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The Collation

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.

  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.

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. — September 23, 2011

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…..

Erin Blake — September 23, 2011