An answer for “Why does the small h letter in Garamond italic bend inward?” shows the following image:
The middle row of this image (marked Han 86R, Rome 1468) has the capital N inverted compared to the others, which range from 1465 to 1470. Note that the top serifs are consistently longer on the left, and the bottom serifs are consistently longer on the left. This shows that it was a deliberate design choice, not an accidentally mirrored photo.
As you can see, flipping the image produces a weird-looking N, because the serifs are long in the wrong direction.
Why was the N inverted in just this typeface?
Seeing as no additional answers were coming in, I ended up emailing Riccardo Olocco, the author of the original article: The Venetian origins of roman type which included the images in the question. Here is what he had to say:
I’m not an expert of Han’s type, I studied this printer very little,
because he was based in Rome while the focus of my research is Venice.
However it seems to me that in the beginning Han always used the
upside-down N while in a later stage of the type he used the right N.
BMC claims that the same thing happened at Riessinger’s press. He was
another German printer based in Rome who employed the same type in the
late 1460s: https://tw.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/ma09186
Han and Riessinger have not been targeted with proper research. Paolo
Veneziani did something (only in Italian), but we know very little
about the early years in Rome, even less than the early period in
While this does not completely answer the question, I feel like it contributes valuable information as it eliminates many other hypotheses. Anyone looking for a PhD topic in typography? 🙂