Scattered amongst the many glorious decorations that grace the Great Hall of the Library of Congress is a mural of a philosopher picking grapes from a vine that is entwined about the trunk of an elm tree (the tree also is entwined by a snake). Opposite this scene is a scroll emblazoned with the Latin motto Non Solus (not alone):
First introduced ca. 1620, this printer's mark is said to symbolize the close relationship between publisher and scholar. Publishers, like the elm tree, are needed to provide support for scholars, just as scholars, like the vine, are needed to produce fruit. Authors and publishers cannot do it alone and need each other: they are interdependent.
The above is but one of many printer's devices that were used over the course of some thirteen decades (1580-1712) by one of the most important printing-publishing-bookselling firms of all time, the House of Elzevir:
The Elzevir family began their printing and bookselling business in the Netherlands in 1580. Significantly, they did it at a time when publishing was “risky business,” when freedom of speech and freedom of the press were societal values in very few places. In fact, luminaries such as John Locke, Galileo Galilei and Hugo Grotius chose to publish with the Elzevirs in order to avoid the censorship and regulation in their own countries.
Lowys (Louis) Elzevir and six generations after him ensured the success of their publishing house in Leiden by developing a strong relationship with the university there, for which they printed theses and reprints of classic texts. One family member or another would serve as both beadle, or peace officer, on campus and official printer, until in 1712, the last of the original Elzevir family publishers died, leaving behind no heir willing to continue the business. During its existence, the House of Elzevir published some 2,000 to 3,000 titles, including reprints of virtually all the major works of classical antiquity (the image below is by way of UNESCO):
Although other early printer-publishers may have produced more elegant titles in large formats, the various pocket editions produced by the House of Elzevir were the first to put printed books within the economic reach of non-elite readers. As Andrew Lang noted,
[t]heir classical series in petit format was opened with ‘Horace’ and ‘Ovid’ in 1629. In 1641 they began their elegant piracies of French plays and poetry with ‘Le Cid.’ It was worth while being pirated by the Elzevirs, who turned you out like a gentleman, with fleurons and red letters, and a pretty frontispiece:
The image above (via the Rare Books & Special Collections division of the University of South Carolina) shows just how diminutive these Elzevirs were -- only a few inches high. Although the Elzevirs could and did print titles that could hold their own against the best printers of their respective eras (their 1663 edition of Corpus Juris Civilis being a notable example), this dynasty's claim to fame rests upon the cheap, diminuitive reprints that played such a huge part in the rise of the modern university and in making printed books affordable for "the masses." (The firm also is supposed to have introduced one of the most important false imprints of all time, that of Pierre (du) Marteau, in order to avoid censorship by authorities.)
Because most Elzevirs were produced inexpensively and in great quantities (for their respective eras), they are among the few 400-year-old books that the average book collector actually can afford. Rather than costing the tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars that many of their contemporaries cost, most Elzevirs in Very Good condition can be had from today's antiquarian booksellers for, at most, a few hundreds of dollars:
By the way, despite assertions to the contrary (not infrequently by folks who should know better), there is absolutely no connection, or continuity, between the printers-publishers-booksellers we are discussing here and the modern information services giant Reed Elsevier, as Reed Elsevier itself makes clear....
[Nota bene: Given the enormous contributions that the Dutch have made to printing, publishing and bookselling over the centuries, it seems only fitting that one of the world's most beautiful bookstores should be located inside a former church in Maastricht.]