Once upon a time, in around 1622, a printer was in need of an ornament. He wanted something striking and useful. Something he could use in a few different ways: in a chapter header or as a tailpiece. It also had to be interesting, perhaps interesting enough to entertaining to enhance the text his was printing.
In those days, the printer – publisher needed every advantage to attract readers in order to make a profit on his printing venture (nothing has changed!).
What inspired him to create a bear? Bears do represent courage, strength and leadership.
Could be that a circus came to visit Coloniae Agrippinae, or Koln as it is now better known, nevertheless a bear was created in the shop of Johannes Gymnici in 1622, and with it two accompanying sides to form a chapter header. He printed in Alexandri Alensis Angli, Doct. Irrefragabilis Ordinis Minorvm, Vniversae theologiae svmma, in qvatvor partes ab ipsomet avthore distribvta (NLA RBf 230 A374)
The bear poking his tongue out at the men and dogs on either side of him.
This bear was not content to remain in one town and in that same year he was seen in Amsterdam, this time with Michel Colin.
The bear was found in Description des Indes occidentales, qu’on appelle sujourdhuy le Novveau monde / par Antoine de Herrera… Translatee d’espagnol en francois
(NLA RBq JAF 102)
In 1628, the bear found its way to the city of Arras and stayed with the De Riviere brothers.
This chapter header was printed in Ioannis Cassiani opera omnia / cvm commentariis D. Alardi Gazaei (NLA RBf CLI 3865)
His cousin or perhaps younger brother, although similar, was found in Lyon in 1659 with Barbier and Girin.
Found in R.D.P.F. Heiron. Baptistae de Lanvza… Homiliae qvadragesimales: ex Hispanico idiomate in Latinvm… translated (NLA RBf CLi 4053)
By 1687, the bear was getting on, and made its way to London to visit with Thomas Bradyll.
The last time I saw the bear was in 1700 in Antwerp perhaps returning to rest with George Gallet and the Huguetan Brothers.
You can see the nail marks on next to each snake, where the design was attached to a wood block. Is this a copy of a copy? Found in Dionysii Petavii aurelianensis, e Societate Jesu, opus de theologicis dogmatibus, auctius in Hac nova editione… Theophili Alethini (NLA RBf 230 P477)
Some of the differences are slight, one bear is obviously completely different. Who was the first to make him? Was it Gymnici or was is Colin, or did they both get copies from some printer as yet unknown to me? Whose design is it? Questions, questions, questions. It is amazing that this bear has travelled so far and for so long relatively unchanged.
If you would like to take a closer view, please visit my Flickr album: tailpiece comparison. If anyone has a bear from another printer and another time, please let me know.