Erhard Ratdolt, type designer & master typographer by Nicholas Fabian.
Type designer & master typographer
Erhard Ratdolt, Type Designer

by Nicholas Fabian

Erhard Ratdolt of Augsburg Germany was a great master printer, type designer, and the most creative typographer of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. From c.1474 to 1486 he worked in Venice as one of three partners in a syndicate, printing many fine books for the sophisticated Venetian taste. Ratdolt returned home and produced the first printer's type specimens sheet with a beautiful decorative initial and 15 different fonts to announce the occasion.

Type specimen

The first type specimens sheet in the world, showing rotunda, roman, and Greek typefaces in various sizes. Dated April 1, 1486 printed (probably in Venice) by Erhard Ratdolt.

A closeup of one of Ratdolt's roman type from the 1486 type specimens sheet.

Ratdolt specialized in missals, liturgical works, calendars, astronomical, astrological, and mathematical subjects, and often included masterful diagrams to illustrate the text. He not only introduced the first type specimens sheet, he also produced the first decorated title page for books, in 1476. Primitive title pages were used occasionally to protect the printed matter starting in 1463 ("Bul zu deutch" printed by Schöeffer in Mainz), 1470, and 1473.

The beautiful decorative "white wine" initials in his books, which had such a great influence on William Morris, were probably the work of one Ratdolt's associate, Peter Löslein, while the borders and pictorial illustrations were done by his other associate, Bernhard Maler. Euclid's "Elements of Geometry" printed in 1482 is a classic example of his publishing style.

Elements of Geometry

Page fragment from Euclid's "Elements of Geometry" printed by Erhard Ratdolt in 1482, which became William Morris's reference source for his "while-wine" decorative borders.

Erhard Ratdolt died in 1527 or 1528. He left a legacy of both artistic and technical excellence for all generations to follow. When we stand next to him in the spotlight of history, we are standing in the shadow of a giant, a master craftsman, a type designer, and a truly creative typographer.

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