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William Caxton

c.1422-1491. First English printer. Born in Kent, he was apprenticed to a cloth dealer in the City of London in 1438 and very soon was sent to Bruges for his employer. In 1446 he set up in business on his own in Bruges and became the leader of the English business community there. He began to travel widely in Europe and developed a literary interest which led him to begin translating books into English. In 1471 he finished his first translation and decided to learn the new skill of printing in order to produce his own books. After studying the technique, either in Cologne or Bruges, he set up a printing press in Bruges. In 1476 he returned to Britain and set up his press (probably the same one he had had in Bruges) in the precincts of Westminster. The first book he printed in England was the Sayings of the Philosophers, and this reflected his wide literary interest. From 1477 to 1491 he was continuously busy printing and translating at Westminster. Among the early books he printed were Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Malory's King Arthur (1485). In fourteen years he printed 18,000 folio pages, making up altogether eighty separate books; he also translated twenty-one volumes, mostly from French and Dutch. During this period he designed and put into use six fonts of type of the Gothic style.

W. Blades, The Life and Typography of William Caxton (rev. ed., 1882); E.G. Duff, William Caxton (1905); W.J.B. Crotch (ed.), The Prologues and Epilogues of William Caxton (1928).

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