonates far more with that of another of Milroy’s works in the collection: About Agrippa.

About Agrippa (2015)

About Agrippa (a book of the dead): A Bibliographic History of the Infamous Disappearing Book (2015)
Rollin Milroy
Perfect bound softcover. H290 x W210 mm. 48 pages. Edition of 50. Acquired from Rollin Milroy, 5 December 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Rollin Milroy.

In the Bodleian Libraries Rare Books Collection is a yellowed, oatmeal-colored remnant of a linen casebound thing holding leaves of paper, some sharply trimmed, some with deckled edges, various colored single-sided prints tipped in between and amongst the folded and gathered leaves, a square hollowed out of a final gathering of inseparable leaves and sealed with a lining of gritty silver-gray paste. And burned onto its cover is this:

William Gibson and Dennis Ashbaugh’s Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) (1992) is as wrapped in mystery and mystique as Griffo’s identity. For the collection, Milroy’s two books play the roles of historical bookends: each addresses works from the second phases of a technological shift in the history of the book. Griffo and Manutius mark the beginning of the post-Gutenberg and post-incunabula phase of book publishing. Gibson, Ashbaugh and their publisher Kevin Begos mark the beginning of the post-Apple I phase of digital publishing. Aldine books are rare; Agrippa is even rarer, designedly so. Gibson’s titular poem is on a floppy-disk embedded in a book (H16 x W11 inches). The disk was programmed to self-erase as it was played.

Milroy provides a valuable and attractive resource covering the inception, the production, pricing, dissemination/performance and reception of Agrippa. Like Griffo, About Agrippa brings the reader closer to the principals, the mystique and importance of the work. Both books deserve an audience of students of book art and book arts as well as collectors. Here’s hoping that any library with a strong collection of fine press books and artist books will acquire them.

Further Reading

Aldus Manutius, 6 February 1515 – 6 February 2015“, Bookmarking Book Art, 8 February 2015.

Hall, Gary. 2013. “On the unbound book: academic publishing in the age of the infinite archive“. Journal of Visual Culture, 12:3, 490-507.

Milroy, Rollin. 2015. About Agrippa (a book of the dead): A Bibliographic History of the Infamous Disappearing Book. Vancouver, BC: Still Creek Press.

Milroy, Rollin. 1999. Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments & Glimpses: A Compendium of Information & Opinions about his Life and Work. Vancouver, BC: A Lone Press. The first version of the work.

Bookmark — Anniversary of The Imprint and Its Font

Gerard Meynell's The Imprint
Gerard Meynell’s The Imprint

The Imprint

This year is the centenary of Gerard Meynell’s trade periodical The Imprint, which was the scene of Stanley Morison’s first appearance in print. How appropriate then that Morison’s book A Tally of Types tells the story of the journal’s founding and, equally important, how the historic font called Imprint Old Face came into being. The font’s importance is that “the design had been originated for mechanical composition. … the first design, not copied or stolen from the typefounders, to establish itself as a standard book-face.”(p.21) Ironically, Meynell and his colleagues intended for the font to be freely available to the trade, but eventually it came into the ownership of Monotype Imaging, where it can be obtained today under the OpenType family.

As the world of print morphs into its digital incarnation, we see the same impetus behind the new generation of typographers, the ones born digital, but we see varying degrees of adherence to the “type wants to be free” movement.