Investigating Book Prices in Early Modern Europe: Questions and Sources


This paper presents a summary of the conceptual framework within which a study of book prices should take place and the research issues, as well as the methodological problems, which need to be addressed.

Although the nature of books as semi-industrial goods puts them in a different class of product as seen from the point of view of a pre-industrial economy, the broad categories of supply and demand have been used to identify a series of factors giving rise to specific research questions which need input from various aspects of economic historical analysis. The history of the book is placed in relation to some classic topics of economic history, in an attempt to place the book trade and the prices of books in the context of a broader historiographical debate.

Among available sources for early modern book prices, the inventory of the book shop of Bernardo Giunti (Department of Special Collections, UCLA, Collection 170/622) is evidence of the thriving book market in Venice of the period. The almost 12,000 entries included in the list of books for sale reflect the purposes and aims of the firm. The structure of this document is somewhat complex as it was in continual use for more than twenty years. Over this period time, it appears to have become not merely a catalogue or finding-list of books for the use of the firm’s clerks, but also an important tool for the management of the shop and its stock. Almost every title is priced, making this inventory one of the most extensive and significant sources for the study of book prices in early modern Europe.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement n° 694476).


Book Trade; History of the Book; Economic History; Price History; Early modern Europe

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