Posted by: mattcolvin | July 19, 2009

Old Publishers’ Colphons


Way back in 2002, on my old Upsaid blog, I posted an entry about a bizarre logo on a book I read for my dissertation research. I call the figure “the Chimera-man.” This is what it looks like:

The Chimera-Man

The Chimera-Man

This reproduction is my own handiwork, drawn from the original during a slow day in Survey of Latin Literature, if I recall aright.

Today I discovered that the publisher is still using the colophon, and indeed, features it prominently on their webpage. Apparently, it was too good for them to let it be forgotten.

I think such colophons are wonderful. Every publisher ought to have one. (Tim, how about one for Pactum?) The Stephanus family had an excellent one too, aimed squarely at the papists. Here it is:

Stephanus Tree

Stephanus Tree

Yes, an unbelieving branch has been caught in the act of falling out of the tree. The text running up the side of the trunk reads, “Noli altum sapere” – “Do not be high minded” (sc. “…but fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches…”).

A Dordt College blog has more information about another version of the Stephanus colophon. I would add what they appear to have missed, or perhaps deliberately omitted as too touchy, that for Estienne and Calvin and every other Reformed reader in the 16th century, the metaphor of the fig tree applied directly to the Roman Catholic Church, which imagined itself to be the trunk and root, but which was actually, so the Reformers would have said, an unbelieving branch that God was pruning.

The only other interesting colophon I can think of right now is the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt dolphin:

HMCo Logo

HMCo Logo

It clearly must represent the story of Arion from Herodotus. But why they chose it, I don’t know. Houghton apparently formed his company in the 1830’s to publish works by Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau.

I’d like to collect colophons. Anyone have any others of special interest?

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