1.3.6: 1460 - 1585 - Forms of trading / payment

The forms in which the trade in books was carried out in the period up to 1585 are closely related to the way in which the publishing house was organised. Printer, publisher and bookseller were still often one and the same person. No distinction had yet been made between wholesale trade and retail trade.

For sales close to home, in as far as this could not take place in one's own bookshop, publishers made use of colporteurs and of factors who were more or less permanently located in neighbouring places. Publisher-booksellers worked together for local, but especially for regional and international sales. They not only had works from their own lists in stock but also publications of their colleagues: the exchange of quotas from their own production was a much-used method. Publishers also formed associations for the joint production and distribution of one or more editions. We can recognise these publications because the association is referred to on the title page or in the colophon or because there are different title pages for identical editions (one for each participant). In such associations it was primarily a matter of jointly obtaining the capital needed to invest in an expensive edition. Often, however, each participants was responsible for a certain portion of the sales. Sometimes in such cases, one of the partners was not a book trade man, but a prominent - and rich - member of the community. Transactions in distant places for smaller printers, forced to stay at home, were sometimes commissioned to a larger member of the trade. Wholesale as well as retail trading took place at the annual regional fairs such as those in Deventer, Bergen op Zoom and Antwerp. The presence of printer Jan Seversz of Leiden at such annual fairs can be shown from his so-called 'shop cash book'. International sales of larger quotas took place at the large annual fairs of which the most important in the sixteenth century was that of Frankfurt.

A special form of distribution made use of ecclesiastical channels. We are familiar with this method thanks to a notarial deed of 1507 from Antwerp wherein the publisher Dirk Martens and the abbot of Werden, partly on behalf of the abbot of Egmond, entered into an agreement to print a thousand breviaries and the same number of diurnals according to the ordinarius of the congregation of Bursfeld. Both abbots in turn obtained from the chapter of this congregation the monopoly on these liturgical works while the orders were placed via the chapter gatherings. This method of distribution was fairly exceptional: normally, the ordinary commercial channels were used for the sale of liturgical works.

As international payments were difficult, publisher-booksellers tried as often as possible to transact their business at a distance without the use of cash. The forms of exchange and co-operation described above greatly reduced the need to transfer money. In addition, the book trade often made use of bills of exchange. Jan Seversz also paid his Antwerp colleague Vorsterman in kind, with gold and silver objects. They tried as much as possible to settle any remaining debts at the annual fairs: these usually ended with a number of days devoted to all kinds of settlements.

author: K. Goudriaan

Forms of trading / payment