Printers’ ornaments date to the earliest days of printing, when they approximated the elaborate borders, flourishes, and initial letters of manuscripts, but by the eighteenth century they had developed their own iconography and become part of the particular visual identity of the printed book. This talk will argue that we have forgotten how to interpret printers’ ornaments, and lost complex meanings that were available to readers in the hand press period. Using examples including sixteenth-century prayer books, the works of Alexander Pope, and an eighteenth-century engraver’s own account of making ‘Slips & Taylpieces & FACS’, the talk shows how we can recover the “grammar of ornament”.
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