In fact Gunther Zeiner's first type (afterwards used by Schussler) is remarkably like the type of the before-mentioned Subiaco books.
In the Low Countries and Cologne, which were very fertile of printed books, Gothic was the favourite. The characteristic Dutch type, as represented by the excellent printer Gerard Leew, is very pronounced and uncompromising Gothic. This type was introduced into England by Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton's successor, and was used there with very little variation all through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and indeed into the eighteenth. Most of Caxton's own types are of an earlier character, though they also much resemble Flemish or Cologne letter. After the end of the fifteenth century the degradation of printing, especially in Germany and Italy, went on apace ; and by the end of the sixteenth century there was no really beautiful printing done : the best, mostly French or Low-Country, was neat and clear, but without any distinction; the worst, which perhaps was the English, was a terrible falling-off from the work of the earlier presses; and things got worse and worse through the whole of the seventeenth century, so that in the eighteenth printing was very miserably performed. In England about this time, an attempt was made (notably by Caslon, who started business in London as a type-founder in 1720) to improve the letter in form. Caslon's type is clear and neat, and fairly well designed ; he seems to have taken the letter of the Elzevirs of the seventeenth century for his model : type cast from his matrices is still in everyday use.
In spite, however, of his praiseworthy efforts, printing had still one last degradation to undergo. The seventeenth century founts were bad rather negatively than positively. But for the beauty of the earlier work they might have seemed tolerable. It was reserved for the founders of the later eighteenth century to produce letters which are positively ugly, and which, it may be added, are dazzling and unpleasant to the eye owing to the clumsy thickening and vulgar thinning of the lines : for the seventeenth-century letters are at least pure and simple in line. The Italian, Bodoni, and the Frenchman, Didot, were the leaders in this luckless change, though our own Baskerville, who was at work some years before them, went much on the same lines; but his letters, though uninteresting and poor, are not nearly so gross and vulgar as those of either the Italian or the Frenchman.
With this change the art of printing touched bottom, so far as fine printing is concerned, though paper did not get to its worst till about 1840. The
Chiswick press in 1844 revived Caslon's founts, printing for Messrs. Longman the Diary of Lady Willoughby. This experiment was so far successful that about 1850 Messrs. Miller and Richard of Edinburgh were induced to cut punches for a series of " old style' letters. These and similar founts, cast by the above firm and others, have now come into general use and are obviously a great improvement on the ordinary
" modern style' in use in England, which is in fact the Bodoni type a little reduced in ugliness. The design of the letters of this modern " old style" leaves a good deal to be desired, and the whole effect is a little too gray, owing to the thinness of the letters.
It must be remembered, however, that most modern printing is done by machinery on soft paper, and not by the hand press, and these somewhat wiry letters are suitable for the machine process, which would not do justice to letters of more generous design.
It is discouraging to note that the improvement of the last fifty years is almost wholly confined to Great Britain.
Here and there a book is printed in France or Germany with some pretension to good taste, but the general revival of the old forms has made no way in those countries. Italy is contentedly stagnant.
America has produced a good many showy books, the typography, paper, and illustrations of which are, however, all wrong, oddity rather than rational beauty and meaning being apparently the thing sought for both in the letters and the illustrations.
To say a few words on the principles of design in typography : it is obvious that legibility is the first thing to be aimed at in the forms of the letters ; this is best furthered by the avoidance of irrational swellings and spiky projections, and by the using of careful purity of line. Even the Caslon type when enlarged shows great shortcomings in this respect : the ends of many of the letters such as the t and e are hooked up in a vulgar and meaningless way, instead of ending in the sharp and clear stroke of Jenson's letters ; there is a grossness in the upper finishings of letters like the c, the a, and so on, an ugly pear-shaped swelling defacing the form of the letter : in short, it happens to this craft, as to others, that the utilitarian practice, though it professes to avoid ornament, still clings to a foolish, because misunderstood conventionality, deduced from what was once ornament, and is by no means useful; which title can only be claimed by artistic practice, whether the art in it be conscious or unconscious.
In no characters is the contrast between the ugly and vulgar illegibility of the modern type and the elegance and legibility of the ancient more striking than in the Arabic numerals. In the old print each figure has its definite individuality, and one cannot be mistaken for the other ; in reading the modern figures the eyes must be strained before the reader can have any reasonable assurance that he has a 5, an 8, or a 3 before him, unless the press work is of the best : this is awkward if you have to read Bradshaw's Guide in a hurry.
One of the differences between the fine type and the utilitarian must probably be put down to a misapprehension of a commercial necessity : this is the narrowing of the modern letters. Most of Jenson's letters -are designed within a square, the modern letters are narrowed by a third or thereabout; but while this gain of space very much hampers the possibility of beauty of design, it is not a real gain, for the modern printer throws the gain away by putting inordinately wide spaces between his lines, which, probably, the lateral compression of his letters renders necessary. Commercialism again compels the use of type too small in size to be comfortable reading : the size known as " Long primer' ought to be the smallest size used in a book meant to be read. Here, again, if the practice of " leading ' were retrenched larger type could be used without enhancing the price of a book.