2.2.10: 1585 - 1725 - Financing, print-runs and prices

During this period as well, a major role was to be played by the paper traders in the financing of printed matter. Paper was very expensive and although printer-publishers necessarily ordered small quantities at a time, many were in debt to their paper supplier as can be shown, for example, by the list of creditors made up in the event of a publisher's bankruptcy. In joint ventures between publishers and printers, the wealthiest publisher sometimes also acted as a supplier of paper as well and, in return, would receive part of the print run from the printer.

Many publications were brought about with borrowed money. The problem was that the turnover rate of books at that time was generally very low: decades after their publication books could be found in the bookshop in sheets, i.e. as new. An investment was repaid very slowly causing the problem of a long-term interest burden and the rental of warehouses.

If an edition had to be financed with one's own capital, publishers could try to limit the risk of piracy through protection by way of a privilege (which, incidentally, also cost money), by sharing the edition with a colleague, by forming a larger joint venture (a company), by ensuring the support - alone or together with an author - of a patron or of the authorities (in return for the dedication of the book to the person or authority in question), by having an author or translator provide the finances or through publication by subscription.

There is little information about print-runs due to a lack of publishers' archives. The print-runs for different categories of printed matter obviously differed enormously. Fewer copies of a beautifully illustrated and therefore expensive folio edition would be printed than of a schoolbook or an almanac. If a publisher wished to provide quality, the print-run could not be too large as the type, but especially the copperplate, would show signs of wear. Copperplates could, however, be refurbished. An average print-run in the seventeenth century amounted to about 1000 to 1500 copies: longer production times meant higher interest charges for the loans taken out. If a publisher knew for certain that a book would do well, he could consider a larger print-run which was cheaper than having to compose a new issue after only a short time.

The prices for printing were, of course, dependent on production costs, especially paper costs and the wages of translators, compositors, correctors, printers, engravers, gatherers and collators. Account had to be taken of additional costs for freight, privileges, the production of an index and suchlike. Something is known of this due to price specifications in a number of stock lists and warehouse catalogues. Around 1600 and in 1628, the price for books without illustrations on good paper appeared to be about half a stiver (about € 0.01) per sheet. This price could be lowered - certainly in reissues after printed copy - by using lesser quality paper and inferior woodcuts in larger print-runs, as was the case in much of the so-called popular literature. The price per sheet could in this way be reduced to a quarter stiver. These are nearly always minimum prices for booksellers for unbound books; discounts were only given to colleagues who paid cash. Consumer prices were 20-40% higher, certainly for bound books, but whether prices were higher or varied in towns other than those where production took place or in the country due to, for example, transport costs is not clear.

author: P.J. Verkruijsse

Financing, print-runs and prices

marbled paper

Definition: decorated paper with a marbling effect produced by placing drops of colour on a liquid surface (the marbling size), using a marbling trough.

brocade paper

Definition: kind of decorated paper: hand-made paper, coloured with a brush on one side on which a (imitation) gold leaf decorative pattern or picture is printed.

paper boys

Definition: person who daily delivers a paper in the letterbox of readers with a subscription.

rag paper

Definition: kinds of paper that have been made entirely of rags. As soon as rags are only partly used in a kind of paper, then this is rag-content paper.

marbled paper

Definition: kind of paper used inter alia for bindings: paper on which - by a special process - a decorative pattern, which sometimes resembles marble, is created by applying a thin layer of paint of two or more colours, or paper printed with an imitation resemblingit.

laid paper

Definition: hand-made paper or (mostly) imitation hand-made paper with a fine screen of water lines.

hand-made paper

Definition: hand-made paper, laid or not, made with a mould, usually with watermark and deckle edges.

wood-pulp paper

Definition: paper containing ground wood-pulp with many small impurities, usually easily torn; cheap but not durable.

wood-free paper

Definition: paper that does not contain wood-pulp, but which is made from pure cellulose and/or cotton or linen rags. It has a beautiful colour and is durable.

Lombardy paper

Definition: name for imported paper of Italian origin, common until the end of the 17th century.

bulky paper

Definition: paper which combines great thickness with a relatively light weight (used by publishers to make small books look more voluminous).


Definition: general term for a material produced in the form of reels or sheets, formed by draining a suspension of vegetable fibres (rags, straw, wood, etc.) on a sieve and usually used, after sizing, for writing, drawing or printing; the name 'paper' is used for aweight of up to about 165 g/m2, 'cardboard' or 'board' for a higher weight.

paper finishers

Definition: workmen in a printing office who hang the damp paper up to dry on a line after it has been printed.

paper conservation

Definition: the restoring, stopping or preventing paper decay caused by acidification and wear and tear.

paper mills

Definition: industrial concern in which paper is produced on a large scale.

paper manufacturers

Definition: 1. owner, employer of a papermill. 2. producer of hand-made paper.

paper formats

Definition: dimensions of a sheet of paper.

paper wholesale businesses

Definition: company that resells large quantities of paper, supplied by producers, to printing offices and other businesses.

paper trade

Definition: economic activity of trading paper, i.e. the buying and selling of paper, as intermediary between production and consumption.

paper traders

Definition: someone whose profession is trading paper.

paper industry

Definition: collective name for all branches of industry concerned with the production of paper.

paper machines

Definition: machine with which paper is formed, pressed, dried and smoothed, from cellulose fibres and other paper ingredients. The result is turned into rolls or cut into sheets.

paper mills

Definition: water mills or windmills where the production of handmade rag paper took place. The drive mechanism of the mill was used to move the beaters loosening the rag fibres.

paper research

Definition: 1. testing paper to judge its appropriateness for a certain use. 2. analysis of paper to determine age or origin.

paper production

Definition: 1. the total of paper produced. 2. paper making.

glossy coated paper

Definition: highly-glossed paper.

kinds of paper

Definition: collective name for variants in paper, originating in the use of different raw materials, sizes and production methods.

paper splitting

Definition: in book restoration: the splitting of paper into two layers which are pasted together again after a support layer has been placed in between.

paper treaters

Definition: labourers in a printing office who wet the paper before printing, so that the ink is absorbed better.

permanent paper

Definition: alkaline paper which satisfies international standards as regards composition and physical properties, so that a durability of at least 150 years is guaranteed.

lignin-rich paper

Definition: kind of ligneous paper: lignin is an element of wood. It causes a rapid ageing of paper whose fibrous composition consists partly of lignin.

decorated paper

Definition: collective name for all sorts of decorated paper whose decoration has come into being either during the manufacturing process or by graphic or other final processing of the sheet of paper.

woodblock paper

Definition: kind of decorated paper printed by means of wooden blocks, which are frequentlyderived from cotton print-works, with a decorative pattern in one or more colours; used especially in the 18th and 19th centuries for covers, endpapers and as pasting materialfor the boards of books.

Troy paper

Definition: name for imported paper of French origin, used until the end of the 17th century.

wove paper

Definition: non-laid hand-made paper, sometimes with a watermark in the bottom edge of the paper

machine-made paper

Definition: paper made using a paper machine

acid-free paper

Definition: paper with a neutral pH value (about pH 7), mainly used in conservation and restoration.