Looking back is as easy as looking forward. So it is not difficult to see why the Hypnerotomachia Polyphili is one of the greatest books ever published – in 1499.
The maker was Aldus Manutius. He was the greatest publisher of his age and one of the great innovators of all time. He invented the pocketbook and the italic.
To create a book like the Hypnerotomachia an influence from outside was needed. A writer – and probably a mecenas who paid for it – who told the publisher how he wanted it and why.
It’s illustrations and the way they were integrated in the text where something completely new.
Erhard Ratdolt. Unsung but of the greatest importance as a printer and a publisher.
Ratdolt came from Augsburg but spend most of his working life in Venice where he published some of the most important books of the 15th century. His edition of Euclid was the first and at the same time something completely new: a book that was created on the printing press instead of being illustrated by hand as most of the books at that time.
Ratdolt returned to Augsburg where he probably had a happy time with old friends, creating books almost as if he was a private press in our days.
Sometimes a printer can be seminal – and hardly noticed in his own time although his influence was enourmous. Geoffroy Tory was one of these. A printer we consider now as one of the most important French publishers and designers of the 16th century.
Now historians can trace the influence of his designs, like those small trickles that in the end make great rivers. In his own time he was probably not taken quite serious. A woodcutter whose designs were pleasing and sold well, even if they did not resemble the rest. A designer of typefaces whose ideas seemed out of tune – then. Today we can see that he was harbinger of things that were to come.