1.3.3: 1460 - 1585 - Kinds of booksellers

The functions of publisher, printer and bookseller were generally united in a single company during the period 1460-1585. Publishers with their often Latin editions focused on the local as well as on the national and international markets.

For this reason, even before the end of the fifteenth century, publishers concentrated in university towns and towns with a favourable geographical location. Thus, between 1466 and 1477 the Mainz printer-publisher Peter Schöffer had a branch in the university town of Paris.

Publishers often exchanged their books and other trading goods with other publishers at annual markets and book fairs. Representatives with publisher's lists, prospectuses and, later on, catalogues, provided information to booksellers and individual customers about the available publications. In addition, hawkers were provided by publishers with almanacs, song books and simple religious booklets with which they travelled the country to form a fine-meshed distribution system.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the bookshop served primarily as a local sales point for the production of the publisher-printer himself. The character of the output was determined by his education, the place where he was established and the supposed profitability of a niche market. The university-trained printer, Dirk Martens of Louvain, printed between 1512 and 1529 about 150 humanist and classical texts in Latin, Greek and Hebrew while producing only two Dutch and two French editions. Between 1501 and 1530, about 40 percent of the editions of Jan van Doesborch of Antwerp were in English and intended for export. From 1542, the Phalesius family specialized in the printing of music books.

The bookseller's range was also determined by his individual network and his activities at annual markets and book fairs. In 1567, three wagons loaded with 17 barrels and nine bales of books, belonging to six Antwerp printers, went from there to the book fair at Frankfurt. Of course, books were subsequently brought back from Frankfurt. Christopher Plantin fulfilled the function of wholesaler in all this. He provided many colleagues from the Netherlands and northern France with books, either as a publisher or as an intermediary during his working life.

Independent booksellers of any size were scarce in the period 1460-1585. The margins for booksellers from publishers were small and the Plantin archive also shows that booksellers had many opportunities to return unsold books.

An independent bookseller ran too great a risk and had to have, in addition to capital, a good knowledge of the sales market. There were, however, exceptions. In Emden, Gaspar Staphorst focused in 1567 on the general market with a catalogue in which he offered no less than 176 editions in Latin, German and French. Many of the titles mentioned were high-quality, voluminous, and therefore expensive, folios published by the major publishers of Europe.

author: P. Franssen

Kinds of booksellers