Three mistakes in a book

Gunnar's picture

Hi,
Please, can anbody update or correct my memory:
I faintly remember having read that in acient times among printers there was the tradition that up to three errors in a book would be regarded as "okay". The nickname for an error was "turtle" or, since I think the story took place in Italy, "tartaruga". Therefore a printer created his mark showing two turtles so that in the rest of the book only one more turtle (= mistake) could be expected. In doing so he referred to his superior quality.
I cannot find this story on the web. Is my memory wrong? Has anybody heard of a similar story? Thanks in advance for helpful suggestions!

JamesM's picture

> Therefore a printer created his mark showing two turtles so that in
> the rest of the book only one more turtle (= mistake) could be expected.

Not sure I understand, would this mark appear in the book? If the printer found the errors prior to printing, why wouldn't he fix them? Or is this mark just used in advertising the book?

quadibloc's picture

@JamesM:
Because "turtle" was a slang term for an error, and the typical standard of the time was three errors in a book before one goes back and re-does the typesetting, the idea was that because the printer's mark was two turtles (instead of, say, a dolphin) that "used up" two of the errors, and so it was intended as a claim that there would be only one actual error in the book, at most.

I thought the original post explained this clearly.

Té Rowan's picture

@JamesM -- As I understand it, the printer's mark would appear on a page in the book, since it tells who printed it. So, yes, it's a kind of advertising. But making the claim that there would only be one undetected printer's mistake in any book takes titanium balls.

quadibloc's picture

The claim was that there would only be one uncorrected detected mistake, or that there would be an average of one undetected mistake per book, or something like that, so it was a little less bold than that.

Gunnar's picture

I found this anecdote pretty impressive, too. Would like to be able to make such a bold claim, too … :-)
Anyway – you heard of this story, too, or do you just paraphrase my initial, obviously not perfectly clear posting?

George Thomas's picture

I try very hard to make no-turtle fonts and so far as I know, I have succeeded.

Future marketing will reflect that my fonts contain no turtles.

Té Rowan's picture

Rephrased yours, @Gunnar, since it was new to me. I think your OP was clear enough but that @JamesM either hadn't had his first cuppa yet or had overdone the grog. I know my sense of understanding tends to go AWOL in these cases.

quadibloc's picture

I just paraphrased because I was surprised the first response to your post seemed to indicate a problem understanding it. I had not heard of the anecdote myself before, so I can't help you in finding the source.

JamesM's picture

> @JamesM either hadn't had his first cuppa yet or had overdone the grog

I always drink some bourbon before posting.

dajare's picture

From [COLONNA, Francesco]. Hypnerotomachie ou Discours du songe de Poliphile…. Paris, Pour Iaques Keruer aux deux Cochetz, Rue S. Iaques, 1546.

FIRST EDITION THUS. Folio [vi] 157 [i]. Roman and Italic letter. Woodcut initials, title within engraved cartouche, between satyrs and “with terminal figures, cherubs, and scroll-work. Kerver’s initials appear three times in the border, and at the foot are two turtles, a device of the printer, Louis Blaublom” (Harvard cit. infr.), additional device on verso of last. ...

The rest can be found on the Sokol Books website. There is a fairly hi-res JPG of the title page itself, too.

FWIW!

charles ellertson's picture

Hmm. That would be "Printer's Errors," not "mistakes." Author's make mistakes.

I wonder if the practice of reprinting with greater than three errors applied only to books where a page took up a single leaf? Or was it extended to editions with folded pages -- folios, quartos, even octavos?

And what if additional errors were discovered after some customers had already purchased the sheets & paid an illustrator to draw in any drop-in letters? Or worse, taken the sheets to his favorite binder? The printer couldn't just supply a fresh "page," then.

I sense a curious story, but not universal...

quadibloc's picture

Thank you, Dajare, for finding the answer sought.

Incidentally, I see that Jacques Kerver, in addition to printing the famous French translation of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, also printed some of Nostradamus' predictions, and the Steganographia of Trithemius.

And I learned something else while satisfying my curiosity about Kerver. It turns out that Aldus Manutilus really used the same typeface for De Aetna and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, except that for the latter the capital letters were replaced with a new set.

That suggests that someone might attempt a revival that, instead of being two separate typefaces, like Bembo and Poliphilus, respectively, might be two versions of the same typeface, with different upper-case letters only.

Gunnar's picture

Yes, great finding!
But it says nothing about the meaning of the two turtles.
Could still be that I remember the story wrong(ish) somehow …
(BTW, have to look up the difference between errors and mistakes. English is not my first language …)

Té Rowan's picture

If I remember correctly, it is:

My mistake
Your error
His foul-up

charles ellertson's picture

(BTW, have to look up the difference between errors and mistakes. English is not my first language …)

Your English is superb. The difference is simply one of convention within the Anglo/American printing industry.

My infelicitous phrasing...

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