Aldine Press

The Rylands copy of the Aldine Vergil of 1501, the first of the standard octavo Aldines

Aldine Press was the printing office started by Aldus Manutius in 1494 in Venice, from which were issued the celebrated Aldine editions of the classics (Latin and Greek masterpieces plus a few more modern works). The first book that was dated and printed under his name appeared in 1495.[1]

The Aldine Press is famous in the history of typography, among other things, for the introduction of italics.[2] The press was the first to issue printed books in the small octavo size, similar to that of a modern paperback, and like that intended for portability and ease of reading.[3] According to Curt Buhler, the press issued 132 books during twenty years of activity under Aldus.[4] The press was continued after Aldus’s death in 1515 by his wife and her father until his son Paolo (1512–1574) took over. His grandson Aldo then ran the firm until his death in 1597. Today, antique books printed by the Aldine Press in Venice are referred to as Aldines.[5]

The press enjoyed a monopoly of works printed in Greek in the Republic of Venice, effectively giving it copyright protection. Protection outside the Republic was more problematic. The firm maintained an agency in Paris, but its commercial success was affected by many pirated editions, produced in Lyons and elsewhere.

Initial innovations

The press was started by Aldus based on his love of classics, and at first printed new copies of Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek and Latin classics. He also printed dictionaries and grammars to help people interpret the books. While scholars wanting to learn Greek used to employ learned Greeks to teach them directly, the Aldine editions, edited by Greek scholars, allowed many scholars across Europe to study Greek.[6] Historian Elizabeth Eisenstein claimed that the fall of Constantinople in 1453 had threatened the importance and survival of Greek scholarship, but publications such as those by the Aldine Press secured it. Erasmus was one of the scholars learned in Greek that the Aldine Press employed.[7]

When the press expanded to current titles, they wrote some books themselves and employed other writers, including Erasmus. As this expansion into current languages (mainly Italian and French) and current topics continued, the press took on another role and made perhaps even more important contributions. Beyond the preservation of Hellenic studies, Aldus's contributions are also respected in the development of a smaller type than others in use. His contemporaries called it Aldine Type; today we call it italics. Their emblem of the anchor and dolphin (used to represent the Latin adage "festina lente") is represented today in the symbols and names used by some modern publishers such as Doubleday.

Italian translation of Herodotus' Histories by Count Matteo Maria Boiardo, published in Venice, Aldine Press in 1502 (1533?).

Selected Aldine editions


The most nearly complete collection of Aldine editions ever brought together was in the Althorp library of the 2nd Earl Spencer, now in the John Rylands Library, Manchester.[8]

One of the more substantial collections of Aldine Press books and Aldine imitations in North America is at the Harold B. Lee library on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.[9]


  1. Barolini, Helen. Aldus and His Dream Book: An Illustrated Essay. New York: Italica Press, 1992, p. 72.
  2. See Barolini, pp. 80–81.
  3. See Barolini, pp. 82–84.
  4. See Barolini, pp. 147–48.
  5. "Hand Bookbindings". Princeton University Library. 2004. Archived from the original on 27 November 2009. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  6. Eisenstein, E. (1982). The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  7. Eisenstein, p. 221
  8. A Guide to Special Collections (1999)
  9. See this link:


External links

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