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Book History 8 (2005) 1-10

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Intertwining Strengths

Simon de Colines and Robert Estienne

Among the printers who worked in Paris in the sixteenth century,1 two of the most intriguing and significant were Simon de Colines and Robert Estienne.2 Colines was a punchcutter, an expert on types. He became a printer in 1520 when, on the death of Henri Estienne, he took up direction of Estienne's workshop. Like Estienne before him, Colines became a libraire juré, a select printer to the university in Paris. Through the end of his career in 1546, he printed texts used in the study of the liberal arts, theology, and medicine, along with a range of titles of interest to a broader audience, including the Bible, Books of Hours, and much classical and contemporary literature. Colines produced a very large body of work, more than 750 editions over twenty-six years, many of them distinguished by his expertise with type. He was at the vanguard in the modernization of French typographical style, revising and improving extant fonts and introducing a series of new romans and italics that were to be influential.

Colines inherited not just the workshop of Henri Estienne, but also his wife and responsibility for his children.3 Three sons, François, Robert, and Charles, all were later involved in printing and publishing in Paris, adding to the accomplishments of what is often called the Estienne "dynasty" of printers. In 1526, Colines moved his rapidly expanding business into a new workshop a few doors up the street on the rue St. Jean de Beauvais. He witnessed the marriage of Robert Estienne to Perette Badius, the daughter [End Page 1] of another university printer, and helped set up Robert as an independent, rather than a university, printer in the original Estienne workshop.

Scholars have assumed that Simon de Colines and Robert Estienne subsequently had quite separate careers, perhaps even becoming competitors in the trade. Many of the authors and texts found in the more than 500 editions produced by Robert Estienne are identical with Colines's, and his characterization as a "scholar-printer" is sometimes taken as implying that his books, too, were made principally for university students and scholars.4 Some historians also have argued that the two men were rivals in the context of fonts.5 Estienne's commission of Claude Garamond in the 1540s to cut a series of royal Greek types,6 for instance, has been taken as evidence of a typographical practice separate from Colines's. In turn, it has fostered the notion that Estienne earlier had had Garamond cut both his roman types and the italic he began to use in the early 1540s. The portrait of the relationship between Simon de Colines and Robert Estienne that emerges in the literature is thus very nearly archetypal: it envisions stepfather and stepson engaged in a kind of cultural combat and competition with each other.

It is dramatic and compelling, and, like most scholars, I had thought it valid until the process of exploring the development and use of Colines's fonts began to argue otherwise. While similarities in their fonts had long been noted by type historians, digitally comparing some of them clearly establishes their identity.7 Some recent work on the gros canon, a distinctive display roman used by both men, indicates that these romans, too, are related to each other as states of a single font.8 Slight differences in the appearance of some of their fonts appear to originate in differences in production methods, rather than from the use of similar but separate fonts.

As the notion of a rivalry based on fonts began to wane, I reexamined the documentary evidence used in the construction of the archetypal portrait of their relationship. The key document contains Robert Estienne's sole surviving mention of Colines. It is his Réponse, a response to the censures of the Paris theologians he had published in 1552, after settling in Geneva.9 There, in the narrative of his trials with the theologians over his Bibles, he writes, in...


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