All books had to be approved, or allowed,
by the authorities before they could be printed. This was usually
the responsibility of the
bishop of London or the archbishop of Canterbury. There were fees
for such approval, and the regulation was not always enforced.
In addition, all books approved for printing had to be licensed
by the Stationers’ Company before the work could be done.
The licence, which cost 6 old pence, gave the owner of the copy
(usually the publisher or the printer) the exclusive right to print
the text. The owner often entered his copy in the register of the
Stationers’ Company, as proof of his ownership.
There was no copyright, in the modern
sense, in Shakespeare’s
time. The author of a book had no rights in his work. The owner
of a manuscript had no right to publish it. Only the Stationers’ Company
licence gave the owner of the copy the right to publish a work.
Once a stationer had a licence, he could publish the work without
the knowledge or consent of the author.
The organisation of the London book trade in the late 16th and
early 17th centuries differed in several ways from its modern counterpart.
- Printers usually printed books for others. They owned the type and the printing presses, and they employed the men who did the printing. They did not usually sell books to the public.
- Booksellers ran the shops that sold books to the public. They were not usually also printers. They were free to buy and sell any book, although some specialised in certain subjects. Booksellers named in imprints were those who sold books wholesale to the retailers who sold them to the public.
- Publishers acquired the texts of books for printing. They paid for copies to be printed, and sold them wholesale. Most publishers were booksellers, although a few were also printers. There was no separate word for publisher in the modern sense.
These different roles can be seen in imprints.
Printers are often indicated by the words ‘printed by’. Wholesale booksellers
can be introduced by the words ‘sold by’. Publishers
can be identified by the words ‘printed for’. However,
the wording of imprints is not a reliable guide to the roles of
those named in them.
Printing was done entirely by hand. First,
the size and form of the book would be decided, usually based
on the printing house’s
style and other similar books. The copy, whether a manuscript or
a previous edition, would be prepared with corrections and annotations
to help with the printing. The composition or setting of the type
was done letter by letter and line by line. The lines of type were
assembled into pages, and the pages to be printed on one side of
a sheet of paper were brought together into a forme. The pages
were arranged in the forme so as to be in the right order when
the other side of the sheet had been printed, and the whole sheet
was folded into a single quire of the book.
The forme was placed on the printing press and the type was inked.
The paper was prepared by thorough damping, so that it would take
up the ink properly. Sheets were placed on the forme and printed
one by one, first on one side and then (from a new forme) on the
other in a process called perfecting. Hand press printing was subject
to a variety of inconsistencies as well as errors, which would
leave distinct traces in the final printed book.
After printing, the sheets were hung up to dry. All the sheets
for an individual book were then gathered together and collated.
The resulting copies were baled up for despatch to the booksellers.
Books were generally sold unbound, for purchasers to have them
bound as they wished, although booksellers often had a small number
bound for sale at a higher price. Small thin books and pamphlets
were normally sold with their quires stitched together but otherwise