Printer's Marks, 1926-1927

J. Scott Williams (1887-1975) created the twenty-seven tinted glass panels found on the windows in the Reference Room and over the grand staircases in the Main Library. Each printers' mark is 48" x 30".

Beautifully tinted glass designs, colored primarily in soft grays, browns, and ambers and representing the marks of printers in France, Italy, Scotland, England, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, embellish twenty-seven of the library's second-floor windows. In the corners of the central panels, small patterns reproduce watermarks in the paper from manufacturers in the respective countries, even if the paper was not always used by the printer with whose mark they appear.

Printers' marks are trademarks, publishers' distinctive emblems appearing on a book's title page or, less frequently, in the colophon in the back. They came into use with the spread of literacy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the founding of universities, and the beginnings of humanist thought in the Renaissance. As books took on greater significance and printing presses grew to meet commercial and academic requirements, it became necessary for printers to protect against reputation-damaging forgeries by inventing or adapting individual and trade signs as identifying marks. The first known mark, from Fust and Schoffer's Mainz Psalter (1457), shows a broken twig supporting two shields and compositor's setting rules. Later devices include geometric designs, tools of trade, heraldic signs, ecclesiastical symbols, visual puns, house and street markers, mythological and real animals, and birds and people.

Collaborating on the choice of printers' marks for the windows of the newly erected university library building were J. Scott Williams, the artist; Charles A. Platt, the architect; and Phineas Windsor, the library director. Windsor submitted a list of possibilities, acknowledging that some of his selections might "not be artistic, but among scholars and well read people generally, I fear we would always have to be explaining why some of these names are omitted." Most of his suggestions made the final list, but five others that the architect liked, despite their relative unimportance, also were used. Original books produced by all but two of the twenty-seven printers represented (Dal Gesu and Thomas Davidson) are in the library's Rare Book Room, where a file that identifies them may be consulted.

Windsor advised special care in spelling and name forms. So crucial was this point, he emphasized, that "I am inclined to suggest that the designs or a photograph of them be sent for final checking before the windows are made. They will be scrutinized so critically that I think the utmost caution is worthwhile." He need not have worried. Few library patrons today are even aware that the printers' marks appear on the panes, as readers disturbed by sunlight cause librarians to draw Venetian blinds over the windows most of the time.

The library windows differ in several ways from medieval stained-glass windows. To produce the windows with a minimum use of leading, the artist combined painting, staining, firing, and etching techniques. The leading uniformly organizes the compositions rather than separating portions into fragmented compartments, as is typical in medieval windows where small glass mosaic pieces were used. The colors too are different. Here they are soft and watery, not resplendent and jewel-like. Williams wrote that he and the glass loft's craftsman determined what colors to employ by picking from the type, character, and color of glass available. They selected from imported German and English glass as well as French flash glass, which they etched with hydrofluoric acid to obtain the color desired. Flash glass is made by hand-blowing together different layers into the same sheet so that one colored layer of glass remains when the other layer is etched away by acid. The resulting Line between the two colors is sharp and clean, and the two colors show in one piece of glass that is quite vivid when light shines through.

Two of the windows are especially interesting. Directly opposite the Reference Room entrance is the only design Windsor thought might prove a source of embarrassment: the unauthentic combination of profiles of Gutenberg, Fust, and Schaffer with the twin-shield trademark of the latter two. Gutenberg, inventor of movable type and maker of there.nowned Gutenberg Bible, did not use a device. Fust and Schaffer, his successors, issued a Latin Psalter in 1457 that has the distinction of being the earliest book with a trademark and date, place, and typographer's name on it, and the third to be printed from movable type. "The three profiJes," wrote the library director in 1926, "unless carefully handled, may possibly become the butts of frivolous student jokers. Aside from this consideration I have no personal objection to the design."

Another mark is that of Badius Ascensius, Paris, located above one of the library's grand staircases. The earliest known illustration of a printing press, the mark appeared in 1507 and shows the press in action, at the instant the printer puts great effort into pulling the lever. This causes the screw to force the platen down upon the press, producing an impression upon the paper. ln the logo at the bottom of the mark are the initials "J B," which stand for Josse Bade, the printer's original, un-Latinized name.

Scott Williams taught at the University of Wyoming (1946-49) and exhibited fourteen times at the Art Institute of Chicago (1918-59). Examples of his murals, stained glass, and other works of art are in the Memphis Museum, the Indiana State Library, the Johns Hopkins University, and Yale University.

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