Christoph Froschauer (1490-1564)

Froschauer's printer's mark. The name means "One who lives in frog meadow".
Froschauer, Froschauer

Francis Douce writes about Froschauer:

Christopher Froschover, of Zurich, used two alphabets with the Dance of Death. In Gesner's "Bibliotheca Universalis," printed by him in 1545, folio, he used the letters A. B. C. in indifferent copies of the originals with some variation. In a Vulgate Bible, printed by him in 1544, he uses the A and C of the same alphabet, and also the following letters, with different subjects, viz. F. Death blowing a trumpet in his left hand, with the right seizes a friar holding his beads and endeavouring to escape. O. Death and the Swiss soldier with his battle-axe; and, S. a queen between two Deaths, one of whom leads her, the other holds up her train. The Gesner has also a Q from the same alphabet of Death and the nun. This second alphabet is coarsely engraved on wood, and both are of the same size as the originals.
(Francis Douce, 1833, The Dance of Death, p. 217)

I was a bit undecided as to whether to quote Douce, for his description is incomplete and partly misleading. On the Swiss site,, 1,000 books published by Froschauer are digitized, so let us see if this makes a more structured overview possible.

In fact there are three different alphabets, and Douce has missed the oldest.

I March 1527 Christoph Froschauer published the book: »Farrago annotationum in Genesim«. It contained a copy of Holbein's P. At first sight it can be hard to tell that it's a copy, because in the real world, Holbein's original initials were often printed badly, and it's no easy task to determine whether a woodcut is worn and poorly printed, or a copy.

Let us compare. To the left is a perfect print (a so-called "printer's proof"). Then comes an example of how Holbein's genuine letters could look when used (in this case it is »Polydori Vergilii Urbinatis« from 1532), and finally Froschauer's copy:

Original Holbein printer's proof Original Holbein from Polydori Froschauer's copy
Genuine Holbein, perfect print Genuine Holbein from "Polydori" Froschauer's copy

As one can see, it's only small differences that separate them. In particular, Holbein's soldier has a square jaw, while Froschauer's warrior has a round face. And in Froschauer's copy there's a distance between the weapons and the top frame.

The same year, 1527, Froschauer published »Ain christliche Underwisung der Jugend jm Glouben«, which contained a copy of Holbein's D. Let's compare again:

Original Holbein printer's proof Original Holbein from Polydori Froschauer's copy
Genuine Holbein, perfect print Genuine Holbein from "Polydori" Froschauer's copy
The A was published from 1535 and onward.
Froschauer, Ossuary

Again the differences are small, like the bone on the ground at the bottom left that is lacking in Froschauer's copy.

These two letters were used a number of times in various books published by Froschauer, but after 1531 they fell out of use. Between 1531 and 1544 they were only used in one single book.(1)

In 1535 came instead two new characters: In the book »Adversus omnia catabaptistarum« was an A (picture to the left), which has clearly been inspired by Holbein's A, and in »acta apostolorum Heinrychi Bullingeri« was a C, which was almost an inversed copy of Holbein's.

The B made its first appearance in 1545.
Froschauer, Pope

Then in 1544 came the Bible that Douce described: »Biblia sacrosancta Testamenti«. The A and C were used, and as Douce writes, there were new letters: F, O, Q and S. Douce calls them coarse and he may be right in this, but they are not without their charm. What Douce doesn't tell is that the old D and P also had been taken into favor again and were used once each. Maybe Douce hadn't noticed that they were copies?

Coverdale's English Bible from 1550: The fyrst epistle of Saynct Paul unto Timothe.
Froschauer, Coverdale: P

A letter that was conspicuous by its absence in 1544, is the B. The printer instead used a Beta from a series about Jesus' life with Greek initials. The B, which is a copy of Holbein's B, wasn't used before in the other book mentioned by Douce, viz. »Bibliotheca Universalis« from 1545. On the other hand, this book uses other initials (i.e. without dances of death) for D, F, P and S.

In the following years, the letters D and P were again used by Froschauer, and the different dance of death initials are all used in the English Bibles that he printed for Myles Coverdale (picture to the left).

Froschauer 1531: King
Froschauer 1531: Soldier
Carolum Romanorum: P
Froschauer 1530: Carolum Romanorum: P
Iohannis Iezleri: B
Froschauer 1584: Iohannis Iezleri: B
Stobaiou: A
Froschauer 1543: Stobaiou: A
Novum Testamentum: A
Froschauer 1547: Novum Testamentum: A
Coverdale: S
Froschauer 1500: Coverdale: S
Coverdale: P
Froschauer 1500: Coverdale: P
Bibliotheca universalis: C
Froschauer 1545: Bibliotheca universalis: C
Biblia sacrosancta: F
Froschauer 1544: Biblia sacrosancta: F
Biblia sacrosancta: O
Froschauer 1544: Biblia sacrosancta: O
Canonicae Scripturae: Q
Froschauer 1546: Canonicae Scripturae: Q
Froschauer : Froschauer
Froschauer 1559: Froschauer
Froschauer 1535: Ossuary
Froschauer 1545: Pope
Froschauer 1535: Emperor
Froschauer 1527: King
Froschauer 1544: Monk
Froschauer 1544: Soldier
Froschauer 1527: Soldier
Froschauer 1544: Nun
Froschauer 1544: Queen
Soldier, 1527
Froschauer 1527: Soldier, 1527
King, 1527
Froschauer 1527: King, 1527
Froschauer 1551: Medici
Froschauer N
Froschauer 1531: Froschauer N


Be sure to browse the site. have 1,000 books by Froschauer.

Other alphabets

Footnotes: (1)

one single book . . .: This book is »Apocalypsim Iohannis Apostoli« from 1539.

It should be noted that there is no year on the book.

Up to dance of death alphabets