THE GERMAN ILLUSTRATED BOOK
The Latin word incunabula means "cradle" or "baby linen." Its connotations of birth and beginnings led seventeenth century writers to adopt it as a name for books printed between Gutenberg's invention of typography in the 1450s and the end of the fifteenth century. (The traditional end-date is completely arbitrary; this chapter traces the logical continuation of trends in design and typography into the early 1500s.) Printing spread rapidly. By 1480 twenty-three Northern European towns, thirty-one Italian towns, seven French towns, six Iberian towns, and one English town had presses. By 1500 printing was practiced in over 140 towns. In 1450 Europe's monasteries and libraries had housed a mere fifty thousand volumes; during the incunabula period it is estimated that over thirty-five thousand editions total of nine million books-were printed. In addition, a vast array of ephemera, including religious tracts, pamphlets, and broadsides, was produced for free distribution or sale. Broadsides (single-leaf pages printed on one side) eventually evolved into printed posters, advertisements, and newspapers. Four years after printing came to Venice, a dismayed scribe complained that the city was "stuffed with books." The boom in the new craft led to overproduction and an overabundance of firms. Of the over one hundred printing firms established in Venice before 1490, only ten survived until the end of the century.