1.4.1: 1460 - 1585 - Introduction

The invention and development of the art of printing in the period 1460-1585 had major consequences for all aspects of book consumption. Purchasing, collecting and reading behaviour greatly changed in this period.

The invention of the art of printing constituted an answer to the ever-increasing demand for texts in medieval society. The production time for an individual copy decreased drastically and of each text three to five hundred copies came on to the market at the same time. The cost price, compared to that in the manuscript period, was dramatically lower partly because of the use of paper instead of parchment.

A book was, however, certainly in the sixteenth century, still not cheap. Books developed in the period 1460-1585, however, as a result of switching to smaller formats and types, from a luxury article for a small elite of noblemen and patricians, humanists and clerics into something that was accessible for and became familiar to those with a regular salary.

Education profited as well. For the first time it became possible for each grammar school student to have his own copy of a book. Already in the fifteenth century, Deventer printers such as the Pafraets and Van Breda who produced for all layers of education, were among the major printers. In the course of the sixteenth century, the personal use of books becomes the norm in vernacular education as well.

The invention of the art of printing also made a further individualisation of the use and ownership of books possible. Besides the nobility and monasteries, the lower clergy, academically trained civil servants and members of other professions were collecting more or less extensive private libraries, while at the same time, town libraries made books available to an even larger group of people.

The greater supply of texts also contributed to the individualisation of reading behaviour: in addition to reading aloud to oneself or to others, individual silent reading became a more normal form of interacting with the printed book.

author: P. Franssen