chapter
3 Pages

Introduction

In the middle years of the fifteenth century, when the German goldsmith Johann Gutenberg was beginning the experiments which were to lead to the invention of typographic printing, the form of the book with which he was familiar was already sixteen hundred years old. The codex, folded sheets held together in a binding, had gradually displaced the scroll between the first century BC and the third century AD, until it had become the only form in which texts were normally copied.1 The trade in manuscripts was even older than the codex itself. There is evidence for a commercial book trade in ancient Athens and its existence is well authenticated in Rome. Scribes working for booksellers made copies of texts for individual customers or for authors to distribute to their friends, or even speculatively for the bookseller to offer for sale.2 After the fall of the Western empire at the beginning of the fifth century, the copying of manuscripts retreated into the monasteries, and it was not until the twelfth century that it emerged again into the sphere of commerce. This crucial development took place in Paris, and thereafter commercial book production developed in most of the major cities of the West.3