First paper, first books

Placa Quijote Valencia

International Book Day

From the cradle of Europe’s paper industry to the printing of Don Quixote’s second edition

Did you know that the English word paper is directly related to the Valencian word paper?

If paper was invented in China about 2,000 years ago, the first mill dedicated to paper production was established in the Valencian town of Játiva around 1050, the origin of the paper industry in Europe. Forty years before the first mill of these characteristics was set up in France and more than a century before that of Fabriano in Italy.

Some experts have even come to indicate that what would have given more international fame to Valencian handicrafts of the Muslim era would have been paper, generally fabricated by Jews.

As a consequence, during the twelfth century the book industry would be developed in Valencia, in which its bookbinders were to also acquire a special prominence.

Also fundamental to this, was the sector’s adaptation to the technological advances. The press invented by Gütenberg around 1440, arrived in Valencia three decades later. At that time, Valencia recorded a moment of demographic, economic and cultural splendor.

So much so that the first literary work printed in Spain would come out from a city workshop around 1474. That was Obres e trobes en lahors de la Verge Maria, a book of Marian poems written mostly in Valencian, but also in Castilian and Italian, the only copy of which is preserved in the Libraries and Archives of the University of Valencia.

Added to that landmark is the printing of the second edition of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes, the most outstanding book in the Castilian language. After the success achieved with the first edition, held in Madrid a few months earlier, Pedro Patricio Mey’s printing press would be commissioned in 1605 with carrying out such an order.

A tombstone situated where the Mey family business was located, in the well-known calle de San Vicente Mártir, commemorates this historic event for universal literature. International Book Day is celebrated every April, precisely in memory of the date on which both Cervantes and the English writer William Shakespeare and the Peruvian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega had died: 23rd April 1616.