Lefevre 1883, best 19th century French printers’ manual


One of the most important printers’ manuals of the nineteenth century, distinguished by superb wood-engravings of composition, correcting and imposition.

Please do get in touch if you would like to purchase this or would like more information:  roger@rogergaskell.com.

 LEFEVRE, Théotiste (1798–1887)

Guide pratique du compositeur d’imprimerie typographes, suivi de notions précsis sur les divers clichages, et sur la galvanoplastie … Nouvelle édition, augmentée et refondue en unseul volume.

Paris: Librairie de Firmin-Didot frères, 1883.

8vo, pp. xvi, 756. Woode-engravings printed in the text. Folding tables at pp. 556 and 676. 7 wood-engraved plates at the end of vol. II, of which II and VII are double page, included in the pagination.

Condition:  236 x 154mm. A good clean copy.

Binding: Contemporary quarter morocco over marbled boards, marbled endleaves, sprinkled edges. A little scuffed and board edges worn.  

Provenance: Small bookplate with monogram ‘M.D’ in initation of type, unidentified.  

Second edition. First printed as 2 volumes, 1855 and 1872, the present edition has an additional preface and is ‘augmenté de deux feuilles environ’ (i.e. 36 pages).  References. Barber pp. 22 and 24; Bigmore and Wyman I, p. 428.

One of the most important printing manuals of the nineteenth century. It has been described as ‘one of the most thoroughly practical ever issued from the French printing press’ (Bigmore and Wyman); and ‘a mine of information on both current and past practice in composition’ (Barber).

Volume I is, as the title states, a composition manual, dealing with composition, proof-reading, correction and imposition; but the complete work is much more than this. Volume II contains a detailed account of the Stanhope press and machine presses; the impression; inking rollers; stereotype; electrotype; the rôle of the ‘prote’ (master printer) and his relations with authors, editors, compositors and correctors; an appendix to volume I; and a short history of printing illustrated with 7 wood-engravings of presses from Ascensius to Alauzet.

Volume I contains a series of 22 remarkably vivid wood-engravings of composition, correction, and imposition by Jacques-Adrien Lavielle, one of the best wood-engravers of the 1830’s school (Benezit). The first is signed ‘Marc’ (?) and ‘Lavieille’; the rest are signed with a monogram, M over an inverted V, as in the initial on the first cut. I have not identified this artist. For more on these illustrations see my post illustrations of typesetting at Firmin Didot in 1855. There are two workaday cuts of machines on p. 95. Volume II has wood-engraved illustrations of the parts of the Stanhope press and diagrams of the working of machine presses; a series of 6 plates showing the progressive stages in making-ready a wood-engraved block; a specimen of black and red printing (the two printings separate and combined); several other text illustrations and 7 wood-engraved plates of hand and machine presses at the end.

‘For more than fifty years [i.e. from about 1830] the author has distinguished himself in every branch of typography… In 1835 he was called in by Messrs. Didot to assist in the formation of the new printing establishment at Mesnil, near Dreux, which has since become one of the most important offices in France… Nearly everything is done by women.. peasant girls, who have been taught to read and compose in French, Latin, and Greek, as well as to stereotype, and to lay on and take off at machine. Even the chief part of the copperplate engravings required for Firmin-Didot’s large and numerous books is executed by women. The volume presents the experience gained in teaching such a peculiar class of operatives, and is one of the most thoroughly practical ever issued from the French printing press.’ (Bigmore and Wyman.)