Aldus Manutius joins my library

I have recently bid on Ebay for a 1515 Aldine of Aulus Gellius’ Noctes Atticarum which I have now won. The book arrived today, and to say it’s pretty would be an understatement.

Aldus’ printer’s mark showing the famous anchor and dolphin


The colophon on the last page, which illustrates the close link between these early printed editions and the manuscript culture from which they grew. It shows the font used, the collation (assemblage of quires), printer and date (September 1515)
The binding is 18th-century French vellum, strong and well-matured


From 1495, humanist and printer Aldus Manutius (1452 – 1515) had published more than 120 editions of Greek and Latin works in Venice, earning himself a reputation for quality and innovation. He was the first to print books in octavo (pocket size), to establish the use of the semicolon and to develop the italic script invented by Niccolò de’ Niccoli in the early 15th century. Editions printed by Aldus and his successors are referred to as ‘Aldine’.

The book I purchased was printed in 1515, the year Aldus died. For some years, his father-in-law had been working with him and that is why the colophon reads: Venetiis in Aedibus Aldi, et Andreae Soceri. ([printed] in Venice, in the workshop of Aldus and Andreas, his father-in-law). The Aldine press ran until 1597.

The first edition (editio princeps) of Aulus Gellius’ work was printed in Rome in 1469. Before the 1515 Aldine came out, Aldus had published another edition, which was not deemed good enough.

Aldines were often counterfeited, but usually the difference in script quality left no doubts as to which was the original, and which the pirated copy. Moreover, counterfeiters would often leave the colophon out altogether. This book is clearly not a child of these printer buccaneers, but to tell you the truth, a part of me wishes that were the case, for the book would be worth so much more.

A digitised copy of the 1515 edition from the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna is freely available through this link.

It is worth having a look at this virtual exhibition on Aldus and his books from Cambridge University here.

For all you Italian speakers, there’s a detailed article on Aldus from Treccani here

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