British Library Treasures in full: Caxton's Chaucer
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print Caxton's technologies

Caxton was born around 1420, some 30 years before printing was invented, by Johann Gutenberg in the 1450s. At first the new technology spread rather slowly from Mainz where Gutenberg printed his famous Bible in around 1454-55, but in the mid 1460s it began to spread more rapidly and reached Cologne around 1465. That was where Caxton first engaged with printing, in 1472.

The advantage of printing was the comparatively rapid production of nearly identical copies of the same text at the same time. By having many copies of the same book at once it became much easier for a merchant to market and sell them. Books became a mass-produced merchandise. Caxton was well aware of this.

In a concluding letter in his first printed book, Recuyell of the Histories of Troye Caxton described how he had laboured on his translation of the text and how useful the new invention was. “And for as much as in the writing of the same my pen is worn, my hand weary and not steadfast, my eyes dimmed with overmuch looking on the white paper… and also because I have promised to diverse gentlemen and to my friends to address to them as hastily as I might the said book, therefore I have practised and earned at my great charge and dispense to ordain this said book in print after the manner and form as you may here see, and is not written with pen and ink as other books been, to the end that every man may have them at once.”







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References

Raoul Lefèvre, Le Recueil des histoires de Troyes [English] Recuyell of the historyes of Troye (Translated by William Caxton)
Philipp Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972)
Joseph Moxon, Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing (New York: Dover Publications, 1978)
Blaise Agüera y Arcas, ‘Temporary Matrices and Elemental Punches in Gutenberg’s DK Type’, in Incunabula and Their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century, edited by Kristian Jensen (London: The British Library, 2003), pp. 1-12.
John Flood ‘”Volentes sibi comparare infrascriptos libros impresos...”: Printed Books as a Commercial Commodity in the Fifteenth Century’ in Incunabula and Their Readers: Printing, Selling and Using Books in the Fifteenth Century, edited by Kristian Jensen (London: The British Library, 2003), 139-151
1. The printing type
2. The woodcuts
3. The workshop

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