Devils at the press…

An old Dutch expression for a typo is the Zetduivel, in direct translation a “(type-)set-devil”. This goes back to the middle ages, when people had a devil for everything. Beside satan himself there were whole hordes of other devils and demons, all in a hierarchy of their own.

They all had their own responsibilities, from torturing people in hell to making a mess in the earth. Little demons who recorded and reported the faults and trespassings of the people. And more prominent colleagues who had to bully people or charm them into committing sins.

These demons often appear in medieval literature and -especially- plays. There were demons who had to gather the false notes people sang in church, but also the notes of monks who tried to sing too beautiful (committing to the sin of vanity). While others were blamed for bad harvests or epidemics.

First draft of the little devil

The Zetduivel

One of them was the type-set devil, who made sure that printers would make mistakes while composing and printing texts. To honor and illustrate this tradition the Minion Press just had to have a little representation of the Zetduivel somewhere…

Because I couldn’t find any historical depictions of the Zetduivel, I started sketching. In Dutch the word “Zet” is an abbreviation of “Zetten” (to set). But the letter Z is also named “Zet”. So the idea came up to draw a devil holding the letter Z in his paws.

Like the Minion on the name batten it is carved out in a bas-relief and painted.

I wanted it on a place where people wouldn’t discover it immediately, so it’s on one of the front legs.

Danse Macabre

Like with all new inventions, at the start there are always people who say it shouldn’t be used, or that the old ways are much better. Some even go the route of determining it as “Devilish”, “Deviant” or a “Black Art”. We call these people conservatives, they are affraid of progress because they don’t want to lose what they already know. In their minds progress always has the risk of cultural and moral declination. Often this is tied in with a rather fundamentalist form of religion.

I think we can place the following pictures in that line of thought. Not necessarily conservative, but certainly a moral exhortation…

These plates were made in 1499 and 1568. The one on the right is thought to be a copy if the other. Just to remember that all is vanity…

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This entry was posted in History, Printing press, Projects, Re-enactment, Research, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Devils at the press…

  1. kittybriton says:

    Is it helpful to inform you that in the English tradition the “Printer’s Devil” was the youngest apprentice in the workshop? (along with other connections to the church: the keeping of type in “fonts”, the organizing of the workshop into a “chapel” for purposes of labor relations)

    Liked by 2 people

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