Eric Baker | Today Column

Today, 04.25.09

A colophon or printers mark originated during the Renaissance and usually appeared on the title page of a book. 

Perhaps one of the most recognized printers marks belonged to Aldus Manutius, the leading publisher and printer of the Venetian High Renaissance. Manutius is credited with the development of the first italic type as well as small pocket editions (octavos). His mark, of a dolphin and an anchor, similar to the old Doubleday mark, was one of the first, and best known of colophons. 

Other well known colophons, such as the Knopf Borzoi and the Random House logo had numerous designs done by the likes of Paul Rand, Rockwell Kent, DW Dwiggins, Rudolph Ruzicka, Bruce Rogers and Chip Kidd

These particular publishers marks, done mostly in the '40s and '50s, while certainly not classical nor formal, reflect the spirit of the times as well as capturing the nature of the books. The colophons in this collection were compiled by Bruce Black and are a selection from his wonderful site. 

I'd like to thank Aaron Draplin and Chelsea Rae Nordstrom for bringing attention to the collection.

Eric Baker Design Associates is a Manhattan-based design firm established in 1986. Eric teaches the history of graphic design and corporate identity at the School of Visual Arts, and has twice received National Endowment for the Arts Grants for independent design history projects. He is inveterate collector of books and ephemera. Editor's Note: All images link to their original source and are copyright their original owners.

Comments [11]


These are wonderful. Thanks for the inspiration.

Aaron Schmidt

Bruce Black's site DOES have a great collection.

Thanks for the great colophon showcase Eric.
Javier Romero

Oh man, these images seriously made my day. thx.

Aldus Manutius was not a type designer but a publisher. His designs, including the famous italic were mostly done by Francesco Griffo. Nevertheless, nice collection!
Sascha Loetscher

I had never consciously noticed printers' marks before, but this collection has opened my eyes. Wonderful stuff

Really enjoyed this week's collection. Much prefer the Today's images when they're themed/grouped like this.
Alex Button

The origin of Aldus' printer's mark is Erasmus' oxymoronic proverb, "Hasten slowly." The dolphin would be the fast part, while the anchor symbolizes moderation.

This column is a wonderful resource. Thank you.
Julia Nitzsche

Thanks for posting your collection of printer's symbols (sometimes called devices). The Aldine dolphin reappears in the devices of scores of printers — my personal favorite is the tiny one nestled inside the elaborate Victorian title page of "The Book of Common Prayer" by William Pickering and Charles Whittingham the Younger, Chiswick Press, 1853. If you like you can see it here,
Nancy Stock-allen

nice, it opened my eyes o this draws in some books. thanks

These are fantastic.

I recently had the pleasure of going through the thousands of not-yet-scanned antique book plates at the Library of Congress. The collection, all in hundreds of little boxes each containing about a hundred different bookplates, included some with notes explaining the personal history or symbology of the images. Like a printers mark just for oneself.

I'd love to learn more about printers marks and appreciate you sharing what you know and where to find them.
Ivory Madison

Jobs | June 13