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When did Oxford University Press begin?

By Ian Gadd
Determining the precise beginning of Oxford University Press is not as easy a question as it may seem. It’s not enough to brandish triumphantly the first book printed in Oxford, Expositio in symbolum apostolorum, as all that proves is that there was a printing press in Oxford in 1478…

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A brief history of Oxford University Press in pictures

Oxford University has been involved with the printing trade since the 15th century and our Archive holds the records of the University’s printing and publishing activities from the 17th century to date. This week our archivists have generously unearthed some pictures to share with you.

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The Richardsons: the worst of times at Oxford University Press?

By John Feather
From 1715 to 1758, Stephen and Zaccheus Richardson were successively the ‘Warehouse Keepers’ for Oxford University Press. The seemingly innocuous title conceals more than it reveals and yet is telling. In William Laud’s original vision of a university press at Oxford in the 1630s at the heart of the enterprise was to be an individual known as the ‘Architypographus’.

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The vanished printing houses

By Martyn Ould
Someone on even the most cursory visit to Oxford must surely see two fine buildings that once housed the University Press: the Sheldonian Theatre and the Clarendon Building, close to each other on today’s Broad Street. If they venture further afield, perhaps heading for the restaurants and bars along Walton Street, they also can’t fail to notice the neo-classical building that has been the Press’s current home since 1832. What they’ll never see however is the Press’s second home.

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New perspectives on the history of publishing

There is a subtle shift occurring in the examination of the history of the book and publishing. Historians are moving away from a history of individuals towards a new perspective grounded in social and corporate history. From A History of Cambridge University Press to The Stationers’ Company: A History to the new History of Oxford University Press, the development of material texts is set in a new context of institutions.

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Oxford University Press faces up to the Nazis

By Simon Eliot
Ever since the end of the First World War Oxford University Press had been keen to re-establish some sort of presence in the German book trade. Germany had been a significant market for its academic books in the nineteenth century, and a number of German scholars had edited Greek and Roman texts for the Press. Nevertheless the depressed state of the German economy and the uncertainty of its currency had made this impossible in the first few years after 1918.

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Oxford University Press during World War I

By Lizzie Shannon-Little and Martin Maw
The very settled life of Oxford University Press was turned upside down at the outbreak of the First World War; 356 of the approximately 700 men that worked for the Press were conscribed, the majority in the first few months. The reduction of half of the workforce and the ever-present uncertainty of the return of friends and colleagues must have made the Press a very difficult place to work.

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The Press stands firm against the French Revolution and Napoleon

By Simon Eliot
With the French Revolution creating a wave of exiles the Press responded with a very uncharacteristic publication. This was a ‘Latin Testament of the Vulgate Translation’ for emigrant French clergy living in England after the Revolution. In 1796, the Learned (not the Bible) side of the Press issued Novum Testamentum Vulgatae Editionis: Juxta Exemplum Parisiis Editum apud Fratres Barbou.

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How much could 19th century nonfiction authors earn?

By Simon Eliot and John Feather
In the 1860s, the introduction of its first named series of education books, the ‘Clarendon Press Series’ (CPS), encouraged the Press to standardize its payments to authors. Most of them were offered a very generous deal: 50 or 60% of net profits. These payments were made annually and were recorded in the minutes of the Press’ newly-established Finance Committee. The list of payments lengthened every year, as new titles were published and very few were ever allowed to go out of print.

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Letters, telegrams, steam, and speed

By Simon Eliot
Oxford was finally linked to the rail network in June 1844. Within a decade or so the railway had become part of the way in which Oxford University Press at all levels conducted its business and its pleasure. One such pleasure was a wayzgoose.

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Picturing printing

By Ian Gadd
No visit to the Sheldonian Theatre would be complete without craning your neck to admire Robert Streater’s painted ceiling. Entitled Truth Descending upon the Arts and Sciences and comprising thirty-two panels, the painting was completed in Whitehall in 1668–9 and shipped to Oxford by barge. We don’t know the terms of the commission but Streater’s personification of Truth triumphing over Envy, Rapine, and Ignorance fitted well with a University looking to reassert its cultural ambitions in the aftermath of the Civil Wars and Interregnum.

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Half the cost of a book

Simon Eliot
For most of the history of the printed book, from Gutenberg in 1455 onwards, the most expensive part of the material book was paper. Until the mid-nineteenth century, by which time paper was being made by steam-driven machines using esparto grass and wood pulp rather than traditional linen rag as raw material, paper commonly represented at least half the cost of a book’s production.

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Damp paper and difficult conditions

By Simon Eliot
Oxford University was a large mass-producer of books by the 1820s. Despite this, it was still occupying a very elegant but modest-sized neo-classical building in the centre of Oxford designed for it in 1713 by Nicholas Hawksmoor. By the mid-1820s this building was bursting at the seams.

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What price books?

By Simon Eliot
For most readers at most times, books were not essential. They were to be bought, if they were to be bought at all, out of disposable income. For most families in the nineteenth century, if they were lucky enough to have any disposable income, it would be a matter of two (10p) or three shillings (15p) a week at best.

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