Bookish Pictures: The Mystery of The Printer’s Clothing

I first saw this engraving in a book published to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Netherlands Association of Antiquarian Booksellers. However, its story seems to be not as simple as the text below the picture states.

In that book, the engraving is attributed to Nicolas de Larmessin. He was a French writer and editor in the 17th century. And that attribution is pretty understandable. Here are some other prints from Nicolas de Lermessin’s series Costumes grotesques:

You can find more of them in this Wikimedia collection. But hereI’ll set The Printer’s Clothing aside:

Nicolas de Lermessin – Costumes grotesques – Habit d’imprimeur

And here is a different rendering of the same motif:

By clicking the images, you’ll open them to a larger size.

And it’s like these pictures where you have to find ten differences. The most striking contrast is in the background. But there are other, more subtle changes. Like the word FACTUM on the sheet of paper hanging from the printer’s elbow. Or how the spacers are aligned in the printing press.

The inscriptions below these engravings are pretty similar in both pictures, but they also have some differences.

That’s when I started to search for more clues.

Musée Carnavalet in Paris has the second print in the collection. And it’s attributed to an anonymous engraver from the 18th century.

Another version comes from the website of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. There the second engraving is attributed to Gerard Valck (Holland, ca. 1700.) What’s even more bizarre, it is stated that he also had a series of engravings portraying itinerant vendors, merchants, and professionals wearing the tools and products of their occupations. That collection included 189 different prints. Compare it to only 70 artisans from the de Lermessin’s series Costumes grotesques.

So what is it? A case of plagiarism? A team effort? Nicolas de Larmessin lived from 1632 to 1694. He was born, and he died in Paris. Gerard Valck was born in 1652 and died in 1726. He worked in Amsterdam and London. They had a chance to meet. However, the sources I read to the moment do not show any connection between these two people.


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