About the Database
How to research Venetian book privileges
  1. What are book privileges?
  2. Where to find Venetian book privileges
  3. Understanding Venetian book privileges: Chronology
  4. Understanding Venetian book privileges: Structure and content
  5. Further reading and other resources on Venetian book privileges
1. What are book privileges?
A book privilege was a short-term guarantee of a protected market (temporary monopoly) granted to applicants by Venetian authorities to ensure that no competitor would publish, import or sell the same work in the domestic market. Penalties for offenders included the payment of a fine and the confiscation of the disputed stock. Applicants were mainly printers/publishers and authors.
Book privileges are crucial sources for the analysis of the book market, both from economic and cultural points of view. Studies of book privileges enable investigation of the commercial dynamics in which printers and authors were involved during the Renaissance. Such studies also allow tracing of the editorial paths of literary and scientific works.
2. Where to find Venetian book privileges
Originals of granted book privileges are preserved in the State Archives of Venice in the following sections: Collegio Notatorio, Senato Terra, Capi del Consiglio di Dieci.
Book privileges were also included, in whole or part, in protected editions of books. They can therefore be found in surviving copies of such books.
3. Understanding Venetian book privileges: Chronology
The database contains book privileges granted from 1469 to 1603.
On 18 September 1469, the Republic of Venice granted the first privilege to the German printer Johannes de Spira for introducing a new method of book production in the city. After Spira’s death, the printing industry developed rapidly, generating intense rivalries between sector operators. The high concentration of printing presses and the growth of competition decreed the affirmation of the book privileges system in Venice. At the request of interested parties, the Venetian authorities granted hundreds of book privileges until the early 1600s.
On 11 May 1603, the Venetian Senate issued a law that determined a turning point in Venetian legislation concerning the printing and privilege system. The decree established that the granting of book privileges would result from the fulfillment of certain administrative formalities which consisted in the deposit and registration of the censors’ approval to the Banca dei Librai e Stampatori. Registration was all that was needed for the automatic acquisition of a privilege. The main concern underlying this decree was to maintain the quality of Venetian book industry and to arrest the emigration of printers to places offering higher profits. Although this law was not observed for some years, it gave the Venetian Guild of Printers and Booksellers the exclusive power to grant book privileges.
4. Understanding Venetian book privileges: Structure and content
An original book privilege concession may include some or all of the following information:
The short version of a privilege, most of the time, included the following elements, at a minimum:
In some cases, concessions contain only the name of the beneficiary.
5. Further readings and other resources on Venetian book privileges
Agee, Richard J. The Privilege and Venetian Music-Printing in the Sixteenth Century, Ph.D dissertation, Princeton University, 1982.
Fulin, Rinaldo. “Documenti per servire alla storia della tipografia veneziana”, Archivio Veneto, 23 (1882) 1, pp. 84-212.
Nuovo, Angela and Christian Coppens. I Giolito e la stampa nell’Italia del XVI secolo, Genève: Droz, 2005 (Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 402).
Nuovo, Angela. The Book Trade in the Italian Renaissance, Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2013 (Library of the Written Word, 26).
Squassina, Erika and Andrea Ottone (eds), Privilegi librari nell’Italia del Rinascimento, Milano: Franco Angeli, 2019 (Studi e ricerche di storia dell’editoria).
Squassina, Erika. “La protezione del Furioso: Ariosto e il sistema dei privilegi in Italia”, Bibliothecae.it, 6 (2017) 1, pp. 9-38.
Squassina, Erika. “Authors and the System of Publishers’ Privileges in Venice (1469-1545)”, Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 91 (2016), pp. 42-74.
Witcombe, Christopher. Copyright in the Renaissance. Prints and the Privilegio in Sixteenth-Century Venice and Rome, Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2004 (Studies in Medieval and Reformation thought, 100).
Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900). Edited by L. Bently & M. Kretschmer (http://copy.law.cam.ac.uk/cam/index.php).
Contact information
Email: erika.squassina[at]unimi[dot]it