Saturday, April 8, 2023

Medieval Bookshops

The keyword "books" has been applied 100 101 times in the almost 1200 posts of this blog, but if the term is connected with a location, it has either been a private library or in the scriptorium of a monastery. At some point, however, copies of books became available to the general public. As with previous situations, they were managed from a religious organization. Unlike monastic scriptoria, however, they were made available on a for-profit basis.

Universities were the source of bookshops, and the rector would administer an oath to the person managing the business, such as:
“You swear that the books received by you shall be safely kept, exhibited and sold in good faith. You swear that you will not deny them nor conceal them, but that you will expose them at proper time and place. You swear that if you are consulted on the selling price of one or more books, you will give in good faith, reserving your proper commission, an estimation, i. e. , such a sum as you would voluntarily give on occasion. You swear that the price of the copy, and the name of the vendor (the person sworn), if required, shall be placed in some part of the book exposed for sale.”[link]
When a book was sold, the rector received the money after the bookshop manager took his fee. Besides selling, books could be borrowed from the shop for the purpose of copying—for a fee, of course.

The 14th century saw an increase in such shops, but it also saw an increase in rules and regulations about bookshops and booksellers, suggesting that the sellers were less than reputable. The temptation to create and sell cheap and flawed copies on the side was strong, as was the temptation to overcharge and increase one's own fee before passing the money to the rector. Hence the oath above that required making the proper price visible on each book.

Despite the picture above (of a current bookstore in France), the bookshop was not just a place with books on shelves waiting to be sold. There was also a lot of what we call these days "books on demand." I'll explain that tomorrow.

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