Officina Bodoni

Officina Bodoni

The Hand Press Operated by Giovanni Mardersteig

Essay by Kaitlyn Coles
The Alphabet of Frencesco Torniello

The Officina Bodoni is a private publishing press that was operated by Giovanni Mardersteig in Verona from 1922 to 1977 (Barr). Giovanni Mardersteig enjoyed the work of a hand press for his books published at the Officina Bodoni. Mardersteig’s interest in publishing lead him to study to works of eighteenth-century Italian printer Giambattista Bodoni, who the press was named after. Some of the types for the Officina Bodoni books were designed by Giovanni Mardersteig, his most famous being Dante. The two Officina Bodoni books that will be focused on are on alphabets: The Alphabet of Francesco Torniello and Alphabetum Romanum.

Giovanni Mardersteig was born in 1892 in Goethe’s city of Weimar, christened as Hans Mardersteig (Lawson 99). His interest in publishing came from his association with Count Harry Kessler, the proprietor of Weimar’s distinguished Cranach Press. Mardersteig started his work in publishing as an editor and production supervisor for the publishing house of Kurt Wolff in Leipzig (Lawson 99). When the Kurt Wolff publishing house was moved to Munich, Mardersteig decided to leave the press. In 1922, as Mardersteig was researching types from Giambattista Bodoni, he established his press Officina Bodoni. In 1927 he moved the Officina Bodoni press to Verona, and Mardersteig Italianized his name to Giovanni (Lawson 100). Then from 1926 to 1936 Mardersteig worked on producing the works of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio (Barr 32).

For the Officina Bodoni, Mardersteig worked on a hand press to print his books. The process of printing on a hand press is difficult since it’s physically tiring and the printer must have the ability to line up the elements exactly. A hand press requires that someone operate it by hand from placing type and rolling ink, to pulling the handlebar thus combining paper with the type. The type must first be set into the hand press individually. Once the type is all set in the press, then ink is rolled on by hand over the metal setting. Mardersteig required that the paper must be dampened before it is placed onto the press since this ensures the fine details on the pages after printing. After the paper is positioned correctly on the press, then the handlebar is pulled which forces the hand press to bring together the dampened paper and the inked type. The paper is then hung up to dry, and later the pages are sewn and bound by hand. Mardersteig enjoyed this process since he had more control of the details that went into book making.

Giovanni Mardersteig met Stanley Morison around 1924 and found that the two shared an interest in fifteenth-century Italian letterforms (Lawson 100). Morison told Mardersteig about the French punchcutter Charles Malin, and Mardersteig requested his help in creating his new type. After Mardersteig met Charles Malin, he was immediately impressed by his work on reproducing the Bodoni types. Stanley Morison encouraged Mardersteig to work with Charles Malin on a new typeface for the Officina Bodoni, because Mardersteig was skeptical on what he should do next. In 1929, Mardersteig started researching Francesco Griffo’s types, which resulted in a new design. For six months Mardersteig and Malin worked on recreating Griffo’s types, resulting in new type designs for the Officina Bodoni. Giovanni Mardersteig designed some of the Officina Bodoni types including Zeno, Griffo, and his last and final type Dante (Lawson 100 – 106). Some of the Officina Bodoni types were cut by Charles Malin, who worked with Mardersteig until Malin died in 1956 (Mardersteig xxxiii).

The typeface Dante was designed by Giovanni Mardersteig from 1946 to 1954 (Lawson 106). Mardersteig cared about details in his work and was constantly editing his Dante type design for years. The intention for the design of the Dante type was to create a new book face type with an italic face that worked exquisitely with the roman. Some of the Officina Bodoni types that were designed by Mardersteig were also cut by Charles Malin, including Dante which was hand cut by Malin in 1954 (Lawson 106). Dante was Mardersteig’s last and final type that he designed in his life, as well as one of his finest. The name of the Dante typeface is from an edition of Trattatello in laude di Dante by Boccaccio, which was published at the Officina Bodoni in 1955 and was the first book to use Dante (Mardersteig xliv). It was in 1955, when Dante was used for the first time, that the Monotype Corporation of London issued the typeface for machine composition (Lawson 106). The Dante typeface was available for hand composition when using it to print books on the hand press at Officina Bodoni. Dante was also available for mechanical composition when used on Monotype machines at Mardersteig’s other commercial press Stamperia Valdonega. Monotypes Ron Carpenter redrew a digital version of Dante, which is free from any restraints forced by hot metal technology. In 1993 Dante was issued in a range of three weights with a set of titling capitals, which are used for page titles or headings.

Alphabetum Romanum

The Officina Bodoni published Alphabetum Romanum in 1960 in Verona (Feliciano). The book was written by Felice Feliciano and edited by Giovanni Mardersteig. Mardersteig was interested in Feliciano’s alphabet and studied his alphabet for a long time before he published Alphabetum Romanum. The book contains the entire alphabet and description of letters done by Feliciano. Each letter outline was printed on the hand press with the colors done by hand, and the rest of the text was printed on the hand press in Dante type. The artist Ameglio Trivella hand painted the color within the book for all 720 copies (Barr 64). There were a variety of colors used for the 25 letters in each book, with two colors for each letter.

Alphabetum Romanum

Giovanni Mardersteig edited and provided an introduction for the books all published either in German, Italian, or English. For the German and Italian editions, the book contains an English translation at the back. The cover of the book shows the device of the Officina Bodoni. This device was designed by Mardersteig and formed by the artist Emil Preetorius. The Officina Bodoni device is meant to represent a Christian origin as the orb overcome by the cross. Mardersteig made a personal design in the device by adding bull’s horns to it (Barr 39).

The Alphabet of Frencesco Torniello

The next book on alphabets is The Alphabet of Francesco Torniello, published by the Officina Bodoni in 1971 (Torniello). The book was by Francesco Torniello and edited by Giovanni Mardersteig. The book contains Torniello’s entire alphabet, along with a comparison of letters between Torniello and the mathematician Pacioli. The editions were in a few different languages, and some of them had English translations at the back. Giovanni Mardersteig printed all the text in Dante type on the hand press. Mardersteig also provided an introduction for all the editions of the book. The pages within the books that show Torniello’s and Pacioli’s comparison of letters has one of the letters on top of the others so that the details can be examined carefully. Each letter has other circles and shapes surrounding it to show how Torniello or Pacioli came to design the letter.

The Alphabet of Frencesco Torniello

Since the Officina Bodoni operated with a hand press, it was known for fine detail in the books that it published. Giovanni Mardersteig cared about the details within books, which is why he chose to work on a hand press. A lot of Mardersteig’s life was dedicated to researching and producing publications that could be admired. His relationships with the people that he worked with, like Stanley Morison and Charles Malin, inspired and motivated him in the work that he did. Giovanni Mardersteig worked continuously at the Officina Bodoni until his death in 1977 at the age of 86 (Barr 9). In 1948 Mardesteig had established the commercial press Stamperia Valdonega, which is still in operation today along with the Officina Bodoni by his son Martino Mardersteig (Lawson 109).

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Works Cited

Baines, Phil and Andrew Haslam. Type & Typography. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2005. Print.

Barr, John. Officina Bodoni: Montagnola  Verona Books Printed by Giovanni Mardersteig on the Hand Press, 1923–1977. London: The British Library, 1978. Print.

Bartram, Alan. Typeforms: A History. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2007. Print.

Carter, Sebastian. Twentieth Century Type Designers. Aldershot, Hampshire: Lund Humphries, 2002. Print.

Feliciano, Felice. Alphabetum Romanum. Ed. Giovanni Mardersteig. Verona: Officina Bodoni, 1960. Print.

Jaspert, W. Pincus, William Turner Berry, and Alfred Forbes Johnson. Encyclopaedia of Typefaces. London: Cassell Illustrated, 2008. Print.

Kelly, Jerry et al. Giovanni and Martino Mardersteig: Book Designers, Typographers and Printers in Verona. New York: Grolier Club, 2009. Print.

Lawson, Alexander S. Anatomy of a Typeface. Boston: Godine, 1990. Print.

Macmillan, Neil. An A-Z of Type Designers. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006. Print.

Mardersteig, Giovanni. The Officina Bodoni: An Account of the Work of a Hand Press, 1923–1977. Ed. Hans Schmoller. Verona: Edizioni Valdonega, 1980. Print.

Torniello, Francesco. The Alphabet of Francesco Torniello. Ed. Giovanni Mardersteig. Verona: Officina Bodoni, 1971. Print.