1.3.2: 1460 - 1585 - The bookshop, its organisation and function

We are poorly informed about the organisation and function of the bookshop in the period 1460-1585. There is no visual material from this period and written sources are also not extensive. The description of the inventory of the Deventer bookseller, Wolter de Hoge, who died in 1459, offers some insight. This inventory shows that he not only sold books, but also items such as slate-pencils, combs, safety pins and rosaries. In addition, he had about three hundred prints of saints in stock. The presence of a basket shows that he went from door-to-door as a hawker to sell his goods and did not only work from a shop.

The description of the bookseller in the Livre des Mestiers matches this to some extent. According to this source, 'Goris de liberaris' sold, in addition to books, goose and swan quills and various types of parchment. Goris therefore worked as a stationer.

We know a little more about the bookshop of the large Antwerp publisher Christopher Plantin (1520-1589). Between 1563 and 1567, Plantin employed two assistants who were responsible for checking the incoming books, the administration of the incoming and outgoing consignments and also the bills of lading, they were helped in this work by four other members of staff. In addition, the bookshop served as a reception room for traders and booksellers.

Books were, of course, also sold from the bookshop to private individuals. Bookshop sales were relatively modest in size compared to the large-scale sales to other booksellers. Its importance lay in the fact that books were bought for cash in the shop and not bought on account.

We can also derive the organisation and function of the bookshop in this period from the position that the bookshop had within the whole of the book trade. Each publisher sold in his bookshop the books he had printed himself or had had printed by others. The rest of the range was mainly determined by barter among the publishers. In general, books were bartered for books, but other products, such as cloth, also regularly served as a means of exchange.

In the average bookshop there must have been, in addition to other goods, bound and unbound copies of editions from their own print shop and unbound copies from other publishers. Each bookseller was in principle also a bookbinder and therefore bookbinding materials were also part of the shop inventory.

Some booksellers didn't occupy themselves with printing and publishing. This picture emerges from the 1543 inventory of the Louvain bookseller Hieronymus Cloet. In a space of approximately five metres deep, he had 859 different titles on sale in 2546 copies, most of these bound. Based on the titles with an imprint, we learn that Cloet obtained his books from the Low Countries and the German and French regions. Only four books came from Italy. Apart from nearly fifty titles from 1520 and earlier, the majority of all publications in the shop dates after 1536: the stock was clearly up-to-date.

author: P. Franssen

The bookshop, its organisation and function