Friday, March 15, 2013

One-hit wonders of Reformation printing

Among sixteenth-century German printers, many - over 300 - are known from only a single edition. Some of these are accidents of bibliography, where the majority of their careers fall outside of the sixteenth century, or European printers with a single German edition recorded in VD16, but most of them are people whose known career in publishing comprises a single edition. In some cases, like "Degenhard Pfeffinger," printer of VD16 B 8454, one wonders if the name was actually a pseudonym. In other cases, like Andreas Reich, printer of VD16 C 6339, there is simply no more than a single edition.

We might expect to see quite a few of these one-hit wonders trying their hand at printing in the early 1520s during the boom in Reformation pamphlets, when many people might have been found it tempting to try their hands at printing, failed to turn a profit, and then disappeared from the market. If we graph out the number of printers per half-decade who are known from only a single edition, however, this is what we find:

The key data point is for the five years from 1521 to 1525 - but the blue line for the number of one-edition printers, essentially unchanged throughout the first half of the sixteenth century, actually declines. If we look at other small operations, including those with up to 5 and then those with up to 15 editions, we find the same thing. Larger printers, those for whom we have 50 or more known editions, saw a substantial increase, continuing steady gains from 1500 up to 1530. What happened to all the Winkeldrucker? One possible answer is that they left their names off their products, and so their names are entirely lost to history.

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