Scotland's First Book Goes On Show To Mark 500 Years Of Printing

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 03 April 2008
an old frontispiece for a book showing a windmill with a ladder leading to it upon which a man climbs with a sack on his back

The device of Androw Myllar, an Edinburgh Bookseller. © National Library of Scotland

The 500th anniversary of printing in Scotland is being celebrated on Friday April 4 2008 as the National Library of Scotland (NLS) gives visitors a chance to see the oldest printed Scottish book.

The Complaint of the Black Knight, a lyrical poem by medieval Scottish poet John Lydgate, goes on display for one day only from 10am to 5pm at NLS on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh – 500 years to the day since its first appearance in the Scottish capital.

On April 4 1508, the first copy of the book ran off the presses of printing firm Chepman and Myllar who went on to publish several poems by Scotland’s most important lyric poets.

an illustrated page of a book with a man and woman either side of a tree with a coat of arms on it

William Dunbar: The Ballade of Lord Bernard Stewart. © National Library of Scotland

Known as ‘The Chepman and Myllar Prints’ they were produced in or about 1508 on Scotland’s first printing press, established in Edinburgh in what is now the Cowgate.

Chepman, an Edinburgh merchant, provided the money. Myllar, an Edinburgh bookseller who had previously been involved with printing in France, brought with him experience in the book trade.

A series of events are lined up across Scotland to mark the anniversary of the first production by this partnership with events organised in colaboration between NLS, the Scottish Printing and Archival Trust and the Scottish Print Employers’ Federation.

“NLS is delighted to be taking part in the celebrations for this important event,” said NLS Director of Collections Development, Cate Newton. “As Scotland’s National Library, the first printed Scottish book is perhaps the single most significant item in our collections and I hope as many people as possible will come along to have a look at it.”

an illustrated page from a book with a man on horseback at the top

Another book by Chepman and Myllar. "Here begynneth a gest of Robyn Hode. Lythe and listin gentilmen yt be of fre bore blode I shalle you tel of a gode yeman his name was Robyn hode." © National Library of Scotland

Also on Friday 4 April, a plaque will be unveiled by Councillor Donald Wilson on the site of the former Chepman and Myllar printworks in the Cowgate at 11.00am. There will also be the chance for people to get their own souvenir of the day as the Heidelberg Roadshow - a truck bearing a working Heidelberg press - arrives in the grounds of the National Galleries of Scotland from 10am.

The display at the NLS is a taster for a major summer exhibition on the history of printing in Scotland, which opens at the library in June. NLS will also be publishing a book to coincide with the exhibition, entitled Scottish Printed Books: 1508-2008.

A new website also charts the spread of printing throughout Scotland from 1508 onwards. It includes digital versions of the first items printed in each printing press from 1508 to 1800, from Inverness to Dumfries and from Campbelltown to Berwick-Upon-Tweed. See for more details.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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