1.2.11: 1460 - 1585 - Language/genre

The existing bibliographical reference works give a more or less complete overview of book production in Belgium and the Netherlands up to 1600. Book production has also been further analysed for the period 1473-1540. On average, about 60% of the almost 6000 titles which were printed in the period 1473-1540 were Latin works and almost 30% Dutch (including bilingual works). The other 10% consisted of works in other languages. Before 1500 this last group consisted mainly of French books, between 1500 and 1540 English and Greek books appeared on the market in addition to French ones and, after 1540, Spanish ones as well. A few Low German, Danish and Hebrew books were also brought out. The percentage of total book production held by the Latin, Dutch and other-language texts remained more or less unchanged throughout this period. Comparison on the basis of the (estimated) production volume leads to a somewhat larger average share (more than 35%) of Dutch printed works , at the cost of Latin. It should also be noted that the number of Dutch titles after 1500 was possibly higher because, from 1500 onwards, small, cheap Dutch-language booklets appeared on the market in increasing numbers of which probably relatively many have been lost. It is to be expected that the proportions during the period 1540-1585 will not have changed drastically although book production as such continued to grow considerably.

The classification into genres in the existing analyses of book production during this period varies from very detailed (as in the Nederlandsche bibliographie van 1500 tot 1540 by Nijhoff and Kronenberg) through to general. As the various categories cannot be delineated accurately, any classification is to some extent arbitrary. In addition, there was often a certain stratification in a text so that classification into different categories is possible. It is clear that religious books accounted for by far the greatest part of book production in this period (almost two-thirds up until 1540). The editions of the Bible accounted for no less than one fifth of the total output in this period. In addition, (non-religious) schoolbooks and scholarly works formed a major group (nearly a quarter). Only a small proportion (about 10%) consisted of literary works (poetry and prose). These proportions did not change significantly during the period 1473-1540. There were, however, changes within the various categories. In the largest category, that of religious works, the Lives of the Saints for example, disappeared almost completely after 1520 but new theological books (Reformation literature) actually increased. Between 1520 and 1535 an explosion of Bible editions occurred. As censorship by the authorities increased after 1540 and affected the production of religious books in particular, production of them decreased rapidly in the Netherlands in the second half of the sixteenth century. Many of these (forbidden) books were produced abroad during this period (for example London, Emden).

It was not unusual for printers to specialize. They did so for various reasons. Good business contacts abroad could be the reason for the production of non-Dutch language works (Ruremunde - English; Vorsterman - Danish), but also technical possiblities of the printing house could lead to a certain specialism. There were also local peculiarities: schoolbooks were at one time the primary source of income for the printers of Deventer.

author: A. den Hollander