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Words by Michel Wlassikoff

Le Guide pratique du compositeur d’imprimerie by Théotiste Lefèvre

This essential manual for printers symbolized the dominance of Didot typography in the 19th century.
This essential manual for printers symbolized the dominance of Didot typography in the 19th century.
Le Guide pratique du compositeur d’imprimerie (“typesetter’s guide”) by Théotiste Lefèvre (1798–1887) is the counterpart of Fertel’s work, La science pratique de l’imprimerie, published 130 years earlier. For the author, it is a question of offering a synoptic manual of the various practices in the world of typography. The first part is devoted to the study of printing case, to the distribution of fonts and even to corrections on the marble. It is concluded by a long chapter “Observations on composition” which, as with Fertel, suggests the best layout solutions, from the title of a book to posters, including “jobbing works“ and administrative printed matter. The following chapter introduces reflections on taxation, and comments on particular issues: abbreviations, length and width of frontispieces, tables, etc. In conclusion, a sub-chapter is allocated to musical typography. A large chapter then opens which presents the compositions of Italian, Greek, Greek inscriptions, German, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, and their case layouts. Finally, the guide ends with the French case layout and a long illustrated development, entitled “Plan of impositions”. An appendix deals with “Typographical Vocabulary”. The whole constitutes an ode to the types of Firmin Didot, first and foremost the Romans and the italics, as well as the Anglaise and the Ronde. Lefèvre dedicates the work “to MM. Firmin Didot, Paul and Alfred. On their entry into the typographic career so worthily traveled by their family.” Nothing surprising when we know that he worked in the Firmin Didot Frères printing company for more than thirty years, starting as a simple composer and ending up as one of its directors. His Guide will be reissued several times and will become the Theotist, essential to those who wanted to know the profession of printer. It symbolizes the domination of Didot typography in the 19th century, in France and around the world.
Document : Théotiste Lefèvre, Le Guide pratique du compositeur d’imprimerie, Librairie de Firmin Didot frères, 1855 .
École Estienne library.

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