3.1.4: 1725 - 1830 - Formats/design of the text

A Dutchman from the mid-seventeenth century would have seen nothing strange in the books on sale a century later as the changes and innovations in the field of design were only minor throughout a period of more than one hundred years. The texts were still being set in roman and italic and decorated with initial letters and ornaments. Only the gothic black letter used for some seventeenth-century printed matter, had largely disappeared and was only still to be found in cheap chapbooks. Eighteenth-century initial letters and ornaments still showed the images which were introduced around 1600 from the Southern Netherlands but which, because of extensive copying, had become worn and unattractive. They only disappeared completely around 1750 to make way for decorations made up of typographical lines and flowers (rococo, influence of Fournier).

The layout, the way in which the information in a book is presented, hardly differed in the eighteenth century from that which had been usual earlier, although printing was generally done much less carefully. At the end of the seventeenth century, French Huguenot refugees brought about a temporary and limited quality revival. Their severe, careful style was the precursor to the later eighteenth-century typographical innovations. The great decrease in quality in a large part of the book production was especially due to the segmentation of the market. The everyday pamphlet, song sheet or cheap book was being produced ever cheaper and gave rise to the scrappy, poorly presented printed matter which would continue to be characteristic of these genres until the arrival of new typographical techniques in the nineteenth century. Expensive books continued to be of the high quality which was common for most books in the seventeenth century.

Less general, but no less interesting, was the influence of foreign innovators such as the Englishman Baskerville, the Frenchman Didot and the Italian Bodoni. The neo-classical design championed by them of type and pages meant a radical break with the past. The widely spaced, composite design made way for the tall, severe type area of the late eighteenth century. There was no place here for ornaments, at best a single line or the odd fleuron, which was often no larger than the body type. The iron press invented by Lord Stanhope made it possible to print larger sheets. A rectangular octavo format replace the broader quarto as the standard book format. This severe style was common in the Netherlands after the fall of the Republic of the United Netherlands.

author: P. Dijstelberge

Formats/design of the text