A recent enquiry from John A. Lane, a freelance historian of printing types, typefounding and type specimens, who has just completed a book about the history of the printed book in Armenian type, has led to an exciting discovery in the Library.
John was interested in a four-page book prospectus issued by William and George Whiston, sons of the natural philosopher and theologian William Whiston (1667-1752), who planned to print by subscription an Armenian and Latin edition of the history of Armenia by Mosis Khorenaci (Moses of Kohren). Khorenaci’s text is one of the earliest and most extensive primary sources for the early history of Armenia. The first printed edition (in Armenian only) was published at Amsterdam in 1695, and this second edition of the Armenian text is the first to include a Latin (or any other) translation.
The actual book – with parallel Latin and Armenian text – was published in 1736 and a copy can be found in our Spencer Collection. The prospectus itself is dated ‘March 19, 1729-30’ (30 March 1730 by the modern calendar) and John was keen to find out whether it included the new Armenian printing type that was cut for the book as that would be the earliest known use of the type. In fact, the prospectus includes two pages of parallel Armenian and Latin text, along with the boast that ‘We have already been enabled, by the kind contribution of several Gentlemen, … to defray the expence [sic] of Armenian types, which the nation did not before afford’. John pointed out that this was not strictly true, as Peter de Walpergen cut Armenian for the University Press at Oxford, but he first made only 7 letters which were used in a 1690 book. Although he does appear to have cut all of the characters before his death in 1703, nothing else is known to have been printed with Oxford’s Armenian until 1768. The prospectus does not mention that the type was cut by William Caslon (1693-1766), the first great English punchcutter. He had been cutting type for eight or ten years and his mature work had begun to appear only around 1728.
We would like to thank John for bringing the significance of this item to our attention. We have now reported the item to ESTC (English Short Title Catalogue). The diaspora of Armenian printing 1512-2012 by John A. Lane was published by the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia on 12 June (ISBN 978-90-819264-0-9).