|Metal fleurons for letterpress|
A fleuron, also called a “printers’ flower” is a naturalistic symbol, or glyph, that is used as an ornament for typographic compositions.
Unlike other “dingbats,” the general term for ornaments, characters, and spacers used in typesetting, fleurons—which derive their name from the Old French word “floron,” or “flower”—are specifically stylized forms of flowers or leaves, such as the image seen right. These heart-shaped leaves and stems are common fleurons that can be seen in older printed books, including as “breaks” between sections of text. In today’s novels, we can see vestiges of this practice: the use of 3 circles is especially common in dividing parts within a chapter!
These symbols, which are usually rather small, can also be very elaborate. As seen in the images seen below, artists have created highly stylistic shapes and silhouettes of flowers and leaves, each expressing something different. Some are more ornate than others, some are round, some are wide and seem to flourish. You may even recognize modifications to the French aristocratic symbol, the fleur de lis, at the top right. Though these three images are not the exact fleur de lis, they are a type of fleuron that recalls the power and authority of a kingdom and the past.
|Examples of different fleurons|
Fleurons were crafted just like type: a small block of either metal or wood, carved with the image in relief, that can be placed alongside letters, numbers, and spaces inside a chase. The fact that fleurons did not have to be individually produced, but could be made in groups, allowed for printers to use more than one in a single type forme. This was most commonly seen in historical codices, where multiple, repeating fleurons were used to create borders on the title pages of books. This was cheaper and easier than producing elaborate ornamentation (such as etchings of the author or symbol expressions of poetry unique to the book itself), while still giving the cover page a decorative (and expensive!) feel.
A large variety of fleurons are still used today in everything from the borders on folio-style books to the tops of invitations. So don’t be shy! Come down to the CBA and try some out today!
Have a favorite fleuron? Want to give us suggestions or comments? Just want to say hi? Comment on this post, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit us on Facebook (/centerforbookarts) or follow us on Twitter (@center4bookarts). Can’t wait to see you there!