USTC Adds Full Coverage of Finnish Printing, 1642-1650

By Arthur der Weduwen |

Over the past year, the USTC team has made it a priority to expand its coverage of national print cultures that have thus far been underrepresented in our database. When printing emerged in the fifteenth century it spread quickly throughout Western and Southern Europe, but failed to settle in broad swathes of Europe’s northern and eastern frontiers. The first active printing presses in modern Latvia appeared only in 1588, 134 years after the invention of printing in Mainz; Estonia and Finland would have to wait another 44 and 54 years, respectively.

For this reason, the print cultures of these nations did not feature prominently in the first iteration of the USTC. With the extension of the resource to 1650, we have been crucially aware that including the younger print domains of early modern Europe is an important feature to keep the project truly universal.

This summer, with thanks to our volunteering programme, we have made significant progress, and are now in a position to present full coverage of the print production of Estonia, Finland and Latvia, expanding the USTC by another 1,700 records. In a series of three blogs, we will be providing a brief introduction to each of these print domains. This third and final blog reflects on the print culture of Finland.

The oldest book with a demonstrable connection to Finland is the 1488 Missale Aboense, printed in Lübeck by Bartholomaeus Ghotan. The work was ordered by the Bishop of Finland’s largest and oldest town, Turku (Åbo in Swedish), for use in the liturgical services of the bishopric. As such it was printed in Latin rather than Finnish, and the first books printed in the Finnish language did not appear until the middle of the sixteenth century, when Michael Agricola (1510-1557) produced a Finnish ABC book. This schoolbook, like other Finnish translations undertaken by Agricola, was produced in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.

Missale Aboense
The Missale Aboense (1488), the oldest book printed for the Finnish book market. Image courtesy of the National Library of Finland. USTC 741201

Finland had long been part of the Swedish realm. The political and clerical elite of Finland, mostly based in Turku, was Swedish, and would read and write in Latin, Swedish or German rather than Finnish. Thanks to the rise of Stockholm and Uppsala as publishing centres in the sixteenth century, there was little incentive for the foundation of a press based in Finland. The supply of books from Northern Germany and the Swedish mainland was efficient, and some printing firms tailored their production for an established export market to Finland. Christoph Reusner, originally from Rostock, published many books for the Swedish and Finnish markets in the early seventeenth century, and moved to Stockholm in 1611. Here he published a 2,200-page Finnish postil by the then bishop of Turku, Ericus Erici Sorolainen (1545-1625). Sorolainen was impressed by Reusner, and encouraged him to move to Finland to set up his press there. In 1617, King Gustavus Adolphus granted Reusner a privilege to undertake the move, but the printer proved reluctant to do so. Twenty years later, he would leave Stockholm, but for Tallinn, the Swedish administrative capital of Estonia, rather than Turku.

Finland would have to wait another five years before a printing press was set up in Turku. The essential stimulus was the foundation of the University of Turku in 1640. The formation of the university was part of an extensive programme by the Swedish crown to establish universities or academies across its growing empire – Tartu, in Estonia, had seen the opening of a university in 1632, the same year that a printing press was founded there. Local professors would benefit substantially from the presence of a printing press, but most of all, the press was required for the daily administration of the university, not least the publication of student dissertations.

The first printer of the Turku Academy press was a Swede, Peder Eriksson Wald, who would operate the press until his death in 1653. Of all the presses established in the Baltic countries during the seventeenth century, the Turku press was most solely devoted to the business of a local university. Of the 414 known editions produced by Wald between 1642 and 1650, 347 were academic disputations, orations or other announcements with pertinence to the university. Only some 40 items were printed in the vernacular, most commonly in Swedish rather than Finnish. In fact, the first complete Finnish Bible was produced in 1642, the year the academy press opened, but it was printed in Stockholm, rather than Turku. The Bible was printed in 1,200 copies and was produced entirely on the costs of the Swedish crown, which sought to recoup the costs by forcing every consistory in Finland to buy a copy.

The publication of the Finnish Bible was clearly still a project that was considered too extensive to be undertaken on the new Turku press. The Turku University press was, nevertheless, an extremely active, and by all accounts successful printing house. Most of the print jobs undertaken by Wald were short quarto pamphlets, the preferred format of publication for university disputations, but Wald also printed textbooks for local students, funeral orations and wedding pamphlets. His output in Swedish and Finnish consisted predominantly of ordinances and edicts as well as Lutheran devotional works. His most substantial project was a 1646 Latin/Finnish Manuale finnonicum, an octavo of some 1,100 pages (70 sheets), undoubtedly destined for pastors spread throughout Finnish parishes.

A typical piece of early Turku printing, an inaugural disputation, defended by Samuel Georg Hartman. Most Turku imprints were short quarto pamphlets of one or two sheets of paper. Image courtesy of the National Library of Finland. USTC 6910081. 

Of our three new print domains, those of Latvia, Estonia and Finland, the Finnish press was the last to be established but would turn out to be the most active for the remainder of the seventeenth century. We know of at least 4,800 editions printed in Finland up to 1700. Most of these works survive today in the Finnish National Library in Helsinki, and a large number have recently been digitised. The Turku University press would continue to dominate production in the town, but in 1669, one of the local professors, Johannes Gezelius (1615-1690) also established a second printing house. Gezelius was not only a distinguished scholar, but also Bishop of Turku, and owned one of the few paper mills in the region. At the end of the seventeenth century, a printing press was established in a second Finnish town, in Viipuri (Vyborg), home to a high school (gymnasium) and the seat of a bishop. This press was active until 1709, when the town was besieged by Russian forces. The university press of Turku would remain the most important centre of printing in Finland until the destruction of the university during the Great Fire of Turku (1827), which saw the institution relocate to the modern capital of Finland, Helsinki.

Saara Penttinen, a PhD student at the University of Turku and one of the volunteers for the USTC summer programme in 2019, prepared the Finnish data that has now been added to the USTC. Saara reflected that ‘even though I specialize in English history, the past of my native country is, of course, close to my heart. The seventeenth-century materials produced in Finland, at the time a considerable part of the kingdom of Sweden, play an important part in the objective of creating a truly universal bibliography of Europe.’ We are grateful to Saara for her hard work and for playing such a pivotal role in assimilating early Finnish printing into the USTC. Thanks are also due to Lari Ahokas, who joined us for a briefer period to begin our survey of Finnish editions of the second half of the seventeenth century.

Arthur der Weduwen is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews and the author of Dutch and Flemish Newspapers of the Seventeenth Century (2 vols., Brill, 2017) and The Bookshop of the World. Making and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age (co-authored with Andrew Pettegree) (Yale University Press, 2019). For the USTC he works predominantly on the print cultures of the Low Countries, Scandinavia and the Baltic.

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Images available from the National Library of Finland, under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence. Copyright of National Library of Finland.


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