18th November 1477. The King’s Printer.
The earliest known example of printing by William Caxton, and not discovered until 1928, was an Indulgence from the Abbot of Abingdon.(see below)
In 1468 Caxton, a mercer and Merchant Adventurer in Bruges, translated the ‘Recueil of the Histories of Troy’, under the patronage of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy.(1)
Having discovered Colard Mansion in Bruges, experimenting with blocks of movable type from Germany and Holland, he was paid by Caxton to print this translation, the first book to be printed in English in 1474.(2)
Caxton on his return translated many works into the native Middle-English which he was now keen to print, after renting a shop in the precincts of Westminster Abbey.(3)
So it was on a flat-bed, wooden, hand printer, emulating handwriting, that the first dated book printed in England was published Today in 1477 by William Caxton: ‘The Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres’ (The Sayings of the Philosophers).
In this time of increasing literacy and growth of the universities, Caxton saw a demand which he was to satisfy.
The products were various and included Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. Between 1477 and 1491 Caxton translated twenty-one books mainly French romances and German texts and printed eighty including all that was best in English literature. He translated many Bible stories and passages from the Golden Legends such as George and the Dragon.(4)
He helped to fix the form of the English language-there were no dictionaries-and also to slowly change cultural life, and not least to make printing a commercial proposition.
After Caxton’s death in 1491, Alsation born Wynkyn de Worde took control of the business, being the first to employ italics. He also popularised romantic books, those for children, advice for pilgrims, land-husbandry, marriage tips and household hints, all the things we read today!
Hundreds of years before newspapers in the area, he brought printing to Fleet Street, at the ‘Sign of the Sun’, and also had a shop near St. Paul’s Cathedral, at the ‘Sign of the Lady of Pity’, where the booksellers congregated.
(1) She was sister of Edward IV.
(2) On May 28th 1474. The invention of Printing is credited to Gutenberg 1454.
(3) Caxton was entered on the Rolls of the Abbey by Sacrist, John Estency.
(4) By the end of his life Caxton became King’s Printer and it is estimated he had printed a hundred books, about one-third of which survive.
His books have no title pages and punctuation, have no set form, some books having no points, whilst others have points and colons; commas are usually marked by a short or long line.
Ref: special.lib.gla.ac.uk/printing/Pic Image.