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In Praise of Caxton

Caxton's Dictes: colophon

On this day in 1477 William Caxton issued the first book in English actually printed in England, or so we believe. It was Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres (Sayings of the Philosophers) translated from the French by Anthony Rivers, second Earl Rivers, a learned man and brother-in-law of Edward IV, beheaded in 1483 by the future Richard III. The colophon (detail illustrated above) is fascinating. It shows type trying to look like handwriting but with some ugly word spacing and contrasting weights of letter-forms. Having said that, the page is remarkably evenly inked, while the use of punctuation (a Cistercian innovation of some centuries earlier) makes the text easy to read. No wonder many in Westminster were deeply worried about this new technology. It was to have a great future. You wouldn't be reading this if it hadn't.

One of the developments of Web 2.0 we particularly welcome here at Hendred is the renewed interest in typography, specifically typography for onscreen use. Our current site is typographically merely "functional" but there are many examples of really beautiful work on the web which is quietly raising standards. Sadly, many people are happy to stick to Arial (probably the worst typeface ever designed in our unprejudiced view) or Times (an excellent typeface, but over-used) or "don't see what all the fuss is about". It is the latter which sends Digitalnun into despondency. If you want to know why, read Beatrice Warde's little gem on the importance of typography, The Crystal Goblet. It will open your eyes.