2.1.2: 1585 - 1725 - Letters (including letter design, typecasting and type foundries)

After the death of Hendrik van den Keere in 1580, the fall of Antwerp in 1585 and the death of Plantin in 1589, the centre of production and trade in printing types quickly moved from the Southern to the Northern Netherlands. Gabriel Guyot moved his type foundry to Middelburg in 1580 and Thomas de Vechter moved his to Leiden in 1584. Printers were acquiring more cast founts and fewer matrices, so that a small number of independent, specialised type founders could supply the entire trade. In this sense Guyot and De Vechter may be considered the first modern type founders in the North. In 1609, after Geeraert van Wolsschaten, the last type founder in the South, had been offered good terms if he too were to move north, Antwerp printers had to beg the authorities (successfully, it seems) to grant him privileges enticing him to stay.

Until the Twelve Years' Truce of 1609-1621, the new type foundries in the North largely cast the same (Southern Netherlands and French) types that had been cast in Antwerp and Ghent before 1585. The Truce, however, provided an ideal economic climate for new entrepreneurs. The most important newcomer was Nicolaes Briot, a Catholic from Huy who moved to Gouda around 1600, where he was probably first apprenticed to a silversmith. He set up as a type founder there in or before 1613, moving to Amsterdam around 1624. He first cut texturas based on Van den Keere's and then, in the 1620s, a large series of romans that determined the appearance of the publications of many important seventeenth-century publishers from the Netherlands, among them Willem Jansz. Blaeu. The Hebrew types Briot cut for Menasseh ben Israel, the first Jewish printer in the Netherlands, set the style for all that followed. Jacques Vallet and subsequently the Voskens family continued to sell his types for more than a hundred years after his death. The Netherlands also played a leading role during this period with respect to Arabic and other non-Latin types.

The romans of Van den Keere and Briot were usually accompanied by sixteenth century italics (often by Guyot or Granjon). When Christoffel van Dijck in the years 1647 to 1669 and Nikolaas Kis in the 1680s cut new romans based on Briot's (Van Dijck also copied Briot's texturas), they also cut complementary italics, often influenced by those of Robert Granjon. The famous 1592 specimen of the Berner (later Luther) foundry at Frankfurt, where many Dutch printers acquired founts or matrices, had already offered a whole range of romans with accompanying italics, but these Dutch punchcutters (and before them Jean Jannon at Sedan) cut whole series of romans and italics together, leading to greater uniformity of style. During the seventeenth century, the roman also became usual for publications in the Dutch language.

Although independent type foundries had supplied many Dutch printers since the 1580s, some of the largest printing offices still owned important stocks of matrices around 1660. The dispersal of the Janssonius collection in 1666 and the acquisition of the Blaeu foundry by Voskens and Adamsz in 1677 largely completed the shift to independent foundries, though some smaller collections remained in the hands of printers (such as the Elzeviers in Leiden and the Wetsteins in Amsterdam). A type foundry supplying a number of printers could operate under the same roof as a printing office, as Enschedé later did at Haarlem. The Voskens family, three generations of punch cutters and type founders, probably had the largest collection in the country in the half-century following 1677. They cut some of their types themselves and acquired others from various foreign and domestic punch cutters. Voskens and Van Dijck spread their types around the world, setting the style in Great Britain, which was to take over the leading role of the Netherlands.

author: John A. Lane

Letters (including letter design, typecasting and type foundries)