Tai Cossich


Guarani Typography — The printing press of the Guarani-Jesuit Reductions (17–18th century, River Plate Basin, South America)


Printing history
Indigenous languages
18th century


Comparison of different instances of < R > on title pages of the Guaranitic books.

Books published at the Guarani-Jesuit Reductions (1609-1768) have a distinguished place in the history of printing in the Americas. Reports written by the Jesuits generated a consensus that is repeated to this day in the historiography of the region, specialised or not in book and printing, about the Guaranis' ability to copy letters by hand and about the heroic construction of the whole apparatus necessary for printing: supposedly a printing press built with local wood and sorts cast with a metal league from the region. This narrative, however, offers little understanding about the actual workings of the Guarani-Jesuit printing press.

This investigation revisited the books of the Guarani-Jesuit Reductions by meticulously examining the letterforms on six of the eight titles (*) printed in the Reductions, as well as on three manuscripts. The analyses brought new understandings about the typographic resources available at the Reductions: It was possible to determine the character set available for printing each one of the books and challenge the assumption that typefaces were cast in the missions. In relation to the manuscripts, the analyses reveal a variety of calligraphic techniques, challenging the assumption that only duplication of European models were produced.

The Guarani-Jesuit Reductions were a missionary enterprise targeting the Guarani people in the River Plate Basin, in South America. The first Jesuits arrived in the region in 1585 and, despite the difficulties of the early years, settled the first Reduction in 1609. As soon as they conquered some stability, they communicated intensely with Rome and Madrid, from 1633 to 1645, supplicating for a printing press and the necessary licenses to print in the Reductions. Notwithstanding, it was only around 1700 that they finally achieved their intentions — and it was not by means of a printing press brought from Europe, but by means of a printing press built in the missions. Before this, books were copied by hand, a craft that continued after the establishment of the printing press.

(*) Of the dozen books and some pamphlets that were certainly printed in the Reductions, today it is possible to find copies of only eight titles.

2011 — 2014


Fapesp — São Paulo Research Foundation (Brazil)


Their pen draws everything, as if it were print: letterforms on the title page of the Catecismo de la lengua Guarani, ICDHS 2012, 8th Conference of the International Committee for Design History & Design Studies, São Paulo, Brazil, 2012 paper in congress proceedings (print only)

Challenges of printing books in the Guarani-Jesuit Reductions (1609-1768), ATypI 2015: Challenges, Association Typographique Internationale, São Paulo, Brazil, 2015 conference paper

Desenho de letras manuscritas em livros das Reduções Jesuíticas Guarani, CIDI 2015, 7th Information Design International Conference, Brasília, Brazil, 2015 paper in congress proceedings

Desenho de letras em livros das Reduções Jesuíticas Guarani, Universidade de São Paulo, FAUUSP — Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo. Programa de pós-graduação em design. São Paulo, 2015 MSc dissertation

Tipografía y caligrafía en las Reducciones Jesuíticas Guaraníes, IV Encuentro Internacional de Bibliología: La materialidad de las escrituras: de la paleografía y la tipografía digital, Mexico City, Mexico, 2016 conference paper

Home Institution

University of São Paulo, FAUUSP — College of Architecture and Urbanism (Brazil)


Prof Dr Priscila Farias — University of São Paulo

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