Legacy of Letters 2023—Editore Tallone

Enrico Tallone in the printshop at Editore Tallone. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

One of the many highlights of Legacy of Letters 2023 will be a full day at Editore Tallone, located in the tiny town of Alpignano, a short drive to the west of Torino. The Tallone family has been Italian letterpress royalty for nearly ninety years. I recently conducted an email interview with Elisa Tallone and her father Enrico Tallone, members of the third and second generations of Tallones keeping the tradition of letterpress printing with metal type alive in the 21st century. An edited version appears below.

Paul: When was Editore Tallone established? What was the impetus for its creation?

Elisa Tallone: Alberto Tallone Editore was established on Christmas Eve 1938 in Paris at rue des Tournelles 28, the venue of the Hôtel de Sagonne, built by architect Arduin de Mansart in the 17th century. Alberto followed in the footsteps of his master Maurice Darantiere—whose atelier he had bought a few months earlier—and with whom he had worked as an apprentice for seven years. In fact, Alberto had joined Maurice in 1931 at the age of 33. At the time, he worked as an antiquarian bookseller in Milan at La Maison Rustique, which he had established with Walter Toscanini, son of the the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini.

Even though he loved his work, Alberto did not feel fully satisfied. In fact, what attracted him the most about the fine editions he sold was the craft involved in creating them. That is why he ultimately decided to supplement his job with an apprenticeship at Darantiere’s, whose atelier boasted a unique history, having been founded at the end of the 18th century in Dijon. Furthermore, it was under Darantiere’s direction that the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses was printed in 1922.

Enrico Tallone pointing out the care with which Editore Tallone carries out its typography. Here is explaining the kerning of the A and T in the Inkunabula typeface. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

Paul: What kinds of things did Alberto Tallone print?

Elisa Tallone: Alberto Tallone’s catalogue moved along two main lines: one was the Classics, edited by the most important philologists (for instance, Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta edited by Gianfranco Contini in 1949 is still unparalleled today); the other was the modern voices of poetry and literature, such as Pablo Neruda, of whom Alberto published three first editions (Sumario. Libro donde nace la lluvia in 1963, La Copa de Sangre in 1969 and Discurso de Stockholm in 1972).

Peter Kruty (at left) and Enrico Tallone discussing the typographic work of Editore Tallone. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022)

Paul: Did he have a philosophy about printing and typography?

Elisa Tallone: Yes. Alberto’s aim was to couple “aesthetics” and “truth”; it is what Gianfranco Contini used to call “il bello e il vero” [the beautiful and the true]. That means that his goal was to publish texts that would be philologically correct and, at the same time, beautiful for the reader. It is a philosophy that, still to this day, informs our work.

For this reason, Alberto decided to design his own type, originally called Palladio, but later (and better) known as Tallone. This font, that he designed during his stay at the Villa Barbaro in Maser designed by Andrea Palladio, is intended to be used for the hand typesetting of long volumes. [1] Its regular proportions won’t tire the eyes and will allow the reader to better memorize the concepts. “Aesthetics” is intended to be at the service of “truth”.

Paul: When did Enrico take over the publishing/printing business? Has he kept the same principles and philosophy/approach as his father Alberto or has he changed things?

Elisa Tallone: When Alberto died in 1968, his wife Bianca and his sons Enrico and Aldo took over the business. Roger Lautrey, Alberto’s printer, was instrumental in imparting to the young brothers the secrets of the craft. Overall, the principles that informed Alberto’s work are still the same ones that inspire us today. Some might argue that, through our collaboration with modern artists such as Mimmo Paladino that we have distanced ourselves from Alberto, whose name is invariably connected with the concept of “pure typography”. But Alberto himself had, on more than one occasion, illustrated his volumes by artists such as René Ben Sussan (Les quinze joyes du mariage) and Colette Pettier (Le Misanthrope).

Some book structures at Editore Tallone. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

Paul: Who are the customers for the books printed/published by Editore Tallone?

Elisa Tallone: We have several kinds of costumers: bibliophiles whose aim is to collect our whole production (Franco Maria Ricci’s collection in Masone is a testament to it) or sometimes the same title in different editions; specialists, whose collection focuses on a particular subject of interest (illustrated books, classics, etc.); and European and American institutions, such as libraries and universities, both public and private (such as the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University or the Houghton Library at Harvard University).

Paul: How has Editore Tallone responded to the end of commercial letterpress printing and the subsequent rise of digital type? Do you use polymer plates at all?

Elisa Tallone: We don’t use polymer plates. We do hand typesetting exclusively, using the original foundry types that are part of our heritage. This way approach gives us, in our opinion, the best outcome in terms of clarity and legibility. It is a “slow” but “green” technique, as the distribution of types after printing allows their reuse an infinite number of times and no waste is produced during the process. Our motto is: “No mono, no lino, no polymer”. [2]

As far as the impact of digital types is concerned, the fact that we are an artisanal entity has preserved us from the upheaval that bigger commercial activities have undergone.

Enrico Tallone demonstrating the setting of kerned metal type in the stick. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

Paul: Do you print on cylinder presses or with hand presses?

Elisa Tallone: We print on hand presses, platen presses and Vandercooks. The choice of which one to use is determined mainly by the number of copies that we plan to print.

Paul: Which typefaces are Enrico’s favorites to print with? Are there any display typefaces he especially likes?

Elisa Tallone: For texts, Enrico tends to favor oldstyle types—the ones best suited for long reads—such as Garamond in the version designed and cut by Henri Parmentier in 1914 and cast by Parisian Deberny & Peignot. [3] Another favorite of his is Caslon, cast in the original 18th century mats, whose calligraphic solemnity is perfect to convey lyrics and poems.

Display typefaces are by nature more dramatic and impactful, as they are meant to attract, strike and remain fixed in the mind. Display typefaces constitute the core collection of our “Archive of Styles”—where our “experimental typography” department is hosted—which Enrico recently inaugurated in Alpignano. It is one of the favorite destinations of graphic design students and designers. This archive, the fruit of 50 years of research and collecting in Europe, features the most important styles in the field of type design: gothic, medieval, oldstyle, baroque, transitional, didone, slab-serif, grotesque, Art Nouveau, eclectic and fancy, calligraphic, post-modern, and so on.

It is difficult to select one in particular, but if Enrico had to choose, Eurostile by Aldo Novarese, an example of Italian design that has reached international fame, would be his favorite display face.

De Vinne Roman (an American typeface) in the Archive of Styles collection at Editore Tallone. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

Paul: How did Enrico acquire his wood type collection? Where did the older (19th century and early 20th century) metal types come from? When I visited Editore Tallone last year I noticed some American types in the drawers.

Elisa Tallone: I have to say that while Alberto’s collection of types consisted mostly of oldstyle ones, Enrico has increased it by adding to the original endowment the most iconic typefaces of the 20th century. This section, that is housed in a special room of Tallone Editore (named the “Archive of styles”) was recently expanded by the acquisition of wood types—most of them carved by Italian artisans in the period 1850–1950—which are, aesthetically and stylistically, complementary to the metal collection.

Some of the large wood type in the Archive of Styles collection at Editore Tallone in Alpignano. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

Paul: How did some of the Nebiolo archives end up at Editore Tallone?

Elisa Tallone: The Nebiolo catalogues and material that are part of our archive were bought through the years. Many researchers come to Alpignano to consult this beautiful collection.

Some of the original artwork for Fonderia Nebiolo typefaces that is now part of the archival collection at Editore Tallone. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

Paul: Who built the house that is now the home of Editore Tallone? Where was it originally located?

Elisa Tallone: As I said earlier Tallone Editore was originally established in Paris in 1938, located at the Hôtel de Sagonne, in the heart of the Marais. Since 1961, Alpignano has been the home for Tallone Editore. Architect Amedeo Albertini designed the new building in a functional way, with the typographical workshop on the ground floor and the offices and private apartments above on the first and second floors.

Paul: Finally, can you tell us how a locomotive ended up at Editore Tallone? Seeing that is one of the indelible memories of my visit last year.

Elisa Tallone: The locomotive, the oldest one still existing in Italy (and the only one left of a series of six built in 1900), was bought by Alberto and his brother Guido in the 1960s. Pablo Neruda was so enamored of this locomotive that not only did he insist on being photographed on it, he followed in Alberto’s footsteps by acquiring a farming machine that resembled a little locomotive which he placed in front of his residence in Isla Negra, Chile!

Patricia Childers and Peter Kruty climbing into cabin of the locomotive located on the grounds of Editore Tallone. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

1. The Villa Barbaro in Maser is very close to Cornuda, the home of the Tipoteca.
2. Mono refers to type cast using the Monotype machine; and lino refers to slugs of type cast using the Linotype machine.
3. For details of the Garamont/Garamond spelling controversy and the distinction between types derived from the work of Claude Garamont and those derived from the work of Jean Jannon see James Mosley’s Typefoundry blog.

Legacy of Letters 2023 will take place from June 29 to July 12, 2023. It will include stops in Milano, Torino, Alpignano, Casteggio, Parma, Modena, Venice, and Cornuda. We will visit five libraries/museums, four letterpress shops, one silkscreen shop, and the Tipoteca where we will have a multi-day letterpress workshop.