The importance of ephemera for the printing industry in the early modern period: The case of Barcelona

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In some European cities, jobbing printing was essential for the subsistence of the book industry during the early modern period. In Barcelona, for instance, printing-houses lacked long-term capital investment in order to print books on a large scale. Therefore, printers routinely worked on a short-term basis, producing a great number of daily single sheets which could be easily sold and which returned money almost immediately. At the end of the seventeenth century there were twelve printing-houses in Barcelona, where about 40,000 people resided. How is it possible that a small city like that had such a large number of printers operating at the same time? The answer is simple: the main work of the printing-houses was the production of ephemera, not only for institutions but also for individuals, who found in typography a fast and cheap way to reproduce documents. The use of typography reached almost every area of people’s activity: politics and administration, economy and trade, justice and public order, defence, prevention of disease, religion, circulation of information and education. This paper aims to show, taking the case of Barcelona, that the most significant contribution of the use of typography to the development of early modern society was not the book itself, but rather broadsheets and other small ephemeral printed papers – especially billets–, which aided the work of the administration and political institutions in communication and governance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-150
JournalDe Gulden Passer (Antwerp)
Issue number98
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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