Yale Law Library’s earliest printed books: Lodovico Pontano’s Singularia iuris

Colophon, Pontano's Singularia iuris 1471
September 28, 2014

With this final installment on our earliest printed books, we will have covered all the early centers of printing in Italy: Rome, Naples, and now Venice.

Printing came to Venice in 1469 with Johann of Speyer and his brother Wendelin. Johann died soon after, but Wendelin continued printing until 1477. Venice, the commercial hub of Europe, soon became the pre-eminent center for printing, responsible for close to 15 percent of all 15th-century printing.

Wendelin of Speyer (“Vindelinus de Spira”) printed mainly texts from the classics, literature, and philosophy. One of the first law books he published is the one we own: the first edition of Lodovico Pontano’s Singularia utriusque iuris (Venice: Vindelinus de Spira, 1471). By the time his brief career was cut short by the plague, Lodovico Pontano (1409-1439) had taught law in the universities of Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Siena, served in the Roman Curia, and represented King Alfonso V of Aragon at the Council of Basel. “Singularia” are brief expositions of specific legal issues. Pontano’s Singularia iuris was the most popular of his works. It appeared in seventeen editions by 1500 and was included in fourteen compilations in the 16th century, the last in 1578.

As a typography geek, I love the type in this book (see below). It is one of the earliest uses of roman type, the style of type that is still the most prevalent in modern western books and periodicals. It is believed that Nicolas Jenson, the most important early type designer, designed this type for the Speyers.

— MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


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