Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books
A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology

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Caxton, William ( c 1416-1491 )

The English linguist, editor, printer, and publisher, who was the first to print books in the English language. Caxton was born in Kent, possibly in the village of Tenderton, traveled to London in 1438 and became apprenticed to the merchant Robert Large, who was also Lord Mayor of London. Three years later Large died, leaving the young Caxton some 20 marks, a not inconsiderable sum in those days. Possibly as early as 1441 Caxton moved to Bruges and by not later than 1446 had established himself in business there. While in Flanders (1446-76) he became a very successful merchant in the Anglo-Flemish cloth trade, and was made governor of the English Nation at Bruges in 1462.

It was in Bruges that Caxton entered the service of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and sister of Edward IV of England. It is believed that he functioned as secretary, librarian, translator, or all three, to Margaret, and it has also been suggested that it may have been her keen desire to have books in her native language that prompted Caxton to take up the trade of translating and publishing books in English. It may have been during a visit to Cologne in 1471-72 that he first encountered the craft of printing, and it is reasonably certain that he learned the craft from Johann Veldener.

Caxton returned to Bruges in 1472 and there published the first printed book in the English language, Raoul le Fevre's Le Recueil des Histories de Troyes , which he had translated in about 1473-74. It is supposed that Caxton financed the publication but that it was actually printed by Veldener at Louvain. Caxton returned to England in 1476, where he lived for the next 15 years, dying in London in 1491.

Regardless of what some critics may say of Caxton's lack of scholarship and education, his place in history is deserved more because of his ability as a linguist and editor, than as a printer and publisher. Even so, he printed some 18,000 pages, most in folio size, and almost 80 separate books. He did most of the administrative work of the press through his three main assistants, Wynkyn de Worde, Richard Pynson, and Robert Copland. In all, Caxton translated at least 22 books; he may well have translated others that were never published.

It is thought that Caxton probably brought his bookbinding tools from Bruges upon his return to England, because two of his stamps are very similar to those used on books found contemporaneously in the city. Caxton's stamps were used after his death by his successor, Wynkyn de Worde, and some, thereafter, by Henry Jacobi. (50 , 140 )

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