Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Cost of Books

Sources (for book costs)

One section in yesterday's post about differences between early modern and medieval Life talked about printing. In it I listed some items from my H+I equipment list. Today's post talks about the sources for the cost of books in the equipment list

I. Alchemy Discussion Thread 

This Alchemy discussion thread contains 3 posts with some information about cost.

(1) Leigh Penman

I came across an interesting reference in a manuscript I am working on at the moment concerning the retail price paid by Paul Nagel (d. 1624), a seventeenth century alchemist and religious dissident, for a book by Michael Maier.

Namely, he paid 3 Schillings for a copy of the Examen Fucorum Pseudo-chymicorum from a bookseller in Halle. In comparison with other purchases, this book was very reasonably priced. A cheaply printed bible from the same year sold for an average of 10 schillings, although they certainly required more labour to typeset, in addition to the costs of paper and ink!

I have actually come across a raft of prices paid for alchemical and religious books of this period. Is this an under-researched area? Is much known about the costs of books like these? Is there much interest? I might write up an article on this data should this be the case!
From my conversion table, which uses a variety of sources to come up with simple currency exchange rates.
  • 1 Shilling = 20 pence
  • 1 livre = 26 pence
Therefore 3 shillings = 60 pence = 2.3 livres for "Examen Fucorum Pseudo-chymicorum" and a cheaply printed bible cost 10 shillings = 200 pence = 7.7 livres. 

(2) Johann Plattner

You will find interesting information concerning prices of books and also of chemicals, viz. minerals and salts, occuring at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century in Jost Weyers "Graf Wolfgang II. von Hohenlohe und die Alchemie - Alchemistische Studien in Schloß Weikdersheim 1587-1610".

For example, at page 205 you will come to know that Wolfgang von Hohenlohe wrote to the printer Michael Manger in the year 1590 that the "Turba philosophorum", small and big, are currently not available but already should be translated into German, and asked for sending him the two volumes of the German edition. Furthermore, the printer Manger mentioned that the two editions of the "Pandora" will cost 40 kronen. The price of Conrad Khunrats "Medulla Destillatoria Et Medica" bound together with two additional works was 1 1/2 fl (gulden).

In order to give an estimation of the real value of certain prices the following table for comparison:
(Ochsen = oxen, Kuh = cow, dreijähriger Stier = 3 years old bull, Schweine = pigs)

From my conversion table, which uses a variety of sources to come up with simple currency exchange rates.
  • 1 Florin = 435 marvedis = 6.4 reales = 2 livres = 28 stuivers
Therefore 1 1/2 florin = 3 L for "Conrad Khunrats "Medulla Destillatoria Et Medica" bound together with two additional works."

(3) Paul Ferguson

And see 'Venice in the Eighteenth Century' by Philippe Monnier, p. 74:

'About the streets, books were sold by weight, like walnuts and apples. Venice was a city of printers...'

II. The Welfare Impact of a New Good The Printed Book

This paper by Jeremiak Dittmar provides the following conclusions on book cost.
  • Per page price of 0.40 pence per page.
  • So a 150 page book would cost 60 pence or ¼ of a pound (since there are 240 pence per pound)
  • 1 livre (L) is equivalent to 26 pence so a book costs about 2L or 3L. 
I note that for a given paper weight (which will likely somewhat correlate to book quality) price per weight as mentioned in I.(3) above, is consistent with a price per page which .


Dittmar comes up with a book price of 2.3 L for a 150 page book. Applying that cost to "Conrad Khunrats "Medulla Destillatoria Et Medica" which is 292 pages in length (and ignoring the length of the unnamed  "two additional works") the cost should be ~ 4.5 livres. This is about twice the stated 2.3 liter cost, which makes the price the same rough order of magnitude.

In I.(1) above, a cheaply printed bible costs 7.7 L. A bible (Old and New testament) is about 1200 pages in length. At 2.3 L/ 150 pages the cost would be 18.4 livres. The difference could be based on Ditmar using a book price for printing of better than cheap quality or to the bibles having a lower cost due to economies of scale in the printing of large numbers of bibles. In any event we again have a similar order of magnitude.

This leads to a price of about 2L-3L for a short book, prices of 5L for a book of  325 pages in length and to prices of 10L for a 650 page book and to prices of 20L for very long books or for multi-volume sets,

No comments:

Post a Comment