Rare Books and Special Collections at the Catholic University of America

What's in a name?

This blog is named after the Roman typeface Ascendonica, designed in the 16th century by Robert Granjon, but first appearing in a type specimen book in the 1628 Indice de caratteri ... issued by the Stamperia Vaticana, one of several official printing presses of the Holy See. (for a modern facsimile of the Indice see: Brogiotti, Andrea, and Hendrik D. L. Vervliet. 1968. The type specimen of the Vatican press 1628. Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger.)


In the 16th and 17th century (before the point system was developed) type bodies were given names based on the size of the type and reflecting the printed output for which they were employed. (For instance Gros Canon was used for the large text in Missals or other liturgical books, while Brevier probably got its name from the smaller texts and breviaries for which it was used. Ascendonica falls in between, and is the name of a robust Roman type, probably the largest size ordinarily used for text, and corresponding to the English Double Pica (about 24 points in modern printing parlance).
(Specimen shown reproduced from: Updike, Daniel Berkeley. 1962. Printing types: their history, forms, and use; a study in survivals. 3rd ed. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press).

The Rare Books and Special Collections department preserves a large number of volumes from the Stamperia Vaticana (which served the Vatican Library) and associated printing houses which supported the administration of the Papal States or the evangelical efforts of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Many of these books reside in the Clementine Collection, formerly the library of the Albani family of Rome and Urbino. An effort to catalog this collection is underway.

Other major holdings of Rare Books and Special Collections include incunabula (books printed before 1501), medieval codex manuscripts and documents, several thousand 16th-century imprints as well as STC books, and a growing collection of books about books. Additional subject strengths include canon and Roman law, botany, the Knights of Malta, as well as theology and Church history.

1 comment:

  1. Rare books are sometimes put away with no indication of how valuable they are. It would be good if the people who buy them always made an attempt to trace the previous owners of these collectibles.

    Tracking the former owners of expensive books would probably make it possible to find other unusual items in the same category.

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