"Everybody Comes to Frankfurt Because Everybody Comes to Frankfurt".

Daily words of wisdom about doing the book business better. This month: Doing the Frankfurt Book Fair.

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Daily words of wisdom about doing the book business better. This month: Doing the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The following is an excerpt from a 1993 address by Peter Weidhaas, Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair since 1974.

"Because the muses call all their book-printers and book-dealers, at the same time, to the exhibition in Frankfurt, instructing them also to bring the poets, the thinkers, the historians and the philosophers with them, not only in the form of their own works... but also those who come to the fore daily in every country... This academy, in the form of an exhibition, offers benefits no library could ever provide."

- Henry Estienne 1574

Geography and history are often cited as assets peculiar to Frankfurt. The city is at the center of Europe, which has prospered and unified itself in the second half of the century. Moreover, Frankfurt has been identified with the book trade throughout its long history. When in 1240 Emperor Frederick II (from the house of Hohenstaufen) granted imperial protection to traders traveling to the Autumn Fair at Frankfurt, he was well aware of the beneficial effects such trade and travel would have on the material workings of his empire. In those pre-Gutenberg days, dealers in manuscripts made secret profits from the Emperor's order, issued from an army camp in Ascola Piceno in Italy. The Frankfurt of those days was already a political, economic and geographic center and became, and remained for centuries, a marketplace and a site for trade exhibitions. Economic historians do not find it surprising that Johannes Gutenberg achieved his revolutionary breakthrough in Mainz, not far from Frankfurt. Only a few years later, in 1462, the first actual Buchermess, a fair for printed material and manuscripts, took place in Frankfurt.

One of the most fascinating aspects of all cultural and economic history is how the written word, manuscripts and the printed page rapidly became products, in the literal sense of the word. The history of books and their production is largely a record of the benefits arising from economic individualism and an evolving free market economy.

But by the time Henri Estienne, traveller and family member of the Lyon Estienne printer dynasty, had written the words quoted above, politics had already begun to display its domination of the marketplace. The great protestant-catholic antinomy had begun.

While the mighty and powerful were looking for alliances and orientation in a fragmented feudal world, the intellectuals of those days were up in arms to no lesser degree. And they were widely (ab-)used by their respective worldly authorities. In this situation, books developed the dialectics so typical in the process of any philosophical discussion leading to political changes. Books were regarded as outright dangerous.

Another imperial order, this time from Vienna, required that before the Fair started every printer/publisher participating in the Frankfurt Book Fair had to deliver three copies of each and every book to the Imperial Censorship Commission. Of course, such an order was economic nonsense. In those days, books were worth a fortune. While the imperial leanings towards censorship did not decrease, printers, publishers and booksellers, especially after the Thirty Years War, looked for a place where they could work without such hindrance.

Protestant Saxonia offered a harbor of more liberal thinking. The city of Leipzig became the new center of the ever more international book trade. Frankfurt had served the book trade's purposes well, but it could not flourish any longer under the rule of censorship. The last catalogue of the Frankfurt meeting of book traders was published for the Easter Fair of 1750. Books didn't play an important role in the Frankfurt Fairs that followed. Leipzig had taken over and became the center of the development of book trade practices and customs for almost 200 years.

Next: Part 2 of Peter Weidhauss' address on the history of Buchmesse

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For general information visit the Frankfurt Book Fair website, phone 49 69 2102 263/284, or send an email.

To view previous Book Fair tips, search for "tip Frankfurt."