Finding Aldus

At his Aldine press, founded in Venice in 1494, pioneering publisher Aldus Pius Manutius established the modern use of the semicolon, commissioned the Bembo and Garamond fonts, and created the first italic typeface. He is perhaps best known for pioneering a portable book size, the precursor to the paperback. Unfortunately, no one is certain exactly where his press was located.

In 2015, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Aldus’s death, New York’s Grolier Club, a storied society of bibliophiles, staged an exhibition celebrating his accomplishments. At the show’s opening party, Johannes Knoops, associate professor of Interior Design, heard an intriguing opinion from George Fletcher, one of the curators: Fletcher, along with four other Aldus scholars, thought that  the two plaques identifying the site of the press, placed in 1828 and 1877, were in the wrong location. They believed the press had operated in a building down the street. Knoops decided to investigate. By studying historical maps and writings, and with some deduction of his own, he built a sturdy case in favor of that nearby location.

A monthlong residency from the Cini Foundation and an FIT faculty grant brought him back to Venice in 2017 to continue his research, and a yearlong sabbatical for the 2018–19 academic year will enable him to finish the project. He aims to publish his findings, convince the city to relocate the plaques, and design a contemporary memorial for Manutius in keeping with the great printer’s legacy.