The Aldine Dolphin and Anchor

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A dolphin and anchor (copper plate) intaglio engraving sits elegantly among the text of the title page. This peculiar imagery and unfamiliar language are a printer’s mark, which is not an illustration, but instead an early version of a logo. It’s used as visual identification for the publishing firm, like a signature of the artist on the fine art piece that is my baby.

The dolphin and anchor symbol is called Festina Lente, which translates to “make haste slowly“. It is an oxymoron/classical phrase, implying that execution should be carried out with a balance of attentiveness to the design and urgency in production. In other words, it’s efficiency through quality and time.

Other versions of the Festina Lente depict a rabbit in a snail shell, and a crab and a butterfly. This version was used by Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) as his printer’s mark. Aldus was an innovator, establishing a successful career in all aspects of bookmaking, from the development of italicized typeface, the adaptation of the semicolon, and introducing a portable book format. A humanist, Aldus dedicated his production, both beautiful and affordable, to classical literature for the common good.

Festina Lente alludes to his printmaking approach. Printing, considered a relatively quick process that allows for financial profit relative to the production pace, is actually slow and methodical, requiring attentiveness to produce a quality product. Therefore, the slow (anchor) and the fast (dolphin) printing process characteristics equally contribute to Aldus’s reputation as a celebrated printmaker, respected well into the nineteenth century.

By using the printer’s mark, Pickering paid respect to the fifteenth century Venetian Renaissance printmaker, while also associating his publishing firm with Aldus’s high quality and efficiency in printmaking. In summary, the printer’s mark is a comment on Pickering’s standards, the words Aldi Discip. Anglus translating directly to “The English disciple of Aldus”.

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