Engraving type from drawings (1702)

From the time of Gutenberg, until the end of the 17th century, the shape of letters was created by the punch-cutter when the punch was being cut. Following Louis XIV's commission of a typeface for the Imprimerie royale, the Academy of Sciences set up a committee, led by the abbé Bignon, to establish a rational method for creating an alphabet. Leaving behind the calligraphic tradition that up to then had provided the source for type creation, the committee created a grid consisting of 2,304 squares and, using rulers and a compass, defined an alphabet. The cutting of the punches was then entrusted to Philippe Grandjean (1666–1717), who drew heavily on the committee's designs for the creation of the Romain du Roi (1702), without slavishly copying them. Henceforth, creating type was no longer an acquired empirical expertise inspired by calligraphic practice, but rather knowledge established by learned experts.

Henceforth, creating type was no longer an acquired empirical expertise inspired by calligraphic practice, but rather knowledge established by learned experts.

Producing texts by hand (or by copperplate engraving, calligraphy's technical counterpart) required costly materials and large amounts of time, but letters could take on a wide variety of shapes. Typography, on the other hand, tended to standardise book hands by placing both material and technical constraints on type production. As a counterpart to this “intellectualization” of type production, the measurement system adopted by printers became standardized, with the adoption of the ”point” system – initially that of Fournier, and later that of Didot. It was also during this period that the first typography manuals appeared, which compiled and passed on rules and usages that up to then had been transmitted from one worker to another.

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