The Frankfurt Book Fair Part 2

The Frankfurt Book Fair     Part 1

The Business of Books

The Fair bells chime  from 11:30 to midday to “ring in” the fair.  Thus begins the period of special Fair liberties, relaxing the normal trade rules.  Strangers may sell goods in the city (though book dealers are not strictly regulated at any time, so great is the demand for their wares.)  The Fair Police, in full force, inspect weights and measures and apprehend thieves among the throngs of people moving like cold honey through the alleys and open squares between St. Leonard’s Church and the River Main. 

Books, books, books are everywhere, in fair booths or permanent shoppes along Book Lane.  Religious, scholastic, mystical.  Latin grammars, Saints’ legends, legal books.  Satirical stories, romances of chivalry, droll tales.  Household medicine, arithmetic, cookbooks and cook booklets.  Tracts on how to avoid alcohol, shun gambling, have a happy marriage.  It is said that if a particular title is popular, 1000 to 1500 copies may sell here in a few days.  In the streets around the booths and shoppes, hawkers peddle broadsides, calendars, cheap novels, and fine new songs.  It is a reader’s dream.

Here, too, one finds the men behind the books.  Writers, scholars, printers, publishers, correctors, proofreaders, typesetters, woodcut makers, binders, all gather to discuss next year’s projects.  It is not unusual for multiple printers to work on one book.  Publishers, who are not printers but supply the capital, are becoming more and more necessary.  The book dealers or stationarii also grow more important, as the high demand for books leaves printers less time to forsake their presses to attend markets. 

The Art of Books

Artists are here, including Dürer.  Though the world did not end in 1500, as was generally expected, Dürer’s Apocalypse, first published in 1498, remains popular.  It was the first book to be written, illustrated, and published by an artist.  This year, he has reprinted it in a combined edition with his Life of the Virgin and Large Passion. 

His single prints are flying off the shelves, proof that an artist can appeal to the common man.  For prints are usually uncommissioned work, not dictated by the desires of a patron.  Therefore, the artist has more freedom in his subject matter, but is dependent on the public taste.  The public loves Albrecht Dürer, and no wonder.  Not only is he a genius, but he cuts a dashing figure. 

How I long to meet him, but what can I say to such a great talent?  His godfather is Anton Koberger, who has printing presses all over Germany and offices abroad.  Koberger’s books are among the loveliest.  He printed the Nuremberg Chronicle, that famous history of the world.  It is available here in both Latin and German.  Dürer did some illustrations for it.  He holds forth at Koberger’s shoppe, but each time I wander casually by, the artist is speaking earnestly to a crowd gathered about him, giving his ideas on perspective, or he leans head to head with a blockmaker.  His designs, so full of many tiny lines, must surely tax their art to its ultimate expression. 

 The War of Books

I might have meandered back toward Dürer for another attempt to meet him, but who should I encounter but Pfefferkorn!  Still an ass, he and his wife are hawking his latest vile slanders against the Jews and against Reuchlin.  This libel is called Handspiegel or Hand Mirror

Reuchlin’s defense to this attack, Augenspiegel or Ocular Mirror, is also for sale here at the fair, though the scholar himself is not present.  Reuchlin only wishes to lead a quiet life of authentic scholarship, but Pfefferkorn gorges himself on attention.  I long to grab an armload of Augenspiegel myself and take to the streets, but Fabri cautions prudence, and he is right. 

We go about our business of buying books for Zasius and the University, having them crated, and arranging their passage by boat on the River Main.  Then, at the shoppe of Aldus Manutius I meet a Venetian who knows much about the Turks. 

The Nuremberg Chronicle


Capito wishes to acknowledge the following:  A History of the Frankfort Book Fair by Peter Weidhaas; The Frankfort Book Fair by Henri Estienne (1528-1598); The Life of Albrecht Dürer of Nurnberg with a translation of his letters and journal and an account of his works by Mrs. Charles Heaton.

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  1. Those are sweet illustrations from the Nuremberg Chronicle.

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