September 18

The art of printing came to Venice this day in 1469 upon the granting of a privilege to print to a Bavarian printer, Johannes da Spira, by the Senate of the city. The privilege gave Da Spira the exclusive right to print for a period of five years, a practice which became quite common in the Italian city states when printing was gaining a foothold. If a printer could exercise a monopoly, he was quite ready to establish himself in any locality which could offer it to him.

Da Spira brought with him his brother Wend the pair began at once to set up their printing office. Their selection of Venice was dictated by strictly commercial reasons. In fact the German traders in that city were instrumental in helping Johannes to secure the privilege. From its geographic location Venice was at the time the center of European trade, and it was natural that printing be a part of it. Latin was then the universal language of the scholar wherever he might be located. Thus the early Venetian printers were in an excellent position to print for the whole of Europe, utilizing the first class transportation routes maintained by the traders, which spread from Venice in every direction. Within a relatively short period there were over two hundred printers in Venice. According to E.P. Goldschmidt, “Barrels of books left Venice every day.” He was of course referring to the method of printing then used in book production which was to print the books and ship them in signatures. The bookseller or the private customer of the printer preferred to have his books bound in his own style, some of the wealthy purchasers maintaining binding establishments of considerable size.

The first book to be issued by Da Spira was a folio edition of Cicero’s Epistolae ad familiares. The type for this volume is a roughly hewn roman letter in the style of the humanist scribes but with gothic characteristics. Stanley Morison, the great historian of typography, says of Da Spira’s roman that “it is fine for its time, broad but spoiled by ill-proportioned capitals, too heavy for the lowercase and ungainly in cut.”

The Cicero of Da Spira thus became the first book to be produced in what became the first great printing center, which according to Bernard saw the printing of over two million copies of books by 1500, a period of just thirty-one years.

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