British LibraryTreasures in full: Caxton's Chaucer
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3. The workshop

When Caxton was first was involved in a printing project, in Cologne, his books were printed by Johann Schilling. Later, in Westminster, he owned a printing workshop himself, but even then it is highly unlikely that Caxton, a successful merchant, did any manual work himself.

He certainly translated works for his press, and he may have been involved in proof-reading. Before he established his own shop, there were no printers in England, so all his workmen must have been immigrants. One of them, Wynkyn de Worde, must have had a senior position in the workshop for he continued the business after Caxton’s death in early 1492 until he himself died in 1535.

Printer’s workshop
From the Danse macabre [Lyons: Mathias Huss], 18 Feb. 1499 [/1500?]. The British Library IB.41735.


We do not have contemporary descriptions of how a printing workshop was organised. The earliest illustration is French, from 1499 or 1500, part of the Danse macabre, a book showing how all parts of society are equal in the face of death. Here we see death dancing through a printer’s workshop, showing a compositor – the workman who puts individual pieces of types together – the man who worked the press and, in the background, the man who inked the type, in his hand an inking ball. On the right of the woodcut we see an early bookshop. All these activities are recognisable from later descriptions of how printers worked.

 
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