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The Collation

V and U in 17th-century Flemish book titles

For many years bibliographers in Flanders have been speculating about the use of “V” in the place of “U” on title pages of early modern hand-press books. For the occasion of this blog post, I decided “TO TAKE VP THE GAVNTLET” in figuring out whether my friend Diederik Lanoye was right when he insisted that “everything happened in the sixties!”

A Latin title page from 1602 (left) and one from 75 years later (right): The former has “V” representing “U” while the latter does not.

A Latin title page from 1602 (left) and one from 75 years later (right): the former has “V” representing “U” while the latter does not.

When it comes to books printed in Flanders, we all agree that title pages from the beginning of the 17th century have a different disposition than those printed a century later. One of the things that change is the use of the uppercase “V” and “U” throughout the title. In the beginning of the century, compositors often put a “V” on the composing stick where modern spelling would expect a “U.” In addition, “W” is often represented by a double “V.” The combination of both habits sometimes leads to, for us, very strange word images, such as “VROVVV” for “vrouw” (woman), or “TROVVV” for “trouw” (faithful, true; fidelity). Of course, this phenomenon does not go by unnoticed, especially when one has to render diplomatic transcriptions of these titles to enter them in an online bibliography. This V-for-U practice slowly fades away and becomes rare by the end of the 17th century. But exactly when does it happen? And why? 

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  2. See Steven van Impe & Jan Bos, “Romein en gotisch in zeventiende-eeuws drukwerk. Een voorbeeldonderzoek voor het gebruik van de STCN en STCV” in De zeventiende eeuw 22 (2006), pp. 283-297, esp. 292, graph 2b; Goran Proot, “De opmars van de romein. Het gebruik van romein en gotisch in Nederlandstalig drukwerk uit de zuidelijke Lage Landen, 1541-1700” in Jaarboek voor Nederlandse boekgeschiedenis 19 (2012), pp. 65-85. See also the YouTube video of the paper delivered in September 2011 on which this article was based.
  3. Goran Proot, “De opmars van de romein”, pp. 76-81.

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