Printing presses and falcons

This day in London’s history: on the 18th of November 1477 William Caxton printed the first book in England, Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres (Sayings of the Philosophers), translated by Anthony Woodville, the second Earl Rivers and the king’s brother-in-law. Among the other early titles at his press in Westminster was an edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur

Caxton’s customers and patrons were largely from the upper classes, and he produced expensive books aimed at that market. When he died his business was taken over by his apprentice Jan van Wynkyn (also known as Wynkyn de Worde; de Worde was a place name). Wynkyn believed in mass production: success, he decided, lay in producing popular books for the general public rather than large, expensive folios for rich people. The output of his press was greater than any other pre-1600 printer, and included the second edition of the Morte d’Arthur and the third edition of the Canterbury Tales.

Caxton had offices in Falcon Court (the falcon was a common symbol in heraldry; it appeared in the Stationers arms, and was thus popular with booksellers) and in Fleet Street, which began the long association of that street with the printed word.

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