University of Virginia Library


From the outset of his career Thomas Newcomb was associated with a comparatively large and well established printing house, which grew even larger as he prospered in his trade. The observations which one formulates, therefore, on how ornaments were used in Newcomb-printed books can only be those reflecting the general policy of his shop, and not a list of typographical idiosyncrasies of the master himself. The practice of Newcomb's compositors in handling book decorations compared with that of the printing houses of several of his contemporaries indicates, however, that Newcomb's practice was in almost every respect typical.

During the Interregnum and the early years of the Restoration Newcomb tended, like the other printers of that day, to use more ornaments and initials throughout the text of his octavos and quartos than he did in the late 1660's and 1670's. His folios were generally his most elaborately ornamented volumes, although he seldom decorated them so lavishly as did his predecessor Raworth.

From 1667 to 1675 Newcomb used few ornaments in his smaller formats and only a sprinkling of initials and factotums throughout the text. The ornamentation in his play quartos was confined entirely to the initial gatherings: a headpiece and initial or factotum on the recto of the second leaf which was usually reserved


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for the dedication; a headpiece on the first page of the preface, if one followed; and a headpiece or initial decoration, seldom both, on the first page of the text.

After 1675 he used even less ornamentation in his play quartos than he had before that date, reaching a point finally about 1679 when he omitted it altogether. In this omission he was only following the practice of his fellow London printers, many of whom had been turning out ornament-less play quartos since the early 1670's. In attempting to identify the printers of unsigned quarto plays published in 1679 or thereafter for the next thirty years, the bibliographer finds a knowledge of printers' ornaments practically valueless.

In the many normal and oversized folios issuing from his presses, one finds Newcomb's most elaborate book decorations. As a rule printers generally tended to pay deference to their folio ornamentation. Newcomb's practice was to use headpieces and initial decorations profusely in the initial gatherings. Thereafter for about two-thirds of the volume he used ornaments and factotums to mark only fresh divisions of text. The final third was often devoid of decoration.

Generally Newcomb seemed slightly fonder of using ornamentation after the Restoration than those among his contemporaries whose books I have examined, and was markedly more generous in their use than his important competitor John Macock. Yet one comes upon enough exceptions to most of the generalizations made so far in this section to conclude that the price the publisher was willing to pay and the reading public for which he intended his publication dictate more often than not the amount of paper space the printer took up with decorations. Thus in a period when Newcomb employed ornaments rather consistently, his quarto edition of Nedham's Interest Will Not Lie (1659) and his folio printing of Certain Letters Evidencing The King's Stedfastness in the Protestant Religion (1660) are without ornamentation while in a period of dwindling ornamentation, even in folios, Newcomb's folio edition of The Genealogical History of the Kings of England (1677), privately printed for the herald Francis Sandford, turns out to be perhaps the most attractively and profusely decorated volume of Newcomb's printing career.

There are apparently no practices dealing with ornaments that


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mark distinctively the workmanship of Newcomb's shop, but there are some practices used by the contemporaries of Newcomb which his compositors did not follow. Newcomb did not, for instance, use a printer's device; in fact, he seldom used a title-page ornament, and when he did, he had no favorite. The only ornament appearing more consistently on his title-pages than elsewhere is the emblem bearing the motto: "Premor Dum Attollor," but it occurs only five times on the title-pages of the more than 200 books which I have examined. Except for the early years of his career Newcomb did not use ornaments to mark the conclusion of a division of text, and never, to my knowledge, used a tailpiece although Raworth had in his collection handsome tailpieces which Newcomb must have acquired. Newcomb made no effort to use throughout a volume the decorative initials of one design; his son did so only in the portion of Shakespeare's fourth folio which he printed. Nor did Newcomb greatly concern himself about the nicety of proportion between decoration and format. Sometimes a very small initial meant for a duodecimo is buried on an oversized folio page; at other times, one finds a large factotum designed primarily for a folio appearing on a quarto page.

On the other hand, there are a few positive practices worth mentioning. After 1666 Newcomb used factotums far more frequently than he used initials, and he used over and over the same small group of ornaments. He made some effort to decorate books authorized by or dedicated to the king with appropriate national and Stuart ornaments. The only other occasion on which a Newcomb compositor appeared concerned about using a particular ornament in a particular place—and this applies to compositors in other printing houses as well—was when he was working on a reprint of a volume previously issued from his shop. Then he would often reproduce in the new edition the identical ornament used perhaps five or ten years earlier, despite the fact that searching for it in his collection must frequently have involved a considerable waste of time.