Five Hundred Years of Printing

By S. H. Steinberg; John Trevitt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
The first century of printing
1450-1550

I. THE INCUNABULA PERIOD

All historical periods are makeshift expedients: people did not go to bed in the Middle Ages and wake up in modern times.Few of these arbitrary breaks, however, can have been more detrimental to a real understanding of an important section of human progress than the restriction of the term incunabula to the time from Gutenberg's first production to 31 December 1500. This date cuts right across the most fertile period of the new art, dividing the lives of some of its greatest practitioners such as Anton Koberger ( 1445-1513), Aldus Manutius ( 1450-1515), Anthoine Vérard (d. 1512), Johannes Froben ( 1460-1527), Henry Estienne ( 1460-1520) and Geofroy Tory ( 1480-1533).

The word incunabula was first used in connection with printing by Bernard von Mallinckrodt, dean of Münster cathedral, in a tract, De ortu et progressu artis typographicae ( Cologne, 1639), which he contributed to the celebration of the second centenary of Gutenberg's invention.Here he describes the period from Gutenberg to 1500 as 'prima typographiae incunabula', the time when typography was in its swaddling-clothes.The French Jesuit, Philippe Labbé, in his Nova bibliotheca librorum manuscriptorum ( 1653), already equated the word incunabula with the 'period of early printing up to 1500'.

The particular interest of the incunabula period long persuaded research workers to concentrate on the fifteenth century to the grievous neglect of the early sixteenth century. Thus the impression was created that the turn of the century signified the end of one and the beginning of another era in the history of printing, publishing and the trade in general. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

The main characteristics which make a unit of the second half of the fifteenth and the first half of the sixteenth centuries are these: the functions of typefounder, printer, publisher, editor and bookseller are little differentiated; the same man or the same firm usually combines all or most of these crafts or professions. Claude Garamond of Paris (d. 1561) and Jacob Sabon of Lyon and (from 1571) Frankfurt were the first to gain fame for specializing in type-designing, punch-cutting and type-founding, while Robert Estienne (d. 1559) consummated the era of the great printer-scholars. Moreover, by 1540 printing and publishing had barely outgrown the restlessness of the early practitioners to whom knowledge of the craft and an adventurous spirit had sufficed to set up shop anywhere and to move about with the ease permitted by a small equipment and a smaller purse. The number of printers was increasing, but the day of the small itinerant man had passed. Printing, publishing and bookselling had become established industries requiring stability and capital and foresight. The

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Five Hundred Years of Printing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Five Hundred Years of Printing *
  • Contents v
  • Reviser''s Preface vii
  • Introduction i
  • Chapter I- The First Century of Printing 1450-1550 3
  • Chapter II- The Era of Consolidation 1550-1800 74
  • Chapter III- The Nineteenth Century 1800-1900 136
  • Chapter IV- 1900-1955 170
  • Chapter V- The Postwar World 218
  • Conclusion 250
  • Select Bibliography 251
  • Index 255
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