The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Guyot’s speciman sheet

If you’re a type designer (or a type caster, to be more appropriate to the early modern period), how do you show people examples of your wares? You use a specimen sheet:

a 1565 type specimen sheet

On this sheet, we see a matched set of roman and italic typefaces, each in three sizes. The roman (from largest to smallest, and from top to bottom) is in canon, double pica, and pica; the italic (zig-zagging from right to left to middle) is in double pica, great primer, and pica. (I’ll show some details below; you can also zoom in on the image in Luna.) What makes this specimen sheet particularly interesting is that it’s one of the earliest extant printed sheets, we know the type caster who made these typefaces, and it’s the earliest known sheet with English associations.

So who was responsible and when is it from? Since the sheet is neither signed nor dated, we can only make this assertion thanks to the sleuthing done by earlier scholars, most importantly by John Dreyfus for his collection of type specimen facsimiles, and the source of much of the information I give here. 1 This sheet can be connected to its type caster thanks to the detailed records kept by the Dutch printer Christophe Plantin and the remarkable longevity of his press, now the home of the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Plantin’s 1575 inventory of fonts includes the double pica italic typeface shown on this sheet (it’s the largest size of the italic face, on the right-hand column), with a note on the facing page identifying it as “Ascendonica Cursive de Guiot.” François Guyot was a type caster in Antwerp who worked from the 1540s until his death in 1570, and who was the main caster for Plantin from 1555 onwards; he also seems to have worked briefly for John Day in London.

The typefaces were popular on the Continent and in England. All of the romans can be found in a Latin Bible printed by Bartholomaeus Gravius in 1547 in Louvain, and the italics are found in books printed in Antwerp the same year; the types can be seen in England starting in 1555 and continuing, in some cases, through the end of the seventeenth century. The popularity of the faces and their subtle changes is what helped Dreyfus establish a date for them. The canon roman typeface (the largest roman type, at the top of the sheet) exists with the capitol M in two different states. The earlier version of the face had double serifs on both vertical lines, so that it looked like the M that’s used in the pica roman shown here:

the pica roman M with double serifs

But the canon roman M in this sheet has the more modern single serifs:

the single-serif M in canon roman

The single-serif canon roman M began to be used soon after 1560. Its use here means that this specimen sheet should also have been printed after 1560. (A side note: In England, this typeface was used for headlines in the 1568 Bishops’ Bible as well as in the 1611 Authorized, or King James, Bible and in the quartos and folios of Shakespeare’s plays.)

The double pica roman type also exists in two states, noticeable in the different designs of the M. The second state of the M appears in the 1563 Ascendonica roman font that Plantin bought from Guyot, and which he used until 1569, when he commissioned a new set of roman and italic fonts from Robert Granjon. Dreyfus’s dating of the sheet to circa 1565 depends in part on this evidence, since this sheet could not have been made before 1563, since it shows the second state of the M. (Another England-centric side note: John Day brought the roman and italic double pica to England in 1558 and 1559, and had been given credit for its design. A less England-centric note: this type was among the ones brought by Portuguese missionaries to Japan and was first used there in 1588.)

the double pica roman M

The italic faces can also be dated as being in use in the mid-1560s, both in Plantin’s house and by other printers and, like the roman, in both Continental and English works. The great primer italic is noted in Plantin’s inventory as “Texte Italique de F. Guyot” and can be seen in his books from 1555 to 1564, when it was superseded by Granjon’s italic; it appears in English books starting in 1554 and soon was used by many London printers.

So now we’ve seen how this type specimen sheet is linked to Guyot and how it’s been dated to around 1565. But what’s the connection to England, other than the fact that the typefaces appeared there, as they did elsewhere? The answer lies in the marginalia:

marginalia in secretary hand (click to enlarge)

Given how it’s cropped, it’s not completely decipherable, but the catalog record in Hamnet transcribes it as “Justifyed with instrument and all that [t]h[er]to belongethe 22 gylden makethe £ij xiijs. iiij d.” In other words, the marginalia is explaining that these types have been made in a mould and that they are available to be bought for £2 13s. 4d. Between the English prices, the secretary hand, and the fact that François Guyot spent some time in Day’s shop, it seems likely that this specimen sheet was used to sell Guyot’s type to London printers. The ongoing popularity of Guyot’s typefaces in England stem not only from their attractiveness, but probably from the presence of his son, Gabriel Guyot, who worked in London from 1576 to 1588 as a type caster for various printers.

One last note: this sheet survived, remarkably, probably only because it was bound together in 1618 with Humphrey Dyson‘s collection of Elizabethan proclamations. If it hadn’t been, it would surely have gone the way of so many other broadsides and single sheets of paper, lost to the misfortunes of time.

  1. John Dreyfus, Type specimen facsimiles: reproductions of fifteen type specimen sheets issued between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries (London: Bowes & Bowes and Putnum, 1963.)


  • Fascinating. Perhaps proof-reading is not on the decline after all. I see this type caster showed off his work with no period after the ‘i’ on the second line, and an extra period after the ‘k.’

    Plus (not to nit-pick), I always thought ‘u’ came before ‘v,’ not afterwards, as it does several times on this broadsheet.

    Anyway, the point is no doubt the quality of his type, not his eye for other details.

    • I’m with you on the missing dot and double-dot being a problem, but I think “v” and u” are a different story here. At this time, “v” and “u” could still be two different letterforms representing the same letter. Similarly, two letterforms for “s” appear between “r” and “t” on the sheet — the first is for that letter when it appears at the start or in the middle of a word, and the second for when it is the final letter of a word. I didn’t look too closely, but it appears that in this text, “v” is for when the letter comes at the start of a word, and “u” is for when it comes in middle of a word.

      In upper case letters, there was just one form, “V” — this leads to the complicated rules Rare Book catalogers follow when converting case in titles because different printers used lowercase “u” and “v” differently (some switched to the vowel/consonant split into two letters that we’re used to today before others, for example). Catalogers are instructed to look for the pattern of use in the text to determine how that particular printer worked. For example, the title SER, SIVE SERICVS VERMIS from plate 8 of Nova Reperta ( would be recorded in a library catalog as “Ser, siue sericus vermis” because text in the image caption shows consistent use of v for vowels or consonants in initial position and u for vowels or consonants in medial position, e.g., “vermis,” “vrbe,” “oua,” and “aurea.”

      I should add that I learned all of this from Deborah J. Leslie, the Folger’s Head of Cataloging. Ask her about transcribing different representations of the letter “W” some day…..

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