The First Book Printed in Oxford

This post was written by Simon Thomas for the Bodleian Library.

 

The first book printed in Oxford was Arch. G e. 8, Expositio in symbolorum apostolorum (Exposition of the Apostlic Creed) by Rufinus of Aquilea, but both the date of printing and the printer himself have historically been subjects of dispute. The book’s colophon records that it was printed in Oxford on ‘M.cccc.lxviij.xvij die decembris’ – that is, 17 December 1468 – but the year was first questioned by Conyers Middleton in 1735, and it is now undisputed that an ‘x’ had been omitted. The correct date was a decade later; 1478.

 

Colophon of Arch. G e.8

The colophon of Arch. G e.8, fol. e9v.

 

The printer himself remains a greater mystery. It was suggested by Pollard and Redgrave in A Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, as well as Harry Carter (historian of Oxford University Press from 1954-1970), that he could be Theodoric Rood. However, Rood – a goldsmith from Cologne – is now known to be instead the successor to the man known simply as ‘the printer of Expositio in symbolorum apostolorum’, though both hailed from the same city. Rood’s printing press was located on the High Street, between All Souls College and Queen’s College, but the location of the previous press is unknown.

 

As a first choice, Rufinus’ Expositio in symbolorum apostolorum did not take advantage of any local demand from the University of Oxford. Rufinus, a 4th-century monk from Aquileia in Northern Italy, is best remembered for quarrelling with former-friend St Jerome, and his tract comparing the creeds of Aquileia and Rome was not taught at the university. Rather, it appears to have been commissioned by James Goldwell, Bishop of Norwich, whose coat of arms is included in the manuscript that served as printer’s copy for the press.

 

First page of Arch. G e.8

Arch. G e.8, fol. a1r.

 

Only three books were produced by Oxford’s first printing press, the last being a modern Latin translation of Aristotle’s Ethica ad Nicomanchum, and it operated for no more than a year. Two years later, Theodoric Rood began printing at Oxford’s (rather more successful) second press, producing thirteen books between 1481 and 1483.

 

The Bodleian’s copy of the first book printed in Oxford is one of thirteen recorded as surviving. It was previously in the possession of William Juxon (1582-1663, President of St John’s College 1621-33 and Archbishop of Canterbury under Charles II), and later given Juxon to Thomas Barlow (1607-1691, Bodley’s Librarian 1652-60) who bequeathed it to the library amongst many other books. Expositio in symbolorum apostolorum’s arrival at the Bodleian was as mishap-strewn as its initial printing: Barlow’s bequeathed books were shelved in a new gallery in Duke Humfrey’s Library, which was the final straw leading the south wall to bulge outwards, requiring repairs under the guidance of Sir Christopher Wren.