Commentary on:
Privilege granted to Valentim Fernandes (1503)

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This privilege was attributed to Valentim Fernandes, a German printer who had been printing works prior to that concession, with some of the printed works being of great relevance.

When he first arrived in the Iberian Peninsula, Valentim Fernandes was employed as an interpreter by Jerônimo Münzer, a German physician from Nürnberg, who eventually became known as Jerônimo Monetário. It is said that through such endeavours Valentim Fernandes acquired social prestige and a good network of contacts, travelled around the Peninsula, spoke the language  fluently and eventually moved to Portugal.

In 1495, Valentim Fernandes and Nicolau de Saxónia jointly published a work entitled Vita Christi, authored by Ludolfo de Saxônia. This was tthe first book bearing illustrations to ever have been printed in Portugal and one of the most significant works ever published in Portuguese (see DIAS, João José Alves, O quinto centenário da Vita Christi, Os primeiros impressores alemães em Portugal, Lisbon, 1995, Presidência do Conselho de Ministros / Secretaria de Estado da Cultura / Instituto da Biblioteca Nacional e do Livro. Coordenação João José Alves Dias. Acesso digital na Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal: http://purl.pt/23712/3/#/4).

Valentim Fernandes also published a Royal Decree, date unknown, available at http://purl.pt/15020/4/bad-2354-v_PDF/bad-2354-v_PDF_24-C-R0150/bad-2354-v_0000_capa-capa_t24-C-R0150.pdf, Votivale missarum secundum ritum Romane curiae on 10th April 1496, and Estoria de muy nobre Vespesiano emperador de Roma on 20th April 1496 (see DIAS, João José Alves in O quinto centenário da Vita Christi, Os primeiros impressores alemães em Portugal, Lisboa, 1995, Presidência do Conselho de Ministros / Secretaria de Estado da Cultura / Instituto da Biblioteca Nacional e do Livro. Coordenação João José Alves Dias. Acesso digital na Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal: http://purl.pt/23712/3/#/4 p. 21).

Valentim Fernandes worked as a printer between 1495 e 1514, but only obtained his first privileges in 1502 and 1503, authorising him to print, respectively, The Travels of Marco Polo and and Regimento dos Juízes e Oficiais (containing rules regarding courts and other public entities), in addition to other privileges.

Early on, privileges were awarded by means of a document bearing the signature of the monarch, which document was then divulged to the public. However, the first privilege, which as mentioned above was given to Valentim Fernandes in 1502, may not have been divulged to the public.

Later on, a trend emerged whereby the privilege itself was printed alongside the work, so as to provide immediate evidence of royal authorisation to print that work.

It should be noticed that in Portugal, as was the case in other European countries too, printing pioneers dealt with various aspects of printing and thus were awarded privileges that covered those activities.

From the viewpoint of the beneficiary, it should be pointed out that the printing privilege under examination was awarded to a printer, not an author, that is, to one who invested rather than to one who created.

The first authors to be awarded privileges, in Portugal, were Gonçalo de Baena and Balthasar Dias, respectively in 1536 and 1537.

Overall, the printer and bookmaker Valentim Fernandes, as many other German nationals in those days found a new homeland in another corner of Europe, was a pioneer in the field, became one of the major printers in Portual and was given various printing privileges, including the very first one recorded in Portuguese history.

Translated by Patricia Akester


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