A glossary of the key terms associated with printers’ ornaments. The definitions will also be useful for those wishing to learn more about the types of ornaments contained in Fleuron: A Database of Eighteenth-Century Printers’ Ornaments.

The definitions are taken from Michael F. Suarez, S.J. and H. R. Woudhuysen (eds), The Oxford Companion to the Book (Oxford, 2010), by kind permission of the editors.


"The oldest intaglio printing process, first used in the 15th century. Although sometimes loosely applied to intaglio techniques in general, the term refers most specifically to line-engraving, the principal tool of which is the burin (also called a graver), a lozenge-shaped steel rod with an obliquely sharpened point. Its wooden handle, sculpted to fit in the palm of the hand, allows the engraver to apply sufficient pressure to push the burin forward into a metal plate, ploughing out a V-shaped groove with uneven ends and sides; these can later be smoothed with scrapers and burnishers to the crisp precision associated with the finest engraving. Cross-hatched lines and flecks made with the burin can be combined with marks made by other engraving tools, such as roulettes, rockers, and drypoint needles, to create various linear and tonal effects. Changing the pressure and angle of the burin affects the depth and width of the incised lines, which will be filled with ink and printed usually on a rolling press, reproducing the engraved text or image in reverse. Copper plates predominated until the 19th century, when steel and steel-faced plates were introduced. Their potential for larger press runs made them economically preferable, especially for the book trade."


"[Lat., 'do everything'] A block or plate with an empty space in the centre, into which a type, types, another block, or a plate, can be fitted, so that all print together.

Most often used with enlarged initials in mid-16th to mid-18th century books, it allowed one decorative surround to serve any letter. Related to a passe-partout block or a title-page compartment [3], which are border blocks made to surround other blocks or text, it is also related to composite blocks, which, however, sit side by side rather than one within another."


"A type ornament resembling a stylised flower, used for decoration. Type fleurons (sometimes called printers’ flowers) have been used since the late 15th century to embellish page borders, chapter headings, or tailpieces."


"An illustration, ornament, or other kind of decoration placed at the head (top) of a title page, chapter, or other page of a book."


"Large capital letter at the beginning of a paragraph or section [...] Woodcut initials were used profusely in the 16th century, even for cheap books. Engraved initials (chiefly pictorial), a rarity in the late 16th century, joined woodcut ones in the 17th century for more expensive books, and were used by all the leading European presses from the opening of the Imprimerie royale in 1640 until the French Revolution. The ascendancy of the school of classical printers led to the demise of initials by 1800, revived only by private presses (notably the Kelmscott Press) and artists like Beardsley."


See Relief


"Relief cut of wood or metal, used by printers for decorative purposes when printing letterpress texts. Ornaments can take the form of headpieces (found at the beginnings of chapter or other sections of a book) and fleurons, tailpieces (found at the end of chapter or other sections of a book), initials (the large initials at the start of opening paragraphs), or factotums (ornamental pieces in which space is left for the type of any letter of the alphabet to be dropped in). In the first hundred years or so of printing ornaments were almost exclusively made from woodcuts, but were gradually cast from metal from the early 16th century onwards. They normally took their decorative style from Renaissance trends in ornamentation, often being naturalistic in character, and sometimes in-corporating putti, flora, fauna, and occasionally lettering.

Bibliographers study ornaments to make such determinations as the identification of printer, or the date of the item in which the ornament is found. Evidence of wear is important when examining ornaments; wooden ornaments will show the effects of repeated use, becoming worn, cracked, and broken more easily than metal ones. When the same evidence of wear can be shown to develop over time, it can be used to order a series of undated pieces. Because ornaments could be reused by other printers and were often traded, loaned, and copied, the interpretation of the evidence they supply may be problematic. In colonial America, a number of printers shared a small stock of ornaments until domestic manufacture provided increasing variety."


"Ornament at the foot of a page or the end of a section of a book (e.g. at the end of a chapter)."


"Relief printing, also sometimes referred to as letterpress, involves taking a print or an impression from a raised surface, which transfers its ink to create text and/or image on another surface. By contrast, intaglio transfers its text from a lowered surface."


"Straight printed line used for demarcation purposes, or the strip of metal (usually brass) that produces it. Single- or double-ruled borders often surround 17th- and 18th-century title-pages, with single rules separating individual elements on the page. Within texts, rules divide sections, text from footnotes, and sometimes headlines from text."

Woodblock Printing

"Printing images, text, or patterns by means of wooden blocks, usually inked on the relief surface. [The block is] placed face-up in a press, printed simultaneously and juxtaposed with text. Fruitwood blocks cut along the grain with a knife produce woodcuts; denser blocks of boxwood cut on the end-grain with a burin produce wood engravings. Blocks of metal produce metalcuts."