Fingerspitzengefühl

Just like “Fernweh”—the opposite of “Heimweh” or one’s longing for distant countries—the German word “Fingerspitzengefühl” is almost impossible to translate. Literally it refers to the sensitivity of one’s fingertips and it expresses an accurate knowledge or a delicate feeling that some people have for certain things or situations. It is a conviction which you cannot precisely express, but about which you feel certain. An equivalent for “Fingerspitzengefühl” may be intuition—a form of knowledge and awareness of something which remains mainly implicit and which is difficult to convey.

Most of us have an intuitive knowledge about typography. Over time we have all built up an internal time scale for the looks of books enabling us easily to distinguish the mise-en-page of books published fifty years ago, books a century old, and books printed during the ancien régime. All books from a certain period have characteristic features in common, and even if we cannot exactly tell what those features are, the more books we have seen, the more accurate our intuition. 

Title page (fol. a1r) of R. Broughton’s An apologicall epistle, Antwerp 1601 (Folger Shakespeare Library STC 3893; STCV 12917691)

Title page (fol. a1r) of R. Broughton’s An apologicall epistle, Antwerp 1601 (Folger Shakespeare Library STC 3893; STCV 12917691)

Above is the title page I discussed in my last blog post, the layout of which immediately raised a red flag for me for the following reason. Books printed in Antwerp rarely have a border like a box, with single horizontal lines and double vertical lines. And there are no Antwerp title pages at all featuring two horizontal lines used as a “filler” on the lower part of the page where you normally would expect a printer’s device, a vignette, or some other ornament. This is certainly not a Flemish practice of the end of the 16th or the beginning of the 17th century.

That is something you just get to know when you see enough books from this period and from this region. Four years ago I started a project to analyse the typographical features of Flemish books in order to turn that “Fingerspitzengefühl” into explicit knowledge. Here are some preliminary results relevant for this example.

Horizontal, single lines do appear on Flemish title pages, but not with the function we saw in this book. If they appear, single lines are used just above or in the middle of the imprint on the typographical title page. In the former case, they emphasize where the imprint information begins, as seen below; in the latter case, they separate, for example, the place of publication from the rest of the imprint (the printer’s or publisher’s name, the street and his sign, and the year of publication).

 Title page of Claudius Chifflet’s De Ammiani Marcellini comitis vita, Louvain 1627, with a horizontal line between the title proper and the imprint (ku Leuven Central Library CaaA1759/2, fol. )(1 recto; STCV 6613372)

Title page of Claudius Chifflet’s De Ammiani Marcellini comitis vita, Louvain 1627, with a horizontal line between the title proper and the imprint (ku Leuven Central Library CaaA1759/2, fol. )(1r; STCV 6613372)

 The relative share of typographical title pages with horizontal lines in or just above imprints of Flemish, Dutch-language books published between 1541–1800.

The relative share of typographical title pages with horizontal lines

This graph shows the frequency of appearance of a single line just above or within the imprint on Dutch-language books published between 1541 and 1800. Its use increases in the period 1541–1600, when about thirty percent of the typographical title pages bear this feature. Its use increases again, dramatically, in the beginning of the eighteenth century. For about ten years, between 1711 and 1720, as many as seventy percent of the imprints show a single line, but afterwards this trend slowly gives away until it again reaches the same level of intensity as before.

Double horizontal lines appear as well, but only from the 1730s onwards, and when they do, they have a very specific form. Typically, a bold line is doubled with a thinner line. For a very limited period of time, between 1771 and 1800, triple lines appear, but again, they mostly have a very specific design.

On the left, a 1749 title page of a theatre program with a double line above the imprint (Oudenaarde City Archives, OA 1006/54/08-03, fol. [A]1 recto; STCV 12913588). On the right, a 1774 title page of a theatre program with a triple line above the imprint (Oudenaarde City Archives, OA 1006/54/25-01, fol. [A]1 recto; STCV 12913862)

On the left, a 1749 title page of a theatre program with a double line above the imprint (Oudenaarde City Archives, OA 1006/54/08-03, fol. [A]1r; STCV 12913588). On the right, a 1774 title page of a theatre program with a triple line above the imprint (Oudenaarde City Archives, OA 1006/54/25-01, fol. [A]1r; STCV 12913862)

The colophon of STC 3893, you might recall, shows a single horizontal line separating the vignette and the actual imprint—and that in itself is not something strange. But we encounter more single and double lines in the body of the book. More specifically, a double horizontal line appears on fol. a4r where you would expect some sort of a head piece, such as a woodcut or an ornamental border embellishing the dedication. I do not have statistic information about this phenomenon in Flemish books, but I would qualify it at least as being very unusual.

Fol. a4 recto of R. Broughton’ An apologicall epistle, Antwerp 1601, showing a two horizontal, single lines at the head of the opening page of the dedication (Folger Shakespeare Library STC 3893)

Fol. a4r of R. Broughton’ An apologicall epistle, Antwerp 1601, showing a two horizontal, single lines at the head of the opening page of the dedication (Folger Shakespeare Library STC 3893)

The sixty-four dollar question was whether this is a false imprint or not. Although future findings may prove me wrong, I think that this book was not printed in Antwerp but across the Channel. Technically, it is perfectly possible exactly to copy a London title page design in an Antwerp printing shop, but why would Arnout Conincx depart from the design commonly used by him and his colleagues?

It is also striking that the signing practice is rather unusual for a book produced in Flanders in this period. (For a refresher on signature marks and local compositorial practices, see Sarah’s post from last year.) First of all, the gatherings are signed in lower case, whereas Flemish compositors usually put A, B, C, etc. in upper case. Furthermore, in all but one gathering only half of the leaves are signed. In the b-gathering, for example, leaves 1, 2, 3, and 4 are signed (b, bi, bii, biii, biiii), while the other four leaves in that gathering remain unsigned. This is very unusual for Flemish octavo books, which normally “oversign,” signing leaves 1 through 5 and leaving leaves 6–8 unsigned.

It remains an open question whether the master printer was aware of these regional differences in signing practice and whether its application would have been forced by the master printer upon the compositors. And who would have cared? The English censors were not known to be trained analytical bibliographers—or were they? Either way, it presents a nice mystery for us today and a chance to improve our Fingerspitzengefühl.

Author: Goran Proot

GORAN PROOT is Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Rare Books at the Folger Shakespeare Library. He is currently surveying layout and typography in early modern books.

One Comment

  1. I would be grateful for your views on two other questions. Do you suppose that Broughton really expected the Privy Council to read his little book ? Was the idea that the Lords would be sent copies anonymously, it being too dangerous to admit to having such a text ? The introduction – as far as I can read it from your photo – appears innocuous (not to say tedious !) How soon do we reach the substance of the book ? The title page gives no indication of the author’s argument except that it is a defence to a previous work which he recognises may have been thought unlawful.

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