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Hebrew *printing began about 1475, the date of publication of two books, one at *Reggio di Calabria and the other at *Piove di Sacco, near Venice. It is sometimes claimed that a group of undated and unlocated early Hebrew books by different printers were issued earlier, and by conjecture, are believed to have originated in Rome. The year 1476 appears in the imprint of a book printed at *Guadalajara, Spain, the first of about 15 books to be printed there during the following six years. In the short span of the following few

years new Hebrew presses were established in *Mantua, *Bologna, *Ferrara (Italy), and *Hijar (Spain). Thus, within a short time Hebrew printing spread to relatively distant places. Since printers at that time had to provide their own letter founts, a remarkable variety of alphabets and styles appeared at the inception of Hebrew typography.

The books printed in Spain and in Reggio di Calabria display the reed-born alphabets (square and cursive, a sort of italics) customary in the manuscripts of the Jews centered in Spain (Sephardi). These alphabets are distinguished by a great elegance in their curves and in the modeling of their strokes; the artist who cut the ones used in Guadalajara was mentioned by name, Piedro de Guadalajara, and was ostensibly a gentile. It is remarkable that the cursive Sephardi letter is already used as text letter in the first book printed in Reggio di Calabria, Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch (hence its later name "Rashi-letter"), 26 years before a (non-Hebrew) cursive letter was used for the first time by the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius in 1501. In Piove di Sacco, where the printer was of German origin – as were most of the early Hebrew printers in Italy – the alphabets used were developments of the quill-shaped Ashkenazi (German) manuscript letter, angular and based on heavy contrast between bold and fine strokes. The edition of seliḥot, undated and probably the first book by that printer, displays a distinguished page set in quite large letters and long lines with wide margins in quarto size.

The founder of the press in Mantua, Abraham *Conat, who was a physician and scribe by profession, had an alphabet cut for himself, for which his own Italian-German cursive hand served as a model. His square letter was of the Ashkenazi type and similar to that used in Piove di Sacco. In 1477 Psalms, with the commentary of David Kimḥi, appeared in Bologna, the letters being of a similar type to those used in Mantua. In the same year Abraham b. *Ḥayyim, "The Dyer," of Pesaro started a short-lived press in Ferrara, buying the equipment from Abraham Conat. In 1482 he printed in Bologna an edition of the Pentateuch with Rashi's commentary; the text is set in a pleasantly large and elegantly light Sephardi new square letter and the commentary in a much smaller cursive letter of the Italian type. This edition fixed the layout for biblical texts with commentaries for all following editions.

The decisive turn in Hebrew typography after these initial trials was instituted with the activity of the *Soncino family. This family, hailing from Germany, printed Hebrew books through five generations, starting in 1484 in Soncino and later publishing works in Casalmaggiore, Pesaro, Brescia, Naples, Rimini, Salonika, Istanbul, and Cairo until 1557. The Soncinos, the most prolific and most creative Jewish Hebrew printer-publishers of all time, stabilized the style of letters used in Hebrew printing, employing an alphabet based on the Sephardi type and well adapted to the mechanical exigencies of printing, and which served as a base for later printers. They put out works of basic Hebrew literature in editions which became classic, as well as non-Hebrew books. The non-Hebrew books printed by Gershom Soncino typographically take a place of honor among the book productions of this time. He employed as a letter cutter the most accomplished letter artist of his time, and possibly of all time, Francesco Griffo, a friar of Bologna who had also worked for the famous Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, the first to print books in cursive letters (cancellaresca), which were cut by Griffo, in pocket size.

In the meantime *Venice became a new center of Hebrew printing. A rich gentile humanist from Antwerp, Daniel *Bomberg, assembled an impressive team of scholars – Jewish and baptized – as editors and proofreaders, as well as competent craftsmen, had excellent letters cut, and erected a Hebrew press in Venice which was to excel in quantity and quality all those that had preceded him in this field. All of the products of Bomberg's press were distinguished by faultless composition and layout, improved typefaces, and high-quality paper. His products constituted the high mark of achievement of the first decades of Hebrew typography. Based on the shapes pioneered by the Soncinos, Bomberg's typefaces became dominant and greatly influenced the further development of Hebrew typography.

While the Spanish-Italian branch of Hebrew printing developed – after some initial wavering – a square and cursive typeface based on the Sephardi tradition of lettering, another Hebrew printing center came into being in the second decade of the 16th century in *Prague (and somewhat later in *Basle) whose lettering was based decidedly on the Ashkenazi letter shapes. From the start the Prague printers achieved high typographical excellence and their influence spread to various parts of Germany and to Poland. Hebrew printing in Prague started in 1512; in 1514 the printers' company was joined by new partners, among them Gershom *Kohen, and from then on he was the central figure in the enterprise. His family continued his work well into the 17th century. In 1526 the Kohen press published a typographically outstanding work, a Passover Haggadah in large quarto with many woodcuts, the text being set in a superb large-size Ashkenazi typeface, which was probably cut in wood and displays to the best advantage all the beauty in this late Gothic style of Hebrew lettering. The many initial words are of exceptional beauty and are set in a still larger size, or, more probably, cut as whole words in wood. Four of the woodcut illustrations have the letter Shin (ש) unobtrusively incorporated, probably the signature of one of the partners, Ḥayyim *Shaḥor (he had already left the partnership when the Haggadah was published but seems to have been responsible for the woodcuts, or some of them). The Haggadah was reprinted in the same year with slight alterations by the original printers and was closely copied in 1560 in Mantua, with altered woodcuts and initial words; parts of the text were printed in smaller type.

Shaḥor set up a press in Oels (*Olesnica), near Breslau, moving from there to Augsburg, Ichenhausen, Heddernheim (all in Germany), and finally to Lublin, Poland. He took typefaces from Prague and continued to use the skill he gained there. The *Halicz brothers set up a press in Cracow about 1530, using mostly Prague type and style. The Hebrew Bible (c. 1551–52), with Rashi's commentary, printed by Samuel Halicz in Istanbul – of which only the Pentateuch with the Five Scrolls and Haftarot is known (in a unique copy) – is in good typographical tradition; the letters which were used show a strange mixture of Ashkenazi and Sephardi style.

In the 16th century the interest of Christian humanists in Hebrew printing became of the utmost importance. Apart from Daniel Bomberg in Venice, there was Johannes Froben of Basle, who used the Ashkenazi type of letters to great advantage, including the Ashkenazi cursive (chiefly for texts in Judeo-German). Froben printed quite a number of Hebrew and Judeo-German books in cooperation with the Christian Hebraists Sebastian *Muenster and the two Buxtorfs, among them the biblical cantillation rendered in musical notes for the first time (in a Hebrew grammar written in Latin by Sebastian Muenster, 1534). Paulus *Fagius in Isny and Paulus Aemilius in Augsburg carefully produced books in Ashkenazi Hebrew type. At the same time in France Robertus Stephanus (Etienne), who was responsible for editions of many Latin and almost all Greek texts, printed the Hebrew Bible twice, once in a small format and once in octavo in beautiful letters of the Sephardi type, cut specially for these editions. Guillaume Le *Bé, the man who influenced the further development of the Hebrew printed alphabet possibly more than any other single figure, emerged from Stephanus' printing house. A native of Troyes, France, he was a letter designer and punch cutter who in 1545 was employed on Stephanus' recommendation by the Venetian humanist M.A. *Giustiniani, the founder in that year of a Hebrew press in Venice. Le Bé, 21 years old when he came to Venice, mainly specialized from then onward in designing and cutting Hebrew letters (until 1550 in Venice and later again in Paris). He carefully studied the Hebrew letter shapes, collected what he considered the best samples from everywhere, and continued cutting Hebrew founts to the end of his long life. Almost 20 Hebrew founts are credited to him. Not only did Giustiniani and the Italian-Jewish printer Meir *Parenzo depend on his typefaces but they were also later copied in Italy until the 19th century. The press of *Belforte in Leghorn (closed in 1939) used a derivative of his letters, and the Nebiolo type foundry in Turin still produced them in 1970 in a later rendering.

More important still, Le Bé provided Christopher *Plantin, the great printer of Antwerp, with Hebrew letters which the latter used in his Polyglot Bible (Antwerp, 1569–72), a superb piece of printing. Le Bé's letter style (and probably even some of the original letters) was passed on from Plantin to Christian printers in Germany, on one hand, and on the other to Holland, which took the lead in Hebrew printing in the 17th and 18th centuries, and by which Hebrew printing in Germany, England, Eastern Europe, and even the Near East was decisively influenced. The first Hebrew printer in Holland was *Manasseh Ben Israel, who had his letters cut from models prepared by the chief Hebrew scribe of Amsterdam, Michael Judah. His first publication, a prayer book of the Sephardi rite, appeared in 1627. Further Hebrew presses were set up soon after in *Amsterdam. The Jewish printers there, who were learned and cultured men, ordered their letters from the most accomplished punch cutters of their time, among them Christopher van Dyck and Johann Michael Fleischmann of Nuremberg. Since Hebrew books became an important export item in the economy of Amsterdam, all the important type foundries there produced Hebrew fonts. These were used everywhere, and printers mentioned the use of "Amsterdam type" on their title pages rather than the places and names of the printers. Typographically outstanding among the Amsterdam Hebrew presses was that of the *Athias family, which produced, among others, the famous Hebrew Bible (1661) and the beautiful edition of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (1702–03). Another Hebrew press in Amsterdam of high standing was that of the *Proops family, which published a very large quantity of Hebrew books and continued its work into the late 19th century.

In the 17th and 18th centuries Hebrew printing spread widely to Germany, Poland, and some Oriental countries, and continued at some presses in Italy. The centers all derived from Amsterdam, Prague, and Venice and continued their respective typographical traditions, mostly with loss of quality. Some Hebrew type is also used in the first book printed on the North American continent, the Bay Psalm Book (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1640). The 19th century brought further innovations. In *Roedelheim (near Frankfurt) W. *Heidenheim and B. Baschwitz published a new maḥzor in 1800 in nine volumes, using newly cut letters – square and cursive Sephardi for the commentary, and cursive Ashkenazi for the German translations – with a great deal of skill. This press continued printing in the same style and with the same letters throughout the 19th century, and its products were reprinted from stereotypes until the Holocaust, being reproduced in Basle even after World War ii. In Eastern Europe the most important typographical production was the superb edition of the Babylonian Talmud by the house of *Romm in Vilna (1880–86). In England Z.H. *Filipowski printed Hebrew text editions in a pleasant small type.

The 19th century, with its deep changes in Jewish life, made new claims on Hebrew typography. A secular literature arose, with newspapers and periodicals not only in Hebrew but also in Yiddish and Ladino. By the end of the century changes in typographical techniques had taken place. The large European type foundries produced new Hebrew letters on traditional lines which were used in the printing of Bibles by the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Wuerttemberg Bible Institute, as well as in other scholarly editions. The most successful Hebrew type innovation was created through the cooperation of the Leipzig cantor and scribe Raphael Frank and the graphic artist Ruehl who worked for the Berthold type foundry. The Frank-Ruehl letter spread quickly, and after it was incorporated in the program of all the chief type-setting machines (Linotype, Monotype – under the name of Peninim – and Intertype) it held a near monopoly for quite a long period, in spite of its being an expression of the Art Nouveau style.

The rapid expansion of the press and of art and literature publications in Hebrew and Yiddish after World War i and the growing influence, first of the German expressionism and then of the New Typography promoted by the Bauhaus, were a new challenge to Hebrew typography. The existing letters were of little use in shaping the new typographical images. New Hebrew letters of the sans serif type were therefore created, at least for display, the first a letter called "Haim" by Jacob Levit (in Warsaw) and the second by the Tel Aviv graphic artist Aharoni which was published under his name in Germany. Both these typefaces were widely used for display and gave Hebrew printing an entirely new look. At the same time the cursive (Rashi) alphabet was totally abandoned in secular literature – a fact which resulted in a deplorable impoverishment of typographical possibilities.

The renascence of Hebrew literature, its concentration in Israel, and the tremendous growth of the production of books and periodicals, as well as of commercial printing, necessitated swift developments in Hebrew typography. They took shape chiefly from the end of World War ii onward, and from the foundation of the State of Israel with accelerated energy. Between the two world wars new Hebrew types were still intended chiefly for what could be called ceremonial printing: this is true of the Ashkenazi square letter called "Stam," which was cut by the Berthold foundry and was dependent on a design by Franziska Baruch, and of the type designed by Marcus Behmer and ordered by the *Soncino Society for its monumental Bible, of which only the Pentateuch was printed before the Nazis put an end to the project. From this time a different sort of typeface was needed. Serious attempts began in the period between the two world wars, such as those of Eric Gill and L.A. Meyer, together with Franziska Baruch, but were not successful in providing new letters for general use; others, such as those of the German letter designer E.R. Weiss (whose drawings were lost), the American F.W. Goudy, and the Englishman H.G. Carter, were abortive. A radical step forward was made in the Ha-Ẓevi family of typefaces (Jerusalem Type Foundry), which were designed by Ẓevi Hausmann in collaboration with M. Spitzer. Based on a quasi-sans serif style, it went back to old letter shapes and reduced the overdecoration which had crept into Hebrew letter design in the course of centuries. In this way it achieved a modern appearance, but (being in its light rendering a book face) available for hand composition only, it could not be used for book work. The David Hebrew, a letter built on somewhat similar principles but more cursive, was designed by Ismar David with some help from M. Spitzer, and is available on Intertype; it is used in book work and allows for a very light look of the page in contrast to the heavy look traditional in Hebrew printing. Other new types are a modern renewal of the Ashkenazi letter by Henry Friedlaender, Hadassah (Amsterdam Type Foundry), also available on Intertype; Franziska Baruch's Schocken-Hebrew (Monotype); Z. Korngold's Koren (Deberny et Peignot, Paris), a traditional letter useful for traditional literature; and Ẓvi Narkis' Narkis Hebrew on Linotype. As a result of the progress of photo setting new faces were created. The general appearance of Hebrew typographical work – which in the present day covers the whole range of printing from belles-lettres through scholarly and technical literature to art books, periodicals of all sorts, and a very wide range of commercial printing – will go on changing. Some substantial advances in bibliophile book production have also taken place.


A.M. Habermann, Ha-Sefer ha-Ivri be-Hitpatteḥuto (1968), includes a comprehensive bibliography; M. Spitzer, in: Alei Ayin; Minḥat Devarim le S.Z. Schocken (1952), 481–501; D.W. Amram, The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1909); A. Freimann, Thesausus Typographiae Hebraicae Saeculi xv (1924–31, 1968); M. Marx, in: huca, 11 (1936), 427–501; J. Prijs, Die Basler hebraeischen Drucke (1964); H. Omont, Spécimens de Caractères Hebreux Gravés à Venise et à Paris par Guillaume Le Bé (1887); M. Steinschneider and D. Cassel, Juedische Typographie und juedischer Buchhandel (1938); C. Enschedé, Fonderies de Caractéres et leur Matériel dans les Pays Bas du xve au xixe Siècle (1908); Soncino Blaetter (1925–30).

[Maurice Moshe Spitzer]


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ty·pog·ra·phy / tīˈpägrəfē/ • n. the art or process of setting and arranging types and printing from them. ∎  the style and appearance of printed matter. DERIVATIVES: ty·pog·ra·pher / -fər/ n. ty·po·graph·ic / ˌtīpəˈgrafik/ adj. ty·po·graph·i·cal / ˌtīpəˈgrafikəl/ adj. ty·po·graph·i·cal·ly / ˌtīpəˈgrafik(ə)lē/ adv.


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typography Practice of designing typefaces and type styles mainly for use in printed texts. Typography is widely used in experimental, progressive art and design, as well as conventional publishing. Movements that have revolutionized typography include futurism, Dadaism, and surrealism. Individuals include Eric Gill and Moholy-Nagy. The term also refers to the art of fine printing itself. See also Dada; typesetting

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