words by Gabi Logan
Venice’s historic artisan lane, Calle del Fumo (Alley of Smoke), is lined with workshops turning out handcrafted leather, glass, metal and paper goods using methods that have changed little since the street first earned its descriptive moniker. At number 5306, materials and techniques from the 1800s and earlier to create bespoke prints for celebrity clients.
In a 30-square-meter shop, Gianni Basso and his son Stefano print cards, book plates, and full books with manual type-setting and antique plates. Basso’s collection includes both lettering sets and incised plates from specific editions of prominent 19th and 20th century books, such as his series of 35 plates from the first printing of Pinocchio, complete with illustrations.
Gianni Basso Stampatore houses six pre-industrial printers that Basso refurbished from locations around Venice, including the monastery on the Venetian island of San Lazzaro. From 1717 until 1991, Armenian monks on the island printed books of renowned accuracy and beauty. Basso was one of the last to apprentice in these techniques, studying the art of printing from age 15.
The windows and walls of Basso’s store are lined with modern prints—calling cards and ex libris from his numerous famous clients. Among them are prominent writers, including Danielle Steel and Susan Sontag, and actors who have passed through town on vacation or for work, including Hugh Grant, Marissa Tomai, and Angelina Jolie, though her card isn’t displayed in the window as it has her phone number on it.