Bird & Turtle

A printer’s emblem used by the Venetian printer Venturini Rossinelli.
In the early days of printing, printers would use an emblem as a sort of trademark, to identify their work and stave off piracy.

This printer’s emblem graces the title page of a 1544 edition of Cicero’s Familiares Epistolae, or Letters to Friends. This copy was a birthday gift from someone who knows my weakness for early Italian printed books.

I was immediately attracted to the image – something about the way this robust woman keeps a death grip on the bird while gently balancing the turtle. She perches on the edge of a stool, kicking up her exposed leg, as if ready to dance a jig. You would need a pretty strong core to maintain that position. Everything about her expresses openness and joy. But why is she holding a bird and a turtle?

Renaissance printers used emblems to express an idea about their printing house. The bird and turtle refer to the Latin motto Festina Lente, or, Make haste slowly. The bird symbolizes speed, the turtle steadiness. It’s a variation on the more famous dolphin and anchor emblem, used by the Venetian printing house of Aldus Manutius, which twines the speedy dolphin round the weighty anchor.

Festina Lente was a good motto for printers. Setting type was painstaking. Compositors needed to work accurately, but at the same time swiftly if they were to make any money. The motto is just as good for bookbinders. If you are sewing a book, for example, you need to pay attention to each stitch, but at the same time you have to keep a steady rhythm to maintain the correct tension. You can apply Festina lente to every step of our work.

I have adopted this emblem. This woman expresses so much of what I have come to understand about bookbinding. Over the years I have collected good books in need of repair. Now I finally have the time to work on them, and I will be advertising them for sale at the sign of the Bird and Turtle. Watch this space!