He is arguably the greatest Spanish printer of all time. Without question, he is Spain's greatest printer of the 18th century.
Born in Zaragoza in 1725, Joaquín Ibarra y Marín apprenticed to his brother Manuel, who served as first officer of the Printing Pontifical and Royal University (University of Cervera). In 1754, Ibarra moved to Madrid, where he set up his own print shop. Over the next three decades, some of the finest volumes of the 18th century would be printed in this shop. (Ibarra died in 1785, but his widow and children managed to keep Ibarra's workshop going until 1836.)
Among many other contributions to the art of printing, Ibarra conducted numerous experiments with paper in an effort to reduce plate mark impressions; he standardized measures for the production of type; and he developed his own formula for printing ink, which led to inks of exceptional quality and brilliance. These innovations are seen in several of his best-known volumes.
But if Ibarra is known at all to today's general public, it is mainly because one of his volumes played a central role in the plot development of a not particularly good movie:
While Don Quixote had been traditionally interpreted as a merely comic story in the decades following its first publication in 1605, the reading of the novel would dramatically change in the eighteenth century. With the patronage of Lord Carteret, a luxuriously illustrated edition was published by Jacob and Richard Tonson, heirs of a prestigious dynasty of English publishers, in London in 1738. In brief, the illustrations along with the critical apparatus were carefully designed not only to present Don Quixote as a humanized hero who can teach a moral lesson to the reader, but also to convince the reader that the novel was an important work of literature. Similarly, the Real Academia de la Lengua commissioned and supervised the publication of a four-volume edition in Madrid in 1780, atttempting also to establish Cervantes as part of the literary canon. For that purpose, the editors further developed the vision of the London edition. Through the delicacy of the illustrations, we are guided to see Don Quixote as a dignified hero, as a vehicle of satire whose ultimate goal is to warn the readers about the dangers of reading novels of chivalry. Furthermore, included in this edition is Vicente de los Ríos' Análisis de Don Quixote, where our hero is restored to his real self just before his death. Indeed, we are told that he recognized his errant ways and died in the bosom of Christian peace.
The illustrations notwithstanding ("one portrait, four frontispieces, 31 engravings, 25 headpieces, 20 tailpieces, 13 ornamental initial letters, and one map"), it is the typography and presswork which ultimately accounts for the high esteem in which this title has been held for centuries:
Only 120 copies of this title were printed, for the use of Spain's royal family and various foreign dignitaries. As Stanford University notes regarding their own copy of this important work,
This edition of Sallust, done in Latin and Spanish, features a large italic type cut by Antonio Espinosa de los Monteros (b. 1732); the translation was done by King Carlos’ son, Don Gabriel (1752-1788). Ibarra’s Sallust was instantly recognized as a magnificent book: Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813), probably the most celebrated printer of his day, referred to it as "the stupendous Sallust."
Some 2500 titles were printed at Ibarra's workshop over the course of eight decades, so the patient collector has much from which to to choose. Fine copies, though, will require both patience and fairly deep pockets. The anthology Joaquín Ibarra y Marín, impresor, 1725–1785 (1993) may prove useful to those so inclined....