Strange "p" from Griffo in Bembo's De Aetna

ivan louetteivan louette Posts: 327
edited November 2020 in History of Typography
Hi, I would be interested to have some advices about a surprizing /p sparsely found in the beautiful "The Aetna", and that seemingly without logic. It looks like a /P with the proportions of a /p.
My references are these two documents : and . The first example occurs on the seventh line at page two.


  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,073
    Obviously, it's pi, but I'm sure you knew that.
    Given, however, that Aldus' Roman type was one of the very first Roman types in existence, the question of where that form of the lowercase p came from certainly is an interesting one.
    It's not an upside-down d. The lower-case p in Jenson's type didn't look like that. Aldus did have a small capital alphabet, but that doesn't help either.
    And, of course, Aldus' Greek was very cursive, so it clearly didn't come from there.
  • I forgot pi ! :) But this isn't its function here and at the other places where it replaces /p in De Aetna.
  • Thomas LinardThomas Linard Posts: 17
    edited November 2020
    Strange, it isn't ꝓ either.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,073
    But this isn't its function here and at the other places where it replaces /p in De Aetna.
    I didn't mean the Greek letter; since you said it occurs "seemingly without logic", I presumed a lowercase p from the wrong font fell into the typecase.
  • @John Savard  Yes perhaps… But which font ? We are at the very beginning of true roman characters, Griffo works for Manuce, that's a few years after Nicolas Jenson and its very different /P and I don't know anything close to that, except Manuce capitals /P. However nudging a /P to this location is technically nearly impossible ! :smiley:

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,073
    However nudging a /P to this location is technically nearly impossible !

    There you are, you've solved the mystery!

    There's one kind of capital P which could be easily placed in that position. A capital P from a titling font.

    That, however, would have to have a smaller point size, so if it was pi, it would be quickly noticed. So, instead, this is being deliberately used because the typesetter has run out of lowercase p!
  • ivan louetteivan louette Posts: 327
    edited November 2020
    I think Griffo has engraved titling fonts for Manuce. Or somewhat close to titling fonts. What is sure is that Manuce used several characters sizes ! Thus that could be possible.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,366
    edited November 2020
    Oh, interesting! I thought titling fonts were a much later invention.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,073
    As it happens, I went on a web search for incunabula and stuff like that to see if I could find an answer to the question. I re-visited this page, which I think I first saw because it was mentioned here:

    and quite late on the page is "one of the largest fifteenth-century romans" by Ratdolt, in the Sylloge by Conrad Peutinger, and it is noted that the font in question is caps-only. Apparently as a result of that, and not necessarily the lack of a beard, it's referred to on that page as a titling font.
    At least, that's the impression I got from the context, but the lines are close enough together that there really isn't quite enough room for generous "art line" type descenders, so maybe it could be an actual titling font from that period.

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,073
    edited November 2020
    It turns out that "Sylloge" is a generic term, and the actual work in question is titled Romanae Vetustatis Fragmenta in Augusta. Thus, I was able to find the work, and to provide an image from another page of it so as to avoid the need to follow the link I gave and look for the right part of that page.
    Having the entire document in hand, as it were, I went through it to find out if I could find information that would help to settle the question of whether this was "really" a titling font.
    First, I looked for the letter Q, to see if the space between the lines was just enough to allow its tail to fit.
    That turned out to be far from the case. But at the end of the work, in a colophon identifying the printer, there was a superscript S (presumably as an abbreviation for "-us") that showed that, indeed, there was no space to spare:
    On the other hand, I also found something which contradicted one of the basic assumptions on which I based my view of the font as being a true titling font:
    I had thought that descenders in the era of incunabula were always the old-fashioned full-sized kind familiar from the type of Jenson and Aldus, and short, stubby descenders of the type that caused pain to such noted type designers as Frederic Goudy were an invention of the Ninteenth Century.
    This sample of the regular upper- and lower- case font used in the same book shows how wrong I was about that; the space between capital letters on successive lines here is quite comparable to that of the "titling" font.
  • I was wrong about Alde Manuce (the older) using titling font, or even small caps : this kind of things occurs only in the publications of his son Paul a long time later !
  • What pi are you talking about, if it's not π?
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    edited November 2020
    Pi-ing: Any accidental mix-up, scattering or confusing of the proper order or arrangement of words or lines of type that have been composed.
    —Carl Brett, Howarth & Smith’s New Standards for Printed Words, Toronto, 1968
  • @Nick Shinn However it's not completely accidental here. There are number of occurrences of this replacement in this small book, and at any place in the word.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,073
    More specifically, one has "pied type" whenever one has put type for the wrong character in the typecase. This can happen because two different letters look similar.
  • kfeuerhermkfeuerherm Posts: 4
    I'm looking at that text now. I see a few variations on that P as well as a few others (slanted lower serif, shorter descender). I've noticed apparently variations on a few other characters as well.
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