Jean Racine, Oeuvres de Jean Racine (Tome Second), De l’imprimerie et de la fonderie stéréotypes de Pierre Didot l’ Aîne, et de Firmin Didot, Paris 1803. 15.7×10.5×2.3 cm.
Some time ago I bought a small dishevelled book written by the famous French playwright Jean Racine (last name translates as Carrot). I was interested in the printer of the booklet: Pierre Didot, whose beautiful composition of initials ‘PD’ can be seen on the title page.
The Didot printers are famous for being the inventors of the modern type, a type face that has lost its handwritten character. Its serifs and stems have become mere geometrical stripes. It is regarded as a the first step on route towards sans serifs types. At least in French eyes.
Italians might detract from Didots achievements by pointing at Giambattista Bodoni, whose typefaces are still used for fashion magazines like Vogue and Harpers Bazar. French will retaliate by saying that the Didot face can be traced back to the ‘Romain du Roi’. Etc.
Enfin. I wanted to a piece of that history. The interesting thing is that the title page of this booklet also says it is a Fonderie of Stéréotypes (foundry of stereotype). That is right! These are the guys that invented stereotypes!
With the Didot’s stereotyping was a process in which a paper maché mold was made from a ‘page’ with handset type matter. This paper maché mold could be filled with melted lead. The result was a massive new positive typeset page that could be used for printing.
The advantage of a paper maché mold was that it was easier to store. For reprinting a book, it was not necessary anymore to store thousands of pounds of lead, or to typeset a book again, a process that was prone to errors. The Didot’s profited from stereotyping and produced many cheap editions.
In the course of time the expression ‘stereotyping’ became a metaphor. In the mid nineteen hundreds dictionaries defined it as ‘an image perpetuated without change’. In 1922 its was ‘officially’ coined as a metaphor by the American journalist Walter Lippmann while writing an editorial for the magazine Public Opinion.
In it he stated that the pictures in the press influence people’s perceptions of reality, and consequently, they developed their own stereotypes: ‘Wether right or wrong, our imagination is shaped by these pictures seen. Consequently, they lead to [our own] stereotypes that are hard to shake.’
Brainwave. What do my old French-Dutch dictionaries say?
In my 1908 dictionary it is still missing as a Dutch expression, between steranijs (star anise) en sterfbed (deathbed). As a French expression: ‘Stéréotype, with concrete type’, as a process ‘Stéréotyper, printing with concrete type, stereotyping.’
My 1937 dictionary–unfortunately only French-Dutch–says: ‘Stéréotype, stereographically printed.’ But it also notes it can be used metaphorically.’ Interestingly it also introduces the ‘Stéréotypeur, workman who works with concrete type matter.’ It seems likely that this trade became that of journalism.
Now the final and politically correct question. How do I recognise a real stereotype? Have I bought a ‘stereotyped’ booklet?