Estienne family

Estienne family

Henri I was active as a printer in Paris between 1502 and 1520 and three of his sons, Robert I, François I and Charles, succeeded him as printers there. In turn Robert I’s sons, Henri II and Robert II would take over the family presses in both Geneva and Paris respectively and the family would continue to be represented there by Henri II’s son Paul (in Geneva), Robert II’s son Robert III (in Paris). In addition, the men of the family were joined in their endeavour by their wives and daughters, and, sometimes, by step-fathers such as Simon de Colines (c. 1480-1546) and Mamert Patisson.

Lazari Bayfii annotationes in L. II. De captivis, et postliminio reversis. In quibus tractatur de re navali. Eiusdem annotationes in tractatum De auro & arge[n]to leg. quibus, Vestimentoru[m], & Vasculorum genera explicantur. Antonii Thylesii de coloribus libellus, à coloribus vestium non alienus (Paris, 1536), Estienne device 4.

The family were committed to scholarly publishing and, as will become clear, many editorial preoccupations were shared by multiple members of the family. They also shared one other thing, a carefully managed ‘brand identity’ which was nurtured by Robert I and carefully tended by his successors. This was the famous Estienne printers’ device – or we should say devices, because, as Schreiber notes, there were at least 34 variants of the core device and three of the olive branch, serpent and spear.[1] Worth’s earliest publication by Robert I bears his device 4, an example of which may be seen above. This bears the core elements of the olive tree and the caption ‘Noli Altum Sapere’: ‘Do not become proud’. As the illustration on the Homepage demonstrates, in 1536 Robert I was using two different devices, device 4 and device 5, which added the figure of a man to the right of the tree, pointing at it.

Medicae artis principes post Hippocratem & Galenum. Græci Latinitate donati : Aretæus, Ruffus Ephesius, Oribasius, Paulus Ægineta, Aëtius, Alex. Trallianus, Actuarius, Nic. Myrepsus. Latini : Corn. Celsus, Scrib. Largius. Marcell. Empiricus. Aliíque præterea, quorum unius nomen ignoratur. Index non solùm copiosus, sed etiam ordine artificioso omnia digesta habens. Hippocr. aliquot loci cum Corn. Celsi interpretatione. Henr. Stephani de hac sua editione tetrastichon (Geneva, 1567), Estienne device 10.

As we shall see, there would be many variants of this version of the device. The device most common in the Worth Library (and, as Schreiber notes, most common generally) is device 10, seen here on a 1567 publication by Henri II but which was also used by his father on seminal publications such as his 1550 folio Greek Testament. Both Renouard and Schreiber point to the biblical origins of the device: ‘If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.’ (Romans 11: 17-20). Schreiber points outs that the figure is undoubtedly a reference to St. Paul.[2]

[Photiou Myriobiblon e bibliotheke]: Photii Myriobiblon, sive Bibliotheca librorvm quos Photivs Patriarcha Constantinapolitanus legit & censuit. Græcè edidit David Hoeschelivs Augustanus & notis illustrauit. Latinè verò reddidit & scholiis auxit Andreas Schottvs Antverpianvs. Opus insigne, è quo theologi, medici, philosophi, historici, oratores & philologi vberrimum fructum & jucundissimum capere possunt (Geneva, 1611), detail of Estienne device 34.

As Schreiber notes, the passage must have seemed particularly appropriate to Robert, a biblical scholar, for in Greek, the family name of Estienne was rendered ‘Stephanos’, which also denoted a wreath made of olives.[3] This link was made explicit in device 34, as may be seen above in this 1611 publication by Paul Estienne, where the device is surrounded by an olive wreath. By the time of Henri II’s son Paul, there had been yet more additions – here we see that the caption has been changed to read ‘Rami ut Ego insererer defracti sunt’: ‘branches were broken so I might be inserted/grafted in’. The phrase comes from Calvin’s commentary on the text from Romans.

Theodori Janssonii ab Almeloveen M.D. De vitis Stephanorum: celebrium typographorum dissertatio epistolica, in qua de Stephanorum stirpe, indefessis laboribus, varia fortuna atque libris, quos orbi erudito eorundem officinae emendatissime impressos unquam exhibuerunt subjecto illorum indice accuratius agitur: atque obiter multa scitu jucunda adsperguntur. Subjecta est H. Stephani querimonia artis typographiae. Eiusdem epistola de statu suae typographicae (Amsterdam, 1683), title page.

It is clear that by Worth’s time (1676-1733), ‘Estiennes’ had joined ‘Aldines’ as collector’s items. The Dutch scholar Theodor Jansson ab Almeloveen (1657-1712) wrote an account of their lives, which was duly collected by Worth, and, as we shall see in ‘Collecting Estiennes’ early eighteenth-century booksellers were keen to draw attention to the fact that some of their treasures were produced by this famous printing family.


Renouard, Antoine, Annales de l’imprimerie des Estienne (Geneva, 1971 reprint).

Schreiber, Fred, The Estiennes. An annotated catalogue of 300 highlights of their various presses (New York, 1982).



[1] Schreiber, Fred, The Estiennes. An annotated catalogue of 300 highlights of their various presses (New York, 1982), pp 247-63.

[2] Ibid., p. 248.

[3] Ibid., p. 249.