Commentary on:
Tax Exemption for Books (1477)

Back | Commentary info | Commentary
Printer friendly version
Creative Commons License
This work by www.copyrighthistory.org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)
www.copyrighthistory.org
Identifier: s_1477


Commentary on Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Books (1477)

Jose Bellido (Birkbeck College, University of London)

Raquel Xalabarder (Universidad Oberta de Catalunya)

Ramon Casas Valles (Universidad de Barcelona)

 
Please cite as:
Bellido, J., Xalabarder, R. & Casas Valles, R. (2011) ‘Commentary on Sales and Use Tax Exemptions for Books (1477)', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

 
1. Full title
2. Abstract

3. Political Form & Movable Types

4. Printing Routes

5. Pioneers of the Craft

6. Tax Exemptions & Book-Privileges

7. References

Abstract

 

Considered to be the earliest decree on printing in Spain by some scholars, the royal charter functions as a key document for exploring the context in which printing was introduced in the Iberian Peninsula. First, it opens an historical window through which to consider the circulation and production of books in a politically fragmented territory. Second, it offers contrasting interpretations of the type of royal intervention related to the printing trade. This commentary provides a brief survey of the political context and the type of protection initially granted to printers. It continues by tracing the historical trajectory from tax exemption to early printing privileges, which demonstrates a clear link between the two spheres.

 1.          Political Form & Movable Types

By the end of nineteenth century, the eminent bibliographer Konrad Haebler (1857-1946) noted that “the most neglected history of early printing is that which concerns the Iberian Peninsula”.[1] He added that the “history of the introduction of printing into the Peninsula has still to be written”.[2] Although some of the works published in the twentieth century partially responded to the historical blind spot he had identified,[3] and despite the fact that a number of histories were actually written,[4] it is true that there are still a number of unanswered questions and a series of scholarly disputes regarding the origins and development of the printing press in Spain.[5] Perhaps the most prominent of these is the historical controversy that refers to the dating of the earliest books printed and the naming of the first place where the printing press was established.[6] Some scholars have argued that it was not until 1474 that the press made its first appearance in the peninsula;[7] others claim that it was two years earlier in 1472,[8] and then a third group speculates that it was 1471.[9] A similar historical and critical “battle of origins” emerges in relation to places. While some scholars have identified Valencia as the first place in Spain where the movable type was used;[10] others have given this honour to Barcelona[11] and finally another group has cautiously suggested that it could have “probably” been Segovia.[12]

Nevertheless, despite the fact that it would have been interesting to pursue this thread and to adopt an ideological stance in what is an ongoing discussion, we would like to limit ourselves to a more modest enterprise, one which highlights the political environment at the time the press arrives in the peninsula.. The arrival of the press coincided with the moment in which the territorial and political unification of Spain remained more a project than reality. At that time, the peninsula was divided into five kingdoms: the Christian kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Portugal, and the Moorish kingdom of Granada.[13] This historical connection is relevant precisely because the printing press entered the Iberian Peninsula just when these kingdoms begin to merge, when Isabella of Castile became Queen and married King Ferdinand of Aragon. Together Isabella and Ferdinand are known to posterity as the “Catholic Monarchs”.[14] The links between technological and political change, imperialism and textual regulation and spiritual enterprise and censorship have been established by scholars of diverse disciplines.[15] Moreover, if we take into account that the Catholic Monarchs soon “realised the printing potential” and that they were in fact “promoters of literary culture”,[16] the combination of all of these economic and religious factors at a very sensitive political moment indicate that histories of the introduction of the press in Spain are embedded in a singular narrative complexity.[17]

2.         Printing Routes  

The first remarkable element of such complexity is geographically given that political boundaries were unstable and contingent. The geographical instability could explain some of the differences between the history of the early printing press in the Iberian Peninsula  and early printing in other European territories. The Iberian Peninsula lacked a place to rival the great printing cities of Paris and London.[18] Meanwhile, the scale of printing in Iberian is said to have been modest.[19] However, the presses still conquered the Peninsula and by the 1470s, printing places mushroomed in city centres of the Kingdom of Castile.[20] The major example frequently  cited by scholars as evidence of the printing presence is a royal charter that mentions a printer and bookseller established in “the very noble and loyal city of Seville”.[21] As “the most populous and prosperous city in Castile” it is little surprise that Seville was mentioned.[22] It is important to emphasize the geographical peculiarity, given that the petitioner’s business was fundamentally based on the importation and exportation of books.[23] Crucially, Seville was connected to the ports of Cadiz and Sanlúcar and would become the key departure point for the exportation of books to America.[24] It is in these three port cities where the printer and bookseller complained of harassment by the authorities.[25]

The second aspect of the complexity is related to the hermeneutical understanding of this the royal charter, related to the divergent interpretations of its nature. After unearthing the document,  some historians have interpreted it as an isolated response, a remedy offered by the Catholic Monarchs to one specific book trader, Teodorico Aleman (and his agents),[26] and have suggested that it was directed towards the authorities of the place where he was about to trade (the city and the province of Murcia).[27] Others, however, have argued that this is particular type of legislative document: a licence, a royal charter, a royal favour granted to all printers in Spain and thus directed towards all of the authorities in the kingdoms.[28] This tiny difference is nevertheless crucial because it embodies different and competing visions of the type of royal intervention in the book trade. While the former group believes that the record seems to embrace a type of case-by case approach, the latter considers that the evidence points to a more market orientated, legislative turning point, considering it as a royal order which functioned as “the earliest decree on printing in Spain”.[29]

3.         Pioneers of the Craft  

At the publishing history level, the document elucidates another feature of the early book market in Spain. Most of the early printers were foreign,[30] or more specifically, German or Central European craftsmen.[31] From the very beginning, the production and circulation of books in Castile seem to have been deeply influenced by the existence of numerous Spanish books produced outside the Peninsula.[32] Despite the fact that historical evidence of the books he published did not survive,[33] Teodorico Aleman (or “Theodoric the German”)[34] appears to have been an example of the early foreign printers-publishers attracted by business opportunities in the Kingdom of Castile.[35]

A considerable scholarly debate has nevertheless affected the exact identity and biography of Teodorico Aleman. The principal hypothesis is that he was probably Thierry Martens (1446-1534), a Belgian printer who had learnt the craft in Venice.[36] The country designation (“The German”) would not be an obstacle to this hypothesis since it was quite common for natives of the Low Countries to receive such an appellative.[37] Perhaps what makes the hypothesis more problematic is the issue mentioned above: no books printed by him have survived.

 4.         Tax Exemptions & Book-Privileges

 While this document could be interpreted and indeed it has been read by some historians as “a royal privilege for the selling of books”,[38] we prefer to consider it as an exemption from the payment of sale taxes (alcabala),[39] imports or exports duties (almojarifazgo) and tithes (diezmos).[40] Despite the fact that these were of a different nature and thus usual disclaimers apply,[41] there are some similarities which are worth highlighting. Foreigners who brought with them new skills and techniques to Castile became petitioners. In practical terms, this meant that they were able to obtain monopolies as inventors or importers of a new art to “our kingdoms and Christian provinces”.[42] Nevertheless, the ad-hoc royal intervention seems analogous. It embraces a broad notion of privilege that takes into account the various forms privilegia could take.[43] In that sense, it was not yet a law (pragmática) but a royal favour.[44] It was given to book traders such as Teodorico, “chief inventors and practisers of the art of printing, who have dared the many perils of the sea to bring [the books] to Spain", giving them privileges in order to exploit their trade.[45]

The parallel links between the history of customs duties and international copyright have been invoked elsewhere.[46] In this specific domestic context, tax exemptions were crucial not only because they helped printing related business to grow and to settle in Castile but also, and more importantly, because they guaranteed control over printing routes, that is, the import-export trade and the possibility of smuggling books. Tax impositions were obviously safeguarded by previous measures which allowed them to continue, the most important being tax inspections. In this way, the declaration made to the tax authorities on how much a book trader earned during a particular transaction frequently involved an examination of the goods.[47] It was in the request to control these activities and border zones where the histories of proto-copyright and tax exemptions also find a common origin.

  

 References

Armstrong, E., Before Copyright: The French Book-Privilege System, 1498-1526 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)

Bancroft, H. H. The Works of Hubert Bancroft- vol. XXXIV, California Pastoral, 1769-1848 (San Francisco, The History co. 1888)

Cendán Pazos, F. Historia del derecho español de prensa e imprenta (1502-1966) (Madrid, Editora Nacional, 1974)

De los Reyes Gómez F. “La historia de la imprenta en España: Aproximación Bibliográfica” Pliegos de Bibliofilia (27), Jul-Sep, 2004.  pp. 43-64

De Amezúa y Mayo, A. Cómo se hacía un libro en nuestro Siglo de Oro (Madrid: Imprenta de Editorial Magisterio Espanol, 1945)

De los Reyes Gómez  F. “Segovia y los orígenes de la imprenta española” Revista General de Información y Documentación, 2005; 15 (1) pp. 123-148;

De los Reyes Gómez “La Imprenta llega a España” in VVAA, Juan Párix. Primer Impresor en España (Segovia: Fundación Instituto Castellano y Leonés de la Lengua, 2004) pp. 65-82

Edwards, J. The Spain of the Catholic Monarchs. 1474-1520 (London: Blackwell, 2000)

Elliot, J. H. Imperial Spain, 1469-1716 (London: Penguin, 2002)

García Oro J. and Portela Silva, M. J. La Monarquía y los libros en el Siglo de Oro (Alcalá, Centro Internacional de Estudios Históricos Cisneros, 1999)

García Ulecia, A., "El papel de los corredores y escribanos en el cobro de las alcábalas" Historia, Instituciones, Documentos, 13 (1986), pp. 89-109

Gaselee, S. The Early Spanish Printing Press (London, Hudson & Kearns, 1924)

Griffin, C. The Crombergers of Seville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 1; Edwards, J. The Spain of the Catholic Monarchs. 1474-1520 (London: Blackwell, 2000)

Haebler, K. Early Printers of Spain and Portugal (London, Bibliographic Society, 1897)

Haebler, K. Introducción al estudio de los incunables (Madrid: Ollero y Ramos, 1995)

Hazañas y la Rúa. J. La imprenta en Sevilla:  ensayo de una historia de la tipografía sevillana y noticias de algunos de sus impresores desde la introducción del arte tipográfico en esta ciudad hasta el año de 1800 (Madrid: Imp. de la Revista de tribunales, 1892)

Ijsewijn “Dirk Martens of Aalst” J. in Bietenholz, P. G. and Deutscher, T. B. (eds) Contemporaries of Erasmus. A Biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985) pp. 394-396

Knapp, W. I. The Earliest Decree on printing or Thierry Martin of Spain (Seville, December 25, 1477) (New Haven, 1881)

Kostylo, J. “From Gunpowder to Print: The Common Origins of Copyright and Patent” in Kretschmer, M., Bently, L. and Deazley, R. (eds) Privilege and Property. Essays on the History of Copyright (Cambridge, OpenBook publishers, 2010) pp. 21-50

Martín Abad, J. Los primeros tiempos de la imprenta (c. 1471-1520) (Madrid, Laberinto, 2003)

Mártinez Millán, J. “Aportaciones a la formación del estado moderno y a la política española a través de la censura inquisitorial durante el período 1480-1559” in Pérez Villanueva, J. (coord.) La inquisición española: Nueva visión, nuevos horizontes (Madrid, Editores Siglo XXI, 1980) pp. 537-578.

Mendez, F. Tipografía Española o historia de la introducción, propagación y progresos del arte de la imprenta en España (Madrid: Imprenta de las Escuelas Pías, 1861)

Moll, J. “Problemas bibliográficos del libro del Siglo de Oro” Boletín de la Real Academia Española, 1979, pp. 49-107

Moxó, S. “Los cuadernos de alcabalas. Orígenes de la legislación tributaria castellana” Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español, 1969, pp. 317-450.

Norton, F. J. Printing in Spain, 1501-1520 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1966)

Sainz de Robles, F. La imprenta y el libro en la España del siglo xv ((Madrid, Calamón 1973)

Seville, C. The internationalisation of copyright:  Books, Buccaneers and the Black Flag in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999) pp. 79-84.

Suárez Fernández, L. Los Reyes Católicos: La expansión de la fe (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp, 1990)

Thomas, H. Spanish Sixteenth-Century Printing (London, Ernest Benn, 1926)

Witten, L.“The Earliest Books Printed in Spain” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 53 (1959) pp. 91-113.



[1] Haebler, K. Early Printers of Spain and Portugal (London, Bibliographic Society, 1897) p. 1.

[2] Haebler, K. Early Printers of Spain and Portugal (London, Bibliographic Society, 1897) p. 3.

[3] For instance, F. J. Norton, Printing in Spain, 1501-1520 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1966);  Martín Abad, J. Los primeros tiempos de la imprenta (c. 1471-1520) (Madrid, Laberinto, 2003)

[4] For a bibliographical survey, see de los Reyes Gómez F. “La historia de la imprenta en España: Aproximación Bibliográfica” Pliegos de Bibliofilia (27), Jul-Sep, 2004.  Jul-Sep. pp. 43-64

[5] “The story of the introduction of printing into the Iberian Peninsula is perhaps more complex, or at least less well-known, than in any other region which saw the production of a large number of books during the fifteenth century” says Laurence Witten in his “The Earliest Books Printed in Spain” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 53 (1959) pp. 91-113.

[6]; Mendez, F. Tipografía Española o historia de la introducción, propagación y progresos del arte de la imprenta en España (Madrid: Imprenta de las Escuelas Pías, 1861) p. 1; Laurence Witten “The Earliest Books Printed in Spain” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 53 (1959) pp. 91-113

[7] Bancroft, H. H. The Works of Hubert Bancroft- vol. XXXIV, California Pastoral, 1769-1848 (San Francisco, The History co. 1888) p. 27

[8] Griffin, C. The Crombergers of Seville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 1; Edwards, J. The Spain of the Catholic Monarchs. 1474-1520 (London: Blackwell, 2000) p. 273

[9] A survey of the current state of the question is in F. de los Reyes Gómez “La Imprenta llega a España” in VVAA, Juan Párix. Primer Impresor en España (Segovia: Fundación Instituto Castellano y Leonés de la Lengua, 2004) pp. 65-82.

[10] Bancroft, H. H. The Works of Hubert Bancroft- vol. XXXIV, California Pastoral, 1769-1848 (San Francisco, The History co. 1888) p. 28;  Gaselee, S. The Early Spanish Printing Press (London, Hudson & Kearns, 1924) p. 3.

[11] Hazañas y la Rúa. J. La imprenta en Sevilla:  ensayo de una historia de la tipografía sevillana y noticias de algunos de sus impresores desde la introducción del arte tipográfico en esta ciudad hasta el año de 1800 (Madrid: Imp. de la Revista de tribunales, 1892) p. 1.

[12] de los Reyes Gómez  F. “Segovia y los orígenes de la imprenta española” Revista General de Información y Documentación, 2005; 15 (1) pp. 123-148; Griffin, C. The Crombergers of Seville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 1; [Juan Parix]

[13] Thomas, H. Spanish Sixteenth-Century Printing (London, Ernest Benn, 1926) p. 6; Edwards, J. The Spain of the Catholic Monarchs. 1474-1520 (London: Blackwell, 2000) p. 273.

[14] For a historical summary, see Elliot, J. H. Imperial Spain, 1469-1716 (London: Penguin, 2002) pp. 15-24.

[15] See, for instance, Suárez Fernández, L. Los Reyes Católicos: La expansión de la fe (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp, 1990); Mártinez Millán, J. “Aportaciones a la formación del estado moderno y a la política española a través de la censura inquisitorial durante el período 1480-1559” in Pérez Villanueva, J. (coord.) La inquisición española: Nueva visión, nuevos horizontes (Madrid, Editores Siglo XXI, 1980) pp. 537-578.

[16] De Amezúa y Mayo, A. Cómo se hacía un libro en nuestro Siglo de Oro (Madrid: Imprenta de Editorial Magisterio Espanol, 1945) p. 7.

[17] Moll, J. “Problemas bibliográficos del libro del Siglo de Oro” Boletín de la Real Academia Española, 1979, pp. 49-107.; 50-51.

[18] Thomas, H. Spanish Sixteenth-Century Printing (London, Ernest Benn, 1926) p. 8

[19] Griffin, C. The Crombergers of Seville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 3

[20] Haebler, K. Early Printers of Spain and Portugal (London, Bibliographic Society, 1897) pp. 1-24.

[21] Royal letter to Teodorico Aleman; “Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Books (1477)” s_1477

[22] Griffin, C. The Crombergers of Seville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 14; Haebler, K. Early Printers of Spain and Portugal (London, Bibliographic Society, 1897) p. 11.

[23] García Oro J. and Portela Silva, M. J. La Monarquíaía y los libros en el Siglo de Oro (Alcalá, Centro Internacional de Estudios Históricos Cisneros, 1999) p. 32

[24] Bermudez Plata, C. “Prólogo” de Hazañas y la Rúa. J. La imprenta en Sevilla:  ensayo de una historia de la tipografía sevillana y noticias de algunos de sus impresores desde la introducción del arte tipográfico en esta ciudad hasta el año de 1800 (Sevilla, Junta de Patronato del Archivo [etc.], 1945).

[25] Knapp, W. I. The Earliest Decree on printing or Thierry Martin of Spain (Seville, December 25, 1477) (New Haven, 1881); see also Griffin, C. The Crombergers of Seville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 16; Norton, F. J. Printing in Spain, 1501-1520 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1966) p. 118

[26] Sainz de Robles, F. La imprenta y el libro en la España del siglo xv ((Madrid, Calamón 1973) p. 30.

[27] Cendán Pazos, F. Historia del derecho español de prensa e imprenta (1502-1966) (Madrid, Editora Nacional, 1974) p. 23; Bancroft, H. H. The Works of Hubert Bancroft- vol. XXXIV, California Pastoral, 1769-1848 (San Francisco, The History co. 1888) p. 28.

[28] Knapp, W. I. The Earliest Decree on printing or Thierry Martin of Spain (Seville, December 25, 1477) (New Haven, 1881);

[29] Knapp, W. I. The Earliest Decree on printing or Thierry Martin of Spain (Seville, December 25, 1477) (New Haven, 1881);

[30] Gaselee, S. The Early Spanish Printing Press (London, Hudson & Kearns, 1924) p. 4.

[31] Griffin, C. The Crombergers of Seville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 1; Thomas, H. Spanish Sixteenth-century printing (London, Ernest Benn, 1926) p. 6

[32] Thomas, H. Spanish Sixteenth-Century Printing (London, Ernest Benn, 1926) pp. 12-13.

[33] Haebler, K. Early Printers of Spain and Portugal (London, Bibliographic Society, 1897) p. 10.

[34] Norton, F. J. Printing in Spain, 1501-1520 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1966) p. 117.

[35] Gaselee, S. The Early Spanish Printing Press (London, Hudson & Kearns, 1924) p. 4.

[36] Ijsewijn “Dirk Martens of Aalst” J. in Bietenholz, P. G. and Deutscher, T. B. (eds) Contemporaries of Erasmus. A Biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985) pp. 394-396; 394; see also Haebler, K. Early Printers of Spain and Portugal (London, Bibliographic Society, 1897) p. 11.

[37] Haebler, K. Early Printers of Spain and Portugal (London, Bibliographic Society, 1897) p. 11; Griffin, C. The Crombergers of Seville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 20.

[38] Ijsewijn, J. “Dirk Martens of Aalst” in Bietenholz, P. G. and Deutscher, T. B. (eds) Contemporaries of Erasmus. A Biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985) pp. 394-396; 394; Armstrong, E., Before Copyright: The French Book-Privilege System, 1498-1526 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) p. 2.

[39] The alcabala or sales tax had first become a general royal tax in 1342; see generally Moxó, S. “Los cuadernos de alcabalas. Orígenes de la legislación tributaria castellana” Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español, 1969, pp. 317-450.

[40] De Amezúa y Mayo, A. Cómo se hacía un libro en nuestro Siglo de Oro (Madrid: Imprenta de Editorial Magisterio Español, 1945) p. 7

[41] “Hay que tener cuidado para no confundir las condiciones relativas a la nueva impresión en el período incunable, con el tema del copyright de nuestros días” in K. Haebler, Introducción al estudio de los incunables (Madrid: Ollero y Ramos, 1995) p. 229

[42] Royal letter to Teodorico Aleman; “Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Books (1477)” s_1477

[43] Kostylo, J. “From Gunpowder to Print: The Common Origins of Copyright and Patent” in Kretschmer, M., Bently, L. and Deazley, R. (eds) Privilege and Property. Essays on the History of Copyright (Cambridge, OpenBook publishers, 2010) pp. 21-50; 22.

[44] Griffin, C. The Crombergers of Seville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p. 16.

[45] H. H. Bancroft, The Works of Hubert Bancroft- vol. XXXIV, California Pastoral, 1769-1848 (San Francisco, The History co. 1888) p. 28

[46] Seville, C. The internationalisation of copyright:  Books, Buccaneers and the Black Flag in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999) pp. 79-84.

[47] García Ulecia, A., "El papel de los corredores y escribanos en el cobro de las alcábalas" Historia, Instituciones, Documentos, 13 (1986), pp. 89-109; 92-93.


Our Partners


Copyright statement

You may copy and distribute the translations and commentaries in this resource, or parts of such translations and commentaries, in any medium, for non-commercial purposes as long as the authorship of the commentaries and translations is acknowledged, and you indicate the source as Bently & Kretschmer (eds), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) (www.copyrighthistory.org).

You may not publish these documents for any commercial purposes, including charging a fee for providing access to these documents via a network. This licence does not affect your statutory rights of fair dealing.

Although the original documents in this database are in the public domain, we are unable to grant you the right to reproduce or duplicate some of these documents in so far as the images or scans are protected by copyright or we have only been able to reproduce them here by giving contractual undertakings. For the status of any particular images, please consult the information relating to copyright in the bibliographic records.


Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, 10 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DZ, UK