1.2.5: 1460 - 1585 - Co-operation

Co-operation in the book trade took place between the poles of international contacts and the promotion of local interests. Some of the earliest printers in the Netherlands first worked elsewhere before establishing themselves in their country, but foreigners also set up printing pressess in the Low Countries. As the edition could not always be sold in the immediate surroundings, for distribution purposes use was made of contacts elsewhere or of existing trade channels. People met one another at annual fairs and from the sixteenth century, more and more, at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair. On a local level they joined guilds which functioned primarily to impede the access of third parties to the book trade. With this in mind marriage partners were preferably sought within the guild.

Co-operation in the production of books mostly took place within these networks. Initially, the investments for establishing a press brought business partners together. In the association of the printers Ketelaer and De Leempt of Utrecht (1473-1474), the former represented the capital. De Leempt was a printer who, like others in his trade, led a mobile existence and worked for various clients. The co-operation between Dirk Martens and Johan van Westfalen, who set up a company at the same time in Alost, was a financial one as well.

Later, a group of printers was active in Delft (Van der Meer, Yemantszoon, Snellaert, Eckert van Homberch) who exchanged or passed on services and materials. Co-operation could, however, span greater distances. After moving to Antwerp in 1484, Gheraert Leeu promoted his interests in the North through various contacts including his brother Claes Leeu, Jacop Bellaert in Haarlem and Peter van Os van Breda in Zwolle. These printers had type and woodcuts which were also used by Leeu and which were, in some cases, lent by him. Lending of woodcuts also occurred often in the sixteenth century. Lack of material meant that co-operation occasionally had to be sought further afield. Around 1500, for example, the printing of liturgical works for use in the Netherlands was contracted out to Parisian printers who had the required material for this specialised work.

Soon, it was the financing of an edition which brought book trade colleagues together. This was how the specialism of the publisher who did not print his own publications developed. An example of a non-printing publisher in the North was Bartholomaeus Jacobszoon (Amsterdam 1530-1544). Jan van Ghelen in Antwerp was one of the printers who worked for him. A publisher who had a lot of work printed by others was Joannes Steelsius (Antwerp c.1533-1562) who employed a whole series of other printers in the city. An increasing number of printers devoted themselves to the production of printed matter for colleagues. Adriaen van Berghen, who worked in Antwerp from 1500, obtained commissions not only from his own town but also from Valenciennes, Doornik and Reichenau. There were also cases of sharing the costs of printing by a number of publishers.

Christopher Plantin, who appeared on the scene in 1555, made use, as a skilful businessman, of all forms of co-operation mentioned above which had, by then, become quite common.

author: W. Heijting