Utrecht printers

Historia scholastica (1473), E fol 110 rar, pt 1, colofon

Johannes Gutenberg is credited with inventing and perfecting the art of printing in about 1450, which, in just a few decades, ushered in a period in the manufacture and distribution of books that was nothing short of revolutionary. New ideas spread quickly as books containing scientific discoveries, information and viewpoints were printed in large numbers. Initially, there were only two cities outside of Germany and Italy with printing presses: Paris and Utrecht. It can therefore be said that in the northern Low Countries, Utrecht was the cradle of printing.

In the 1470s, at least 33 editions were produced by Utrecht printers Nicolaas Ketelaar and Gerard de Leempt. Of two editions the Special Collections still hold the exemplars in manuscript from the monastery Nova Lux (Nieuwlicht). This is very rare for printed books from the age of the incunabula.

As their actual names are lost in time, other Utrecht printers are referred to with a name derived from one of their commissioners, a famous work, or a specific style: the Printer of the Haneron (probably the canon Willem Hees), the Printer of the Monogram (probably Gerard de Leempt) and the Printer of the Alexander Magnus. They were joined in 1477 by Johan Veldener, from Leuven. However, when he left for Culemborg in 1481, the printing industry in Utrecht came to a grinding halt, about the same time that manuscript illumination dropped off.

It was not until 1514 that a new printer established himself in Utrecht: Jan Berntsz, whose first premises was on Servetstraat near the cathedral. When Jan van Doesborch from Antwerp became his partner in 1531, the quality of Jan Berntsz's work improved considerably.

By the 16th century, there were a dozen printers working in Utrecht, including Herman van Borculo (1538-1576), Coenraet Henricksz and his widow (1577-1586) and Salomon de Roy (1590-1637). By the 17th and 18th centuries, this figure had increased to about 100 and over 150, respectively (see the database of Utrecht University Library). By means of a spatial and temporal way Utrecht printers are portrayed on the website Geocontexting Printers and Publishers. This website is still under development.

Together, they produced a large number of works, ranging from scientific books and academic disputations (theses) to pamphlets and almanacs, of which a variety can be found in the Special Collections.

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