USTC Conference: Gender and the Book Trades Part I

Friday 16 July 2021

This year, the annual Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) Conference went online for the first time. In the past, Special Collections has supported this conference with a live show and tell – delegates could see books, turn the pages, and talk face to face with curators. This wasn’t possible this year, so instead we gave a power-point presentation, highlighting items from our collections, across libraries and museums, which fitted with the conference’s theme ‘Gender and the Book Trades’. Over a series of four blog instalments we’ll see the items from that virtual showcase. This week highlights female involvement in the book trade as printer, bookseller, and publisher.

The title page of this Biblia Sacra, printed in Paris in 1526, is dominated by the printer’s device of Thielman Kerver (d. 1522). He had a highly successful printing career specialising in Books of Hours. Upon turning to the colophon of this book, however, it can be seen that Kerver wasn’t the printer, but rather his widow, Yolande Bonhomme (c. 1490-1557). She was born into a family of Parisian printers, and probably learned aspects of the trade in her father’s shop. She took over her husband’s business after he died in 1522, and produced between 136 and 200 publications before her own death in 1557. This Biblia Sacra is the first Bible to be printed by a woman.

The title page of the Biblia Sacra, dominated by the printer’s device of Thielman Kerver. GHF32.b(1).

The colophon, where Yolande Bonhomme identifies herself solely as the widow of Kerver.

Many women were involved with the Plantin-Moretus printing business, at the Officina Plantiniana (later the Plantin Press), Antwerp. This business lasted for 300 years, and women involved included Anna Goos (1627–1691), printer and co-manager from 1674-1681; Anna Maria de Neuf (1654-1714), printer and manager from 1696 until her death in 1714; and Maria-Theresia Borrekens (1728-1797), who became a formidable leader of the firm upon her husband’s death in 1768. However, the Plantin-Moretus dynasty all began with Christophe Plantin (1520-1589), a Frenchman who moved to Antwerp around 1550 to develop his printing business. By 1570 his publishing house was the largest in the world, and in its heyday had 22 presses and more than 80 employees.

Matthias de Lobel’s Plantarum seu stirpium historia (Antwerp, 1576), printed by Christophe Plantin, is one of the earliest attempts to classify plants by their natural characteristics rather than by their medicinal properties. In the St Andrews copy the title page and some of the woodcuts have been hand coloured. TypNAn.B76PL

In around 1558 Jan Moretus (1543–1610) entered Plantin’s employment, working his way up from bookshop assistant to Plantin’s right-hand man. When Christophe died in 1589 he left his printing works and bookshop to Moretus. Moretus married Plantin’s second daughter, Martina (1550-1616), in 1570. Following the death of her husband, she became the head of the Plantin-Moretus printing business from 1610 to 1614, with daily operations managed by her sons Balthasar (1574-1641) and Jan II (d. 1618).

Franciscus HaraeusVitae sanctorum (Antwerp, 1590) is one of four works which we have in St Andrews where Christophe’s widow is named alongside Moretus as printer. TypNAn.B90PV.

Martina and her sons are not named in the imprint Stephanus Vinandus Pighius, Annales Romanorum, 3 vols. (Antwerp, 1599-1615). Instead, they are referred to as ‘widow and sons of Jan Moretus’. Scot DG208.P5C15.

In addition to being involved with the printing and publishing of books, women were also involved in bookselling. Elizabeth Calvert (d. 1675?) and her husband Giles (bap. 1615-1663) had a shop at the Black-Spread Eagle at the west end of St Paul’s Churchyard, London, which was a major source of radical and Quaker publications during the periods of the Civil War and Commonwealth. Following the Restoration Elizabeth took a central role in arranging the printing and distribution of radical pamphlets. She was arrested twice before her husband’s death in August 1663. Despite these imprisonments, consequent debts, and the destruction of her shop in 1666 in the Great Fire of London, Calvert persisted in her trade, continuing to publish both openly and surreptitiously.

Richard Steele’s An Antidote Against Distractions (London, 1669) is the only work which we can currently trace in our collections with Elizabeth Calvert’s name in the imprint. Mor BV4520.S8.

The paper title label on the tail of the text block of Steele’s An Antidote.

Another female bookseller who can be found amongst our collections is Anne Dodd (ca. 1685-1739). She was married to Nathaniel Dodd, and in late 1711 or early 1712 they moved to the sign of the Peacock without Temple Bar in St Clement Danes parish, where they established what quickly became the best-known pamphlet shop in London (and remained so for some 40 years). Eighteenth-century law meant that any wife’s business was legally her husband’s, so this makes it difficult to determine whose business the shop really was. Yet whatever role Nathanial played, it was always Anne’s name which appeared in the imprints of the hundreds of newspapers and pamphlets advertised for sale at the Peacock. After Nathaniel’s death in October 1723, Anne became sole proprietor of the business, and the fact that it continued to prosper for three more decades (with Anne’s daughter Anne Dodd Jr. (active 1739-1758) at the helm after her mother’s death), indicates that Anne had always been perfectly capable of running things on her own, passing on these business skills to her daughter.

Town-Talk is the earliest work in our collections which includes Anne Dodd’s address alongside her name: the Peacock, without Temple-Bar. r17 AC900.P103.

Here at St Andrews we have a strong collection of works published by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) and Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) at the Hogarth Press. The Press was founded in 1917 when the Woolfs purchased a hand press, together with materials and instruction booklet. It was intended as a hobby, to publish their own work, but the Press soon became a publishing phenomenon, printing some of the most advanced writing of the day. The first book printed on the Hogarth Press was Two Stories, which contains the short stories ‘Three Jews’ by Leonard and ‘The mark on the wall’ by Virginia. It took two and half months to print 150 copies, and as the printing process was all-consuming, Virginia did not compose her short story until the printing of Leonard’s was complete.

Copies of Two Stories were bound with paper covers by hand. As this was done on an ad-hoc basis different covers exist. St Andrews’ copy is bound in Japanese paper wrappers, with a red and white conventional all-over design. r PR6045.O72T8.

This week we highlighted items where women were involved in the printing, selling, and publishing of books. Join us next time to hear about items which women edited or illustrated.

Briony Harding
Assistant Rare Books Librarian

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