Cambridge’s first printer (and record debtor?)

In an attempt perhaps to increase his income, Siberch also printed a number of more popular titles, including a Latin grammar compiled by William Lily, first teacher of St Paul’s School, London, with revisions by Erasmus, and the first edition of the First Eclogue, by Alexander Barclay, possibly written while a monk at Ely.

Page from Alexander Barclay’s first eclogue taken from the binding of a later work.

Page from Alexander Barclay’s first eclogue taken from the binding of a later work.

He also risked a pirated edition of Erasmus’ guide to letter writing, concluding with a model for an “iocosa epistola”. Erasmus was not amused; he had a prior publication agreement with Johan Froben of Basel.

In the first authorized edition, he complains, “There is nothing a printer would be ashamed to do.” Siberch, however, was pardoned. A few years later, Erasmus included him among the “old companions” to whom he sent his Christmas greetings.

However, Siberch was a novice printer. As far as we know, he did not print anything either before or after his stay in Cambridge. In a preface, he appeals: “Forgive me, dear reader, as I am an inexperienced beginner…I freely confess that in printing this book I have made many mistakes.

There are two misprints on the title page, illustrated, of what may be a proof copy of his edition of a sermon by Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury in the twelfth century.

In the luxury copy of his Galen, printed on vellum, which Thomas Linacre evidently presented to Henry VIII, the pages of the last section appear out of order, having been misplaced on the press.

Translator and printer perhaps hoped that the king would not read to the end. Siberch also had a limited line of typefaces and printing blocks. A woodcut Adoration of the Shepherds (see below) appears incongruously at the end of the first printing of Linacre’s Galen. Nor did he have a full alphabet of decorated capitals; an inverted G was to be used for Q (bottom image).

The printer’s mark, used in the colophon at the end of several of Siberch’s printed works. The text translates to: ‘Printed in the famous Cambridge Academy by John Siberch, 1521.’

The printer’s mark, used in the colophon at the end of several of Siberch’s printed works. The text translates to: ‘Printed in the famous Cambridge Academy by John Siberch, 1521.’