Minion, Ruby, Brevier, Long Primer and More

Where do the exotic-sounding names for some classic Bible editions come from? What's so long about the Long Primer, for example, and what makes the Brevier more brev than any other layout? Why is the Ruby a ruby instead of a pearl? Is the Pitt Minion intended only for the henchmen of a certain Mr. Pitt? The solution to these mysteries can be found by consulting The Handy Book of Artisitc Printing.

It seems the names have to do with typefaces -- not the style of the type, but rather its height. Back in the days of metal type, there was an understandable lack of uniformity from press to press. This changed when the point system was introduced. Suddenly the size and height of type could be standardized for consistency no matter where a book was printed. And the sizes came with nifty names, like so:

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So Oxford would have christened its new edition of the KJV the Long Primer in reference to the size of type within. If you wanted a nice, large, readble font, the Long Primer was for you. If you could manage smaller type, perhaps you would prefer the Brevier, or even a tiny Nonpareil. This chart gives an idea of what the names denoted in terms of point size:

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So the Long Primer would have 10 pt. type, the Brevier 8 pt., and the Ruby a miniscule 3.5 pt. The Minion of Pitt Minion fame would clock in at 7 pt. (the Pitt in Pitt Minion is a reference to a building at Cambridge, not a type size). Those of you longing for large print editions might want to hunt for the Great Primer (18 pt.) or perhaps the splendidly named Paragon (20 pt.), though I suspect no such Bibles were ever printed. 

The Handy Book of Artistic Printing is a great resource for those of you who've sipped the letterpress Kool-Aid recently, as I have. Full of elaborate examples of nineteenth century decorative printing and arcane facts about the mysteries of the press, it's a nice way to while away the hours. Not to mention, you can menace friends and family with the thought that, to be considered truly canonical, shouldn't the Bible be printed in 44 pt. "Canon" type?