{ subscribe_url:'//blogs.loc.gov/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/international-collections.php' }

In Harmony Small Things Grow: The Elzevir Family of Publishers and Printers

Elzevir printer’s mark. Second Floor, East Corridor. Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, DC. Photograph by Erika Spencer, 2019.

As reference librarians, we work hard to connect researchers with the materials they need, or might not even know they need. However, every now and then we pause to contemplate the first printers and publishers, without whom our jobs possibly would not exist. Such contemplation is particularly easy to do in the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building, where the second floor corridors are decorated with the names and marks of many early printers.

In a previous post, we discussed Christophe Plantin and his printer’s mark, or device, which shows a compass and the motto “Labore et Constantia” (Work and constancy). This was Plantin’s most famous device, although he used others as well. Similarly, another famous family of publishers from the Low Countries, the Elzevirs, used several marks over time. The one decorating the Jefferson building is perhaps the best known. An elm tree encircled by a grapevine, with a lone man standing on the side, plus the Latin expression, “Non Solus” (Not alone), is thought to refer to the relationship between publishers and scholars who cannot exist without each other. The man is variously known as the Hermit, the Sage, or the Solitaire, perhaps referring to the solitary pursuits of a scholar seeking wisdom.

Non Solus (Not alone). Detail from photograph by Erika Spencer, 2019.

From Joannes de Laet’s “Historie ofte Iaerlijck verhael van de verrichtinghen der Geoctroyeerde West-Indische compagnie.” (History of the true story of the Dutch West India Company). Leyden: Bonaventuer ende Abraham Elsevier, 1644.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elzevir family was in the book business from the late 16th to the early 18th century. Established in Leiden around 1580 by Louis Elzevir (1540s-1617), the business prospered and expanded under his sons and grandsons. Louis was born to a printer family in Leuven (Louvain), so he was already familiar with the book trade. This stood him in good stead while looking for work during turbulent times in the Low Countries, with Catholics and Protestants clashing over religious and political supremacy.

Buildings familiar to Lois Elzevir. The 15th-century Leuven (Louvain) city hall. Detail from image, Photoglob Company, ca. 1890-1906.

The 14th-century fortress, Steen in Antwerp.

Leiden, the 16th-century old town hall. Detroit: Detroit Publishing Co., 1905.

Trying to find stability and a religious haven, the growing Elzevir family moved from the Catholic to the Protestant Low Countries. Louis engaged in book binding and selling, even working for a while for the already successful Plantin publishing family in Antwerp. In fact, these two best-remembered publishing houses from this area kept in sporadic contact with each other. Eventually, the Protestant-friendly city of Leiden, with its university and profitable book trade, became home to Louis and his family of five surviving sons and two daughters. Louis published about 150 books and primarily used a printer’s mark in which an eagle is accompanied by the motto “Concordia res parvae crescent” (In harmony small things grow). This likely refers to Louis’s initial struggle to become established. One can also imagine a busy father of many children exhorting the family to act in harmony.

Elzevir printer’s mark in which an eagle is accompanied by the motto, “Concordia res parvae crescent” (In harmony small things grow). The woodcut is from Dominique Baudius. “Oratio funebris dicta honori & memoriae maximi virorum Iosephi Iusti Scaligeri.” Lugduni Batavorum: Prostant apud Ludov. Elzevirium & Andream Cloucquium, 1609.

Louis’s son Bonaventure Elzevir (1583-1652), and his grandsons Abraham (1592-1652) and Isaac Elzevir (1596-1651), were perhaps the best known family members, although all of Louis’s sons and several of his grandsons also made the Elzevir name much respected in the printing and publishing business. The Elzevirs worked mainly with scholarly material including religion, philosophy, law, the classics, history, geography, medicine, and the natural sciences. The family expanded its operations to Amsterdam and Utrecht, as well. A later mark used by the Elzevir family shows Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, by an olive tree. The banderole, or banner, reads “Ne extra oleas” (Nothing beyond the olive tree). This is taken to mean that one should stay within the bounds of wisdom.

“Ne extra oleas” (Nothing beyond the olive tree). This is taken to mean that one should stay within the bounds of wisdom. The Minerva on the left is from René Descartes. “Discours de la méthode” (A Discourse on Method). Amstelodami, Apud L. Elzevirium, 1644.

On the right, from Antonio Pérez. “Commentarius in quinque et viginti Digestorum libros” (Commentary of twenty-five book digests). Amstelodami: Apud Danielem Elzevirium, 1669.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the Low Countries in the grip of religious and political controversy, publishing contentious material could result in severe punishment by those in power. Thus printers frequently resorted to anonymity, leaving out their names or using a mark that differed from their usual ones. The Elzevirs sometimes used a sphere as a device when discretion was advisable.

Sphere mark from Henri, Duc de Rohan. “Memoires dv dvc de Rohan” (Memoires of the Duc de Rohan). Amsterdam: Chez L. Elzevier, 1646.

Because spelling was not standardized at the time, Elzevir books are found in the Library of Congress online catalog, e.g., under Elsevir, Elzevier, Elsevier, or Elzevirium. Those with the patience to hunt for Elzevir books in the Library of Congress will discover many treasures, including fascinating illustrations. It should be noted that the publishing company currently operating under the name Elsevier has no connection to the original Elzevirs, but chose the name because of its respected history.

“Historia naturalis Brasiliae” (Natural history of Brazil). Detail from title page.

 

 

“Historia naturalis Brasiliae” (Natural history of Brazil). Detail from title page.

 

Details from Willem Piso. “Historia naturalis Brasiliae” (Natural history of Brazil). Lugdun. Batavorum: Apud Franciscum Hackium, et Amstelodami, apud Lud. Elzevirium, 1648, title page and pp.182-3.

According to Descartes, the universe was a constantly-running machine set in motion by God. Shown here is Descartes’s system of vortexes that carry the planets around the sun. From René Descartes. “Principia philosophiae” (“Principles of Philosophy”). Amstelodami: apud Ludovicum Elzevirium, 1644, p. 114.

Joannes de Laet. “Historie ofte Iaerlijck verhael van de verrichtinghen der Geoctroyeerde West-Indische compagnie.” Leyden: Bonaventuer ende Abraham Elsevier, 1644, map of Puerto Rico, p. 58.

The Three Musketeers and d’Artagnan Ride into the Public Domain—Again!

This year, a large number of well-known works entered the public domain, thanks to changes in copyright law over time. One of these books is a popular edition of “The Three Musketeers,” written by Alexandre Dumas (1802-70), translated into English by Philip Schuyler Allen (1871-1937), and illustrated by the well-known artist, Milo Winter (1888-1956). Earlier […]

Albania’s National Hero, Scanderbeg: A Legendary Military Strategist

(The following is a post by Grant G. Harris, chief, and Taru Spiegel, reference specialist, European Division. Based on papers presented by Grant G. Harris in 2018.) As the Ottoman Empire expanded into Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, the religious differences between the Islamic Ottomans and the Christian Europeans, and shifting political alliances, made for […]

Alternative Public Forums for Italian Women Authors and Readers at the Turn of the 19th Century

(The following is a post by Lucia Wolf, reference librarian for Italy, European Division.) Although Italy has a long history of celebrated female authors, women’s writing in that country really began to flourish in the 19th century, thanks to the proliferation of journals that provided public forums for women to express themselves. The Library of […]

Talleyrand: A Diplomat Par Excellence

(The following is a post by Taru Spiegel, reference specialist, European Division.) During his lifetime, and for quite some time after that, the legendary French politician and diplomat, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838), was a much-discussed, controversial figure both at home and abroad. He managed to survive, and significantly influence, conflicting trends during the French Revolution […]

Italian Fashion Periodicals and Nation-building in the 19th Century

(The following is a post by Lucia Wolf, reference librarian for Italy, European Division.) Bella figura in Italian literally means “beautiful appearance.” The term is used worldwide to define the essence of Italian style, and refers to Italians’ ability to infuse their daily lives with style and beauty, combined with their natural sense of pleasure […]

Labor and Constancy: Christophe Plantin, Printer Extraordinaire

(The following is a post by Taru Spiegel, reference specialist, European Division.) Today’s readers owe a debt of gratitude to the early European printers whose efforts made reading materials increasingly available, and thus furthered the spread of literacy and learning. Johann Gutenberg (d. 1468) is the best known of those printers because of his innovative […]

4 Corners: International Collections Program Calendar, 11/30/2018

Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected] Directions Floor Plans Tuesday, December 11, 2018, 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Research Orientation: European Reading Room A tour of the European Reading Room, and an orientation to the Library’s European collections, is being offered on Tuesday, October 30th from 10:30 […]

The Incredible Story of “Pan Tadeusz”

(The following is a post by Regina Frackowiak, reference specialist, European Division.) This year, Poland celebrates the 100th anniversary of regaining its independence. From 1795 to 1918, Poland ceased to exist, having been partitioned between Austria-Hungary, Prussia, and Russia. Poland returned to the map of Europe in 1918 as a result of post-World War I agreements. […]

Jamais Plus! French Translations and Illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

(The following is a post by Kitty Bell, Intern, European Division.) Published in 1845, American writer and literary critic Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven,” soon found its way into the literary life of France. The author Alexandre Dumas (1802-70) even claimed in a letter that Poe (1809-49) had been to France for a brief stay. […]