Here’s a web version of Princeton University Library’s new exhibition Gutenberg & After: Europe’s First Printers 1450-1470. There’s a lot of information in the nine online sections they provide. Each of the books and other objects in the show is available in a full digital reproduction, so, if you dig in here, there may be enough material to keep you busy for years. You can even rotate that little bit of type which is the first piece in the show.

Included in the exhibition is an unbound sheet of 32 pages from a German Book of Hours. Here’s one side of this sheet. You can perhaps get in there and work out the imposition scheme!

This sort of survival is very unusual — extra sheets tend either get bound up or thrown away. Book-sleuths have traced this piece all the way back. “The sheet was used as binding material in a Ptolemy edition purchased in 1509 by a Nuremberg ecclesiastic, Johannes Protzer. The Bodleian Library owns one half of this same sheet, recovered from the binding of a Sebastian Brant work purchased by Protzer in 1499. Presumably hundreds of copies of this small Book of Hours (measuring roughly 4¼ × 2¾ inches) were printed and sold, all of which were eventually lost or thrown away. Only the unused sheets sent as waste to a Nuremberg binder have made their way, through a secondary channel of preservation, into the 21st century.” The survival of waste product is notoriously chancy.

We need to bear in mind that in the first twenty years of printing’s history its impact on the general public was negligible. Gutenberg’s Bible is a hugely significant book to us. To fifteenth-century book buyers it was just another Bible, which quaintly hadn’t been written out by a scribe. Many ignored it. Many no doubt lost (or tossed) their copy. We don’t have a count, but up to 1470 the total number of books printed anywhere amounted to no more than several hundred. The real expansion took place in the following years when printing expanded outward from southern Germany. “About 28,000 additional surviving editions were printed from 1470 to 1500, and it is probable that thousands more have disappeared without trace.”

A dynamic map showing the spread of printing can be found at this link. I’m finding this map a bit balky today. If you noodle around you should be able to get it to perform though.