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'Acquired in Westminster by an Englishman'

Private lives of print

England’s first printer, William Caxton, established his press in Westminster in around 1476. Although he printed liturgical books, phrasebooks and indulgences, his press is somewhat anomalous in being chiefly associated with the production of vernacular texts, in many cases translations by Caxton himself of works popular in France or the Netherlands. These were books for a very particular market; prosperous merchants in Caxton’s own class or members of the nobility or the royal family. Other English printers specialized in different areas, printing books for lawyers or schoolboys, or popular books aimed at a broad audience.

Unlike their continental counterparts, English printers produced books almost exclusively for the local market. As a consequence, many early English books bear evidence of passing through the hands of multiple English owners, and reflect uniquely English preoccupations. The market for liturgical and academic books was largely satisfied by the import trade, or through collaborative ventures with continental printers. All of the scholarly books donated by Lord Chancellor Thomas Rotherham to the University of Cambridge in the late fifteenth century, for example, were printed abroad.