“Type Spaces” — How Aldus Measured Text

Written by Christian Palino on February 23, 2005

Type Spaces: in-house norms in the typography of Aldus Manutius by Peter Burnhill, is a book I have had on my desk for about 5 months now. Released by Hyphen Press, Burnhill gathers evidence of a rational measurement system for typography (character size, line-increment, line length, and text area), 200 years before Jean Truchet. With Aldine book scans and keen comparisons, a case is made for the possibility that Francesco Griffo and Aldus Manutius had “in-house norms” that could still be applied today. The book is humble, well-designed and clear — a solid read for typographers and anyone with an interest.

Christian Palino is a designer and educator living in San Francisco. He is currently a Product Design Manager at Facebook and teaches Interaction Design at CCA. He previously worked at OpenTable, IDEO and Adaptive Path.


  1. nb says:

    Fine! I will need to buy it!

  2. nick shinn says:

    It’s a fascinating book, though the reproductions of the Aldine pages could have been a lot lot better.

    The main thing is the theory, and it’s a brilliant piece of detective work.

    If Jenson provided the definitive typeface, in terms of its letterforms, Aldus is here seen to have nailed the formal mechanics of the typographic page layout. But perhaps some credit is due to his partner, printer Andrea Torresano. And Griffo, of course. I guess we will never know the exact nature of who invented what at the Aldine Press, but the synergy was amazing.

  3. John Butler says:

    I’m curious… which body type did Hyphen use for this one? Hyphen is one of my favorite publishers.

  4. nick shinn says:

    Sorry, can’t remember. (My copy is in storage.)

  5. si says:

    ITC Charter

    Cheers, Si

  6. Gerald Lange says:

    I was quite interested in this book when I first discovered it. I agree that is a phenomenal study and that Hyphen should be congratulated for publishing it. Having worked on the typographic end of a major catalog of bibliographic descriptions of the Aldine Press output, however,


    I was a bit suspicious of the very few selections that were used to complete the thesis. And I suspect (from my reading of the text) there is an erroneous assumption made about the Aldine italic, specifically regarding the roman caps. My undestanding, from having to make significant corrections to the setting of the manuscript because of it, is that these were two separate typefaces. At least, they were considered as such by the bibliographers.

  7. Sergei Egorov says:

    Did you mean “two separate versions of italic typefaces” or that the usual setup involved caps and lowercase that were designed independently?

  8. Gerald Lange says:


    The latter. As I recall Nicolas Barker mentioned that they were fitted together as the italic caps were not yet available. I guess there were a lot of misconptions in the past, thinking that the two composites comprised a single typeface.

  9. Sergei Egorov says:


    I spent some time analyzing contours of Aldine italic impressions and it seems to me that there were at least 2 italic types in use at Aldine press between 1501 and 1519. Here are two lowercase ps (1501 is on the left, 1519 on the right):

    As for caps, I always thought that small upright caps were used because this was the current manuscript fashion at the time, not because “real” italic caps weren’t available. Besides, there are ligatures linking the two (“Qu”) which in my opinion support the thesis of coordinated design.

  10. Gerald Lange says:


    The “manuscript fashion” idea is what I would have assumed as well, it would seem the natural observation. In regard to the “coordinated design” all I can tell you is that as I recall the alphanumeric code names for the typefaces were belatedly redefined separately in the bibliographic descriptions and it involved significant corrections to be made. I think all the various Aldine typefaces were shown in the tome. The book covers all the Aldine output (1495�1589) including the heirs and known counterfeits. Some 1,370 entries. The earlier entries (Aldus the Elder) went through many, many corrections so I assume the bibliographers were quite conscientious about it all.

  11. Gerald Lange says:


    Forgot to include mention but those impression contours of yours are quite amazing.

  12. Gerald Lange says:


    Were your impressions taken from a reproduction or an actual Aldine? If an Aldine, do you know if the pages had been subsequently washed or cleaned? Many of those that I have seen were, and water used in cleaning takes the impression away leaving only the ink and as such possibly misleading since ink that may have accumulated in the relief sides, and somewhat visually hidden, is now exposed in a planar sort of exaggeration. Just curious.

  13. Sergei Egorov says:


    I can understand the reasons behind giving original small caps and lower case different bibliographical IDs; this technicality makes it easier to follow the evolution of the font (replacing of small caps with slanted caps). It doesn’t mean that the original pairing was unintentional though; it makes perfect sense from the historical standpoint and many authorities on the aestetical side of the matter actually prefer it (I tend to agree with them).

    1519 contours are taken from an original Aldine (half a dozen leaves from Dio Cassius: Caesarium vitae; Renouard p.87); 1501 contours are from high-quality 1×1 reproduction (Virgil: Opera; Blumenthal, Art of the Printed Book, p.32). I am not an expert on washing/cleaning; I probably need to look at the pages under a microscope to check if the 3d impressions are still there.

    I would love to have more Aldus the Elder sources to analyze; are the reproductions in the volume you worked on accurate? If they are, is there a way to get access to the original scans in digital form? The book is rather expensive and it feels counterproductive to re-scan what was already scanned once.

  14. Sergei Egorov says:


    Do you think that the “boot” on 1519′ p can be explained by washing? It is quite consistent and to a lesser degree present on other extenders (a, b, l).

    It’s also possible that my pages are from a counterfeit edition and this is not the original Griffo font.

  15. Gerald Lange says:


    God, I downloaded those pp’s. That is brilliant. I’ve never seen this done before.

    To answer specific questions. I’ll probably be a bit all over the place here. I’m confused. The p on the left is 1501. The p on the right is 1519. The 1519 is from Aldine pages but the 1501 is from the Blumenthal book. Yes?

    I see a “boot” on the left image (that odd consistent bulge on the left of the lower ascender?). The Blumental 1501.

    At any rate, I do not believe you can trust the original reproduced photo of the letterform as it does not capture the 3-D essense.

    But what is amazing is that you are isolating the form here.

    Too early for the counterfeiters I think.

    The scans of the typefaces in the book I mentioned were not top drawer. I had spent a great deal of time reconfiguring all the watermarks and bowed out of further scanning (this was a four year plus project). But the scans were at least taken direct from the Aldines.

    If the pages you have show consistent impression they may not have been cleaned.

    I need to talk to you much further about all of this…

  16. Gerald Lange says:


    I looked around a bit on old media to see if there was anything left of the project and there seems not to be. The participants were instructed to destroy everything. Even Matthew Carter’s typeface Manutius had to be taken off the drives as it was leased. I was able to keep some of the stuff for a subsequent article I did on Manutius and the book project for Printing History but all that remains is the material used in the article. And the UCLA bibliographers who worked on the project have either retired or were dismissed following the project’s completion.

  17. Karl Randay says:

    Excellent book. I have had the pleasure of being a pupil of Peter. He makes a fascinating case and it’s good to see him true to form…

  18. Hrant says:

    > the UCLA bibliographers who worked
    > on the project have either retired
    > or were dismissed

    Both Naidich (sp?) and Kaplan?
    And/or were there others?


  19. Sergei Egorov says:


    The p on the left (the one with the boot) is from 1519. If you are interested, I’ll mail you more samples.

    I found your book on B&N web site (for 20% of the list price!), so I’ll check the reproductions there in couple of days. From what you described it would seem that Manutius know-how is still the matter of national security :)

  20. Gerald Lange says:


    Yeah, weird writing that down… administrative changes in mid-stream. Only the printed artifact remains of it all.

  21. Gerald Lange says:


    Yes, I’d be interested in seeing more samples. I suspect we should continue this via email.

  22. Gerald Lange says:


    In regard to my comment “At any rate, I do not believe you can trust the original reproduced photo of the letterform as it does not capture the 3-D essense,” I think a qualifier should be added to this. I am referring to halftone reproductions, however, I’ve noticed that a number of British scholarly and trade journals continued to use the collotype (continuous tone) process for reproducing photographic images of type and specimens. Well up into the early 1960s. If by chance you ever come across any Aldine in such publications, these would be much more worth your while to investigate with your technique.

  23. Sergei Egorov says:


    I sent you a sample via email; let me know if it didn’t go through. I saw couple of halftone reproductions (made of small dots, newspaper-style), and some color ones of the same nature – they can still be useful after cleaning up by periodic noice filters.

    I got your book from Barnes & Noble today – really impressive piece of work. My 1519 Aldine is #181 there; its font is classified as I1:79 – the Griffo’s first italic, pictured under I1:80 Horace 1501 (no. 41). What does no. 41 refer to? What part of this notation refers to capital letters?

  24. Gerald Lange says:


    I did get your email but have been late in responding. I have taken care of this.

    I wish I could answer your specific question here but I don’t have access to my copies at the moment. Isn’t there a key in that sucker? lordy they put everything else in there.

    I was, in the end, quite disappointed in the printing quality, I almost suspect a docutext production the way some of the watermarks got slurred. Or maybe they just sent me the worst copies. By the way, they only printed 400 copies I believe, so you probably have a little bit of a rarity there.

    Bibliographic descriptions are quite difficult. And hard to make “pretty.” The Manutius was a godsend. I’m surprised you have figured it out as well as you have. When UC Press privately asked me marketing questions I told them the usual well every library that held significant printing history collections. And of course could not resist adding there there were probably three people in the world who could actually read this and make sense of it. They thought that quite funny.

  25. Gerald Lange says:


    One final comment. And I hope it does not dissuade you but… I have never seen it mentioned on one of the typographic lists (I suspect because it cannot be conceived of) but it is quite unlikely that during the period when books were produced on the hand press and inked by hand that you would find inking that was consistent impression by impression and page to page within an edition. Complicating this even more would be the fact that further use of type within an edition or otherwise would naturally erode its printing surface. Though many typefaces have been revived from such pages it is quite unlikely any of them are true to the punchcutter’s intention.


  26. After reading the Burnhill’s book I decided to try some spacial image analysis on Aldine pages. The preliminary results are described here:

    Aldine Italic in Fourier Plane

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