By Will Noel
Almost all 15th-century printing materials have disappeared. A rare exception resulted from the survival of several hundred early types that were discovered in 1868 in the mud of the left bank of the Saône River in France. Scavengers who were searching for precious metals discarded by goldsmiths’ shops that formerly lined the riverside discovered them. Analysis of the various fonts represented by the types pointed to a single printing shop, that of Guillaume de Roy, active in Lyons from ca. 1473 forward.
Most of the recovered types came into the possession of the Paris book scholar and avid collector Seymour De Ricci. At his death in 1942, De Ricci bequeathed his collections, including the precious Lyons types, to the Bibliothèque Nationale. But in 1933 William H. Scheide, a Princeton freshman, had travelled to Paris with his father, and De Ricci invited them to lunch in his apartment. He showed them the famous Lyons types, and presented them with one of the types, a letter P.
Why stop at P? A smaller group of 21 of Guillaume de Roy’s types, from the same excavation, was owned by Gabriel Brassart of Montbrison; these later went to the typographic scholar Maurice Audin of Lyons, who published them in Gutenberg-Jahrbuch in 1954. In October 2021 this group came up for auction as a single lot offered by the DeBaecque firm in Lyons. Princeton was the successful bidder and remains the only known owner of 15th-century printing types in America. They are displayed in this video:
Of course, what we really need now is a book by Guillaume de Roy printed using these sorts. We are on the hunt!