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The first English and the first Dutch printer's manual: a comparison

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Joseph Moxon's Mechanick exercises on the whole art of printing (1683-4) and David Wardenaar's Beschrijving der boekdrukkunst (1801) are the oldest printer's manuals for their respective language areas, whereby it must be noted that the English manual was disseminated in printed form, while the Dutch work has only been preserved in manuscript (annotated edition: 1982, 2nd edn. 1986). More than a century separates these two manuals, but the geographical distance is limited as Moxon (who spent some years in the Dutch printing world) regularly refers to Dutch techniques and practices. Except correspondences between the two manuals there are also many differences, the result amongst other things of the various backgrounds of the authors. Moxon - gentleman-printer and 'encyclopedian' - offers a purely technical description of the art of printing, while his Dutch colleague-employee (compositor, later overseer) - also attends to socio-economic aspects. Both the differences as well as the correspondences of the two manuals lead to the conclusion that a printer's manual does not reflect 'a definite' reality, which implies a warning with respect to the use made of this type of source by book historians.


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