A New Year’s gift for Plantin

The sample book made by Jan Moretus (1575)

By Kristof Selleslach, archivist at the Museum Plantin-Moretus

The Moretuses upheld the tradition of season’s greetings. Jan Moretus presented his father-in-law Christopher Plantin bulky samplings of the Officina Plantiniana’s printed matter as a New Year’s gift. We only know some Plantin imprints because they were included in the sample books.

On 1 January 1575, Jan Moretus presented his employer and father-in-law with a very special New Year’s gift. From the last decade’s Officina Plantiniana’s production, he compiled a sample book of 160 editions. This corresponds to twenty-two percent of the total production in this period according to The Plantin Press, Leon Voet’s bibliography of all Plantin editions. Jan Moretus mostly limited himself to the first quires of the editions, but he included twenty entire thin editions in the bulky binding. He gave the whole volume the Latin title Theatri flosculorum Plantinianae officinae pars prima (first part of the theatre of the Plantin Press’s blossoms). The title suggests that Jan Moretus had the intention to compose several parts. As far as we know, it ended with this ‘pars prima’ (first part).

Title page of Theatri flosculorum Plantinianae officinae pars prima (MPM Arch. 1230, fol. [1] recto)
Title page of Theatri flosculorum Plantinianae officinae pars prima (MPM Arch. 1230, fol. [1] recto)
Title page of Theatri flosculorum Plantinianae officinae pars prima (MPM Arch. 1230, fol. [1] recto)

Even with this one part, we can call this sample book of the Officina Plantiniana quite impressive. With a thickness of over 10 centimeters, it became a heavy folio volume. All quires were only folded once rather than the number of times actually needed for the specific format of the editions included. For the binding, Jan Moretus recovered the manuscript of a medieval antiphonary. In the past, vellum manuscripts had an entirely different value for the Plantin Press. They were recycled to stretch the friskets and tympans of the printing presses. The printing workshop kept a large stock for this purpose. More than four centuries later, the binding does not look so fresh anymore. The vellum has become heavily darkened, and numerous ink stains mar the old antiphonary’s musical notes. Today the New Year’s gift is known under the inventory number Arch. 1230. In response to this blog post, we have fully digitised the volume.

The front board of Theatri flosculorum […] pars prima made from a recycled vellum manuscript of a medieval antiphonary
The front board of Theatri flosculorum […] pars prima made from a recycled vellum manuscript of a medieval antiphonary
The front board of Theatri flosculorum […] pars prima made from a recycled vellum manuscript of a medieval antiphonary (MPM Arch. 1230)

The title page is followed by a Latin dedication by Jan Moretus to his father-in-law Christopher Plantin. Moretus was married in 1570 to Plantin’s second daughter Martina. By New Year’s Day 1575, the couple had already presented three grandsons to Grandpa Christopher and Grandma Jeanne Rivière. Jan and Martina had named them after the Epiphany Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Eight more children would follow. In total, only five children of Jan and Martina reached adulthood.

In the dedication, Jan Moretus immediately clarified the origin of the quires. In this way he assured his father-in-law that he had not plundered the valuable stock for the gift. For the composition, Jan Moretus had drawn from the stock of defects. The printing process produced a number of imperfect prints. And if a customer complained about an incomplete copy, the missing quires were sent after. Afterwards the Officina Plantiniana kept the remaining quires of the then-incomplete copies for the after-sales service.

Further on in the dedication, Jan Moretus explained the purpose of the New Year’s gift. He aimed to exhibit the enormous variety of works that the Officina Plantiniana had printed and published. The sample book also gave an overview of the typefaces owned by the Officina. Plantin was a devotee of beautiful typefaces and had already built up a nice collection at that time. With the sample book, Jan Moretus wanted to praise the qualities and merits of the Officina Plantiniana.

Incipit of Jan Moretus’s dedication to Christopher Plantin, 1 January 1575 (MPM Arch. 1230, fol. [2] recto)
Incipit of Jan Moretus’s dedication to Christopher Plantin, 1 January 1575 (MPM Arch. 1230, fol. [2] recto)
Incipit of Jan Moretus’s dedication to Christopher Plantin, 1 January 1575 (MPM Arch. 1230, fol. [2] recto)

After the dedication to Plantin followed the handwritten index of the titles compiled by Jan Moretus. With an asterisk, he indicated which editions he had included in full in the sample book. An analysis of the content quickly reveals that the sample book is much more than a medley of Plantin imprints. Some of the editions in these quires are the only ones known to have been preserved worldwide. Amid these unique editions is one of the earliest printed texts concerning Dutch grammar. Plantin published the first edition of Cort onderwys van de acht deelen der Françoischer talen (Brief instruction of the eight parts of the French language) in 1571.* This French-Dutch schoolbook by Peeter Heyns explains the rules of French grammar from a Dutch perspective, and is therefore indirectly also a Dutch grammar.

Peeter Heyns, Cort onderwys van de acht deelen der Françoischer talen, Antvverpen, Christoffel Plantyn, 1571, 8vo
Peeter Heyns, Cort onderwys van de acht deelen der Françoischer talen, Antvverpen, Christoffel Plantyn, 1571, 8vo
Peeter Heyns, Cort onderwys van de acht deelen der Françoischer talen, tot voorderinge en[de] profijt der Duytscher ioncheyt, Antvverpen, Christoffel Plantyn, 1571, 8vo (MPM Arch. 1230, fol. 494 recto)

Only the first two quires, A and B (32 pages), of this schoolbook in octavo format are included in the sample book. Presumably the full edition included 3.5 or 4 sheets (resp 56 or 64 pages). According to the Journeymen’s Ledger, printer Georg van Spangenberg was paid on 3 June 1571 for the printing of quires C and D, whereby the last quire may have taken only half a sheet.

Account of Georg van Spangenberg in the Journeymen’s Ledger 1563–1576 (MPM Arch. 31, fol. 177 verso)
Account of Georg van Spangenberg in the Journeymen’s Ledger 1563–1576 (MPM Arch. 31, fol. 177 verso)
Account of Georg van Spangenberg in the Journeymen’s Ledger 1563–1576 (MPM Arch. 31, fol. 177 verso)

Other examples of unique copies in the sample book are Alexander Hepburn’s Latin grammar (1568) and the Counter-Reformation pamphlet Een catholijcke vvederroepinge van leelicke ketterijen van S[ign]or Jan Mattheo Grillo edelman van Salerne (a Catholic retraction of ugly heresies by Giammatteo Grillo nobleman of Salerno; 1569).

Regardless of their content, a feature relating to the form of the bound editions is very special. The quires were folded only once to fit into the bulky folio volume. In this way they reveal the imposition of numerous Plantin editions. Especially with regard to the smaller formats, there is discussion about how the pages were arranged in the form. The sample book also contains the quire of the smallest book ever printed by Plantin. According to Leon Voet’s bibliography, the 1570 Kalendarium was printed in the 64to format. Frans A. Janssen was able to prove by means of the unfolded quire in the sample book that it was actually printed in the 128vo format.** However, this does not mean that the sheet was folded seven times to obtain the 256 pages. After printing, the sheet was cut into sixteen separate sub-quires (A-Q) of eight folios that were bound one after the other. You can clearly see on the sheet that the compositor has left extra white space on the cutting lines.

Kale[n]darium, Antuerpiæ, exc. C. Plantinus, 1570, 128vo (MPM Arch. 1230, fol. 462 verso — 463 recto)
Kale[n]darium, Antuerpiæ, exc. C. Plantinus, 1570, 128vo (MPM Arch. 1230, fol. 462 verso — 463 recto)

A year later, on 1 January 1576, Jan Moretus gave his father-in-law an even more impressive New Year’s gift. The Theatrum typographicum Plantinianae officinae is a scrapbook with hundreds of title pages and book illustrations from the Plantin Press. The title pages are arranged by subject. Moretus began with the most prestigious work ever printed by the Plantin Press, namely the Bible in the five original languages (Biblia Regia). This was followed by title pages of liturgical books and theological works. Toward the end, Moretus stuck the botanical woodcuts of Dodoens and the anatomical engravings of Valverde in the monumental scrapbook. Jan Moretus also put a great deal of enthusiasm into the gift’s title page, which he made to resemble a printed title page as much as possible. He carved out a real engraving of Plantin’s printer’s mark with the Golden Compass and pasted it on the reserved place on the title page.

Title page of Theatrum typographicum Plantinianae officinae (MPM Arch. 1228, fol. [1] recto)
Title page of Theatrum typographicum Plantinianae officinae (MPM Arch. 1228, fol. [1] recto)

Just like the year before, he had the whole work bound into a vellum manuscript of a medieval antiphonary. At 49 by 36 cm, the scrapbook was also considerably larger than the previous gift. This is why the bookbinder glued two sheets of vellum together to be used as binding. The gluing of the two vellum manuscripts with musical notation is clearly visible and runs vertically over the front board.

The front board of Theatrum typographicum made from two glued sheets of a recycled vellum antiphonary (MPM Arch. 1228)
The front board of Theatrum typographicum made from two glued sheets of a recycled vellum antiphonary (MPM Arch. 1228)
The front board of Theatrum typographicum made from two glued sheets of a recycled vellum antiphonary (MPM Arch. 1228)

After two consecutive New Year’s gifts, the early tradition abruptly broke down. For 1577 and the years thereafter, no gifts were recorded or preserved. The reason for this might have been the Spanish Fury — on 4 November 1577, mutinous soldiers were plundering and murdering in Antwerp. The next few days, Christopher Plantin and his family had some terrifying encounters. On three occasions they had to put out fires in the print workshop. No fewer than nine times, Plantin bought his life and that of his nearest and dearest with a heavy ransom. The Spanish merchant Luis Perez lent him the enormous sum of 2,867 florins. Fortunately, they all survived this great calamity. When the looting stopped, Plantin left for France. He was desperate for fresh capital to keep the printing workshop running and to repay Perez’s loan. It was not until April 1577 that Plantin returned to Antwerp with sufficient funds. During this period, Jan Moretus may have had other concerns than creating an appropriate New Year’s gift for his father-in-law. Plantin was not at home on New Year’s Day 1577 after all. Fortunately, the mutinous soldiers did not notice the New Year’s gifts from previous years. The sample book of the quires and the scrapbook of the title pages are still part of the fantastic Plantin-Moretus Archives today.

* For a recent introduction on the topic, see Alisa van de Haar, ‘Een Plantijnse grammatica herontdekt: Een onbekende editie van Peeter Heyns’ Cort onderwys (1591) komt aan het licht’ in De Gulden Passer, 98:1 (2020), 225–238 (free download available via https://www.bibliofielen.be/product/een-plantijnse-grammatica-herontdekt/)

** Frans A. Janssen, ‘The smallest format reinstated’ in Quærendo, 12:1 (1982), 80–81 (see https://brill.com/previewpdf/journals/qua/12/1/article-p80_6.xml)

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