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Forms of Enlightenment: Society, Commerce and the hidden Revolution of Print in Europe, 1450-1850

Miræus lectures, Wednesday 15 May 2013
James Raven

This lecture concerns two neglected and importantly related histories: that of jobbing printing in the printing house, and that of jobbing printing in the social and economic transformation of Europe between the late fifteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Neither history has been given the attention it deserves.


Most accounts of printing in Europe since the invention of moveable type in 1550 elucidate the production of books, periodicals and newspapers. Almost completely ignored is the mainstay of the printing house: the printer’s output of jobbing or job–work. Almost every printer from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century depended absolutely on the regular income afforded by the jobbing work. It has been a hidden history. It is also a history of the social construction of knowledge. The fundamental concern is the production of non-book print. Such production, known as ‘jobbing printing’ or just ‘jobbing’ or ‘job-work’, comprised a myriad of small but extremely numerous orders for small, but extremely numerous printed items ranging from receipt slips to forms lefts largely blank to be filled in by pen and ink. Jobbing was the life-blood of the printing house; it kept most printers going; and, in turn, wide-ranging jobbing output transformed the ways in which people did business and lived their lives.


It is now nearly forty years since Keith Maslen, having immersed himself in the eighteenth-century Bowyer printing ledgers, urged bibliographers to go beyond W.W. Greg’s founding ‘apologia’ that their proper concern is with ‘books as material objects’. Even Maslen in his path-breaking essay, seems to have regarded the study of jobbing – indispensable as said it was – to be principally a means of understanding better the production and reception of books (in terms of concurrent printing and printing house practices, for example). His conclusion, nonetheless, was that ‘jobbing printing can be used as an index of civilization’, a conclusion yet to be tested by scholarly study.



Free entrance
Venue: Nottebohm Hall of the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience
Hendrik Conscienceplein 4
B-2000 Antwerpen


The Miræus Lectures are an initiative of the Flanders Book Historical Society and are supported by the Antwerp Bibliophile Society and the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience.