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Aldine Press

Aldine Press was the printing office started by Aldus Manutius in 1494 in Venice, from which were issued the celebrated Aldine editions of the classics of that time. The Aldine Press is famous in the history of typography, among other things, for the introduction of italics. The press was continued after Aldus death in 1515 by his wife and her father until his son Paolo (1512-1574) took over. His grandson Aldo then ran the firm until his death in 1597.

Initial Innovations

The press was started by Aldus based on his love or classics, and at first printed new copies of Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek and Latin classics. He also printed dictionaries and grammers to help people interpret the books. Since most bibliophiles and book collectors come from the academic and classical backgrounds, his first editions are collectors items. His contributions are also respected in the development of a smaller type than others in use. His contemporaries called it Aldine Type, today we call it italics.

The goal of the press was to create plentiful, affordable books so that everyone could have access to literature. When the press expanded to current titles they wrote some books themselves and employed other writers, including Erasmus. As this expansion into current languages (mainly Italian and French) and current topics continued the press took on another role and made perhaps even more important contributions. Their logo of the anchor and dolphin is represented today in the symbols and names used by some modern publishers.

The Literacy Revolution

Gutenburg gets credit for inventing the printing press with some justification, but Aldus and his sons created the revolution. Gutenberg produced some beautiful volumes. They were priced so that a man of moderate wealth could buy a book. They were still large heavy voumes, and expensive. A church that had a bible would typically chain it to a reading stand. Aldus created smaller books (called octavo) that could fit in a saddle bag and that the average merchant or craftsman could afford.

With books readily available, it was now worthwhile to learn to read. In dealing with current topics, the second or third edition is the better book. When Paolo or Aldo hired a great shipbuilder to write a book on shipbuilding, he described all the best techniques he was aware of. Other builders bought the book and then wrote to protest that their technique for a particular technology was better. Many of these improvements were then incorporated in the later editions. Before the Aldine Press, a new innovation might take a hundred years to get from Italy to the Netherlands. Afterward information started to move in all directions, and communication times was reduced to five or six years. This is an important step in the modernization of Europe, and can even be viewed as a precursor of the Internet.