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The Frankfurt trade fair developed a reputation for the sale of manuscripts. Perhaps fortuitously, it was in nearby Mainz that Johannes Gutenberg developed his printing press technologies in the first-half of the fifteenth-century. Gutenberg had received funding from Johannes Fust, a local merchant, perhaps already a seller of manuscripts, but the two fell out before Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible was completed.
Peter Schöffer had been apprenticed to Gutenberg but took Fust’s side in the legal wrangle, and would, years later, marry Fust’s daughter. There are suggestions that Schöffer had been sent into Gutenberg’s operation specifically to gain knowledge and experience of his techniques. The two men edged Gutenberg out, with Schöffer taking over the printing operation and Fust selling the books produced. Schöffer went on to produce 300 different titles and invented the notion of the title page and of a sales catalogue.
Fust sold the 42-line Bible in paper or vellum versions, the paper Bible sold at 40 guilders and the vellum version at 75 guilders. He set up a branch in Paris and was soon selling the books ‘globally’ before the notion of a global market was considered a reality. In France they accused him of working for the devil because the notion of such a sales performance was difficult to comprehend.
It was Fust and Schöffer that established the first specialist printed book fair at Frankfurt perhaps as early as 1454, but certainly by 1462. It would become the most significant book fair in Europe until the 17th century.
Leipzig also boasted an early fair and ran its Book Fair from 1478. It supplanted Frankfurt in 1632 when it first presented more books than Frankfurt. In 1764 the transfer of allegiance of a notable bookseller, Philipp Erasmus Reich, from a Frankfurt publisher to one in Leipzig dealt the Frankfurt Fair a serious blow. Leipzig held the supremacy until 1945, but when it was subsumed into the DDR, Frankfurt was able to regain its top slot.
Today the Frankfurt Book Fair is run by organised by the Frankfurter Buchmesse GmbH, a subsidiary of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. It runs across five days every mid-October. In 2017 it attracted 7,300 exhibitors from more than 100 countries, presenting over 400,000 books and attracting more than 286,000 visitors. The year before, more than 10,000 journalists from 75 countries reported on the Fair. The first three days are restricted exclusively to trade visitors; the general public can attend on the weekend, for a fee. It is considered to be the most important book fair in the world for international deals and trading.