Commentary on:
Abolition of All Monopolies in the Book Trade in Norway (1686)

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Eidsfeldt, Anne. (2023) ‘Commentary on the Abolition of All Monopolies in the Book Trade in Norway (1686)’, in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


Commentary on the Abolition of All Monopolies in the Book Trade in Norway (1686)

1. Abstract

In 1686, the King of Denmark-Norway abolished all bookselling monopolies in Norway on the grounds that booksellers were abusing their privileges: they were blocking the market, not keeping enough books in stock, and selling books at too high a price. From that moment on, everyone was free to sell books in Norway. The 1686 Royal Missive thus shows the interplay of privilege and monopoly in the commercial development of the book market. This commentary shows how the regulation of trade determined the scope of the public sphere in Denmark-Norway. Socio-economic and political conditions determined both the granting and withdrawal of privileges, with far-reaching consequences for all parties involved. The commentary highlights how the period after 1686 heralded a brief interlude in the history of book production in Scandinavia, and that new privileges were soon granted to bookbinders and booksellers in eighteenth-century Norway.


2. Background: Lutheranism and control of the printing press in Denmark-Norway 

After winning a civil war in Denmark against a Catholic claimant to the throne, the Protestant King Christian III (1503-1559) became King of Denmark in 1534.[1] He established Lutheranism as the state religion and forged close ties between Church and Crown. In 1536–1537 Christian used military force to secure control of Norway, as many of the Norwegian elite had sided with the Catholics in the civil war. Although Norway had been in union with Denmark since 1380, it had maintained its own Council of the Realm and archbishopric. These institutions were abolished in 1537. Consequently, Lutheranism was introduced to Norway, and Norway became under direct control under the Danish king.

In legal documents, however, Norway was still regarded as a separate country. The king called himself King of Denmark and Norway, and some Norwegian costumes survived. The medieval Laws of the land, promulgated in 1274, were still used in Norway (translated into Danish and printed in 1604) until 1687, when the Danish king introduced a new legal code for Norway. This code contained provisions and concessions regarding economic interests that curtailed independence.

A central concern of the Danish-Norwegian state was the promotion of Lutheranism to ensure religious and political uniformity. Since the free circulation of various printed literature, such as Catholic and Calvinist literature, could threaten this goal, it was decided in the Church Ordinance of 1537 that printed books had to be censored at the University of Copenhagen before they could be printed (pre-publication censorship). See sc_1537

The first book was printed in Denmark in 1482 in Odense. In the following decades, printing presses were established in many cities, but during the Lutheran reign of Christian III, printing was concentrated in Copenhagen. The king had various means at his disposal to control the spread of printed literature. Apart from pre-publication censorship, the government could prohibit the printing and sale of certain book titles or whole genres, or take the initiative to publish important books itself, such as various books used in the teaching of Luther's catechism.

Another effective means of controlling the distribution of printed texts was to favour certain printers and booksellers (who could also act as publishers) by granting them privileges to create monopolies. Booksellers and printers could be given exclusive privileges to sell or print certain book titles or whole genres, such as almanacs, newspapers or schoolbooks. Such privileges were usually granted for a fixed period, from 3 to 20 years. Privileges and monopolies were also granted to booksellers to sell books in certain areas within the realm. Such privileges could be for a fixed period, but were usually granted for life, or for as long as the king saw fit.[2]

A privilege provided a printer or bookseller with a steady income and economic protection, which was often necessary to survive the competition between booksellers and printers. However, the privilege hindered the development of free enterprise and often led to disputes among the privileged. Moreover, the privilege obliged the bookseller to print or sell literature favored by the government. Thus a privilege gave the bookseller protection but also obligations, making him dependent on good relations with the authorities.

As the number of publications increased in the 17th century, so did the number of applications for printing and bookselling privileges. Privileges were now granted mainly to the large publishers and booksellers in Copenhagen. Some of them were also granted privileges to sell books in Norway.


3. The trade in printed books in Norway 

In the geographical area of Norway we find the names of bookbinders (who also sold books) in various sources from the 16th and early 17th centuries, mainly in the cities of Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim.[3] The booksellers were mostly itinerant booksellers from Denmark and Germany, who travelled around the country themselves or sent agents. In the middle of the 17th century we see the first examples of booksellers establishing themselves permanently in towns. Some of them were also granted privileges to sell books in a particular area. In 1611, Frederik Richter was granted the privilege of being the only bookseller in Bergen in 1622, on condition that Danish and Norwegian travelling booksellers could also sell their prints there. A similar privilege was granted to Lauritssøn Wolff in 1625, also in Bergen. 

Norway was a sparsely populated country at the time, and the booksellers had few customers. During the 17th century, the granting of privileges to booksellers and printers stabilized the book market; having a privilege became something of a necessary condition for the economic survival of a printer or bookseller. Slowly but steadily, however, competition between merchants in the towns intensified. In addition, the settled booksellers had to compete with travelling Danish booksellers (or their agents), who often had better skills, better connections to other book markets on the continent and a wider range of books to sell.

The most dedicated Danish bookseller in Norway was Christian Cassube (d. 1693), a wealthy publisher and bookseller in Copenhagen. As well as being active in the Danish book trade, he was also keen to sell his books in Norway. Many of his publications were aimed specifically at the Norwegian market. He was granted several bookselling privileges in Norway, both throughout the country and in Christiania (Ilsøe 1982, 55-58). It was in Christiania that he came into conflict with the Norwegian bookseller and publisher Hans Hoff.


4. The bookseller Hans Hoff and his privileges

Hans Hoff (d. 1686) established himself as a bookbinder, bookseller, and publisher in Christiania in the mid-17th century. His business soon became successful. This was partly due to the fact that in 1654 he was granted a privilege by the Christiania Chapter to sell religious books and various schoolbooks to the Gymnasium and the Cathedral School.

In 1661 he was also granted the privilege of being the only bookseller in Christiania and in the diocese of Christiania, provided he respected the privilege already granted to the Danish bookseller Christian Cassube. The diocese of Christiania was important because it covered the whole eastern part of southern Norway. And indeed, Hoff was keen to guard his privileges and rights. In 1662 he asked the governor to remind the local authorities and customs officers of his privileges and to make sure that no one infringed on his rights.

Another important privilege was granted to Hoff in 1669, when he became the first bookseller in Norway to be permitted to sell books throughout the country (and not just in one town or region). The only condition was that he respected the privileges already granted to the Danish printer Henrik Gøde in Copenhagen and the bookseller Jochum Tønne in Trondheim.

By 1670 his success seemed complete. In that year his privilege from 1661 was renewed and he and his wife (Margrethe Clausdatter Møller) became the only booksellers in Christiania and the diocese of Christiania for as long as they lived. Again, conditions were imposed: they were not to sell almanacs other than those stamped by the Danish printer Henrik Gøde (who had been granted almanac privileges in 1663); they were urged to sell books at good prices; and there were to be no complaints from customers. As a result of this privilege, all other privileged booksellers, in particular the Danish bookseller Christian Cassube, were forbidden to sell books in Christiania. See sc_1670.

The Danish bookseller Christian Cassube was upset when he was excluded from the book trade in Christiania and the surrounding area in 1670, when Hans Hoff received a renewal of his privileges there. Over the years, Cassube had been granted various privileges to sell books throughout Norway, mostly through travelling salesmen and other servants. In 1685 he applied for a renewal of his Norwegian privilege, enclosing with his application several letters from dissatisfied customers who could not find the literature they wanted in the bookseller Hans Hoff's stock. Cassube also strengthened his case by referring to a decree from 1682, when the king decided that privileges could be withdrawn from any business if they were detrimental to trade and industry. Finally, Cassube accused Hoff of reprinting (illegally) various books and almanacs.  

In the same year that Cassube complained about Hoff's privilege, another Danish bookseller, Johan Jost Erythropilus (d. 1705), had sent a parcel of books to be sold in Christiania in spite of Hoff's privilege. Hoff immediately confiscated the parcel, even though it contained popular books that were not available in Hoff's bookshop. In doing so, he abused his 1670 privilege, which emphasized that Hoff should sell books in demand without complaint. As an immediate reaction, a royal missive (23 January 1686) was sent to the magistrate in Christiania, ordering Hoff to return the confiscated books to Erythropilus, and stating that Erythropilus was free to sell books that were not in Hoff's assortment. It was this misdeed (withholding the package of books that were not in stock), together with Cassube's application, that led to the termination of all bookselling privileges in Norway. In a missive from the king to the governor of Christiania, Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve (1638–1704), dated 30 January 1686, all privileges and monopolies in the book trade in Norway were abolished and everyone was free to trade in books.


5. Interaction between a privilege and commercial developments

The missive must be seen as an immediate reaction to the Hans Hoff's alleged abuse of his privilege and the Danish bookseller Christian Cassube's application for renewal of his privilege. However, the missive can also be seen in a broader context, reflecting craft and trade relations in Norway at the end of the 17th century. The granting of privileges was once a necessity for economic survival. But now that the privileged focused more on their rights and less on their duties, and competition increased.  In addition, trade relations in the book trade in Norway could be regulated to some extent by the new guild articles for bookbinders introduced in 1685 (see comment xxx). A number of articles in these rules regulated the sale of books and the relationships between bookbinders, printers and booksellers. Even though the articles were primarily aimed at the market situation in Copenhagen, where bookselling had developed into a special branch in the 17th century, the local authorities in Norway used the guild articles in court cases and controversial issues throughout the 18th century, as new privileges were granted to bookbinders and booksellers in Norway, causing new disputes and grievances among booksellers.

Incidentally, we don't know what effect the abolition had on Hans Hoff's economic status and business ventures. Shortly after the missive was published, Hoff died. As he and his wife had no male heirs, the business was taken over by his wife, who ran it until her death in 1703. A year before her death, she and two other bookbinders in Christiania received a new privilege from the king to be the only booksellers in town.



[1] This section is based on (Appel 2001) and (Rian 2014).

[2] For example, the Danish bookseller Christian Cassube had to renew his privilege to sell books in Norway and Christiania several times (Ilsøe 1982, 55-58; Nyrop 1870, 254). Two booksellers who wanted to establish themselves in Bergen at the beginning of the 17th century (Fredrik Richter and Jens Lauritssøn Wolff) were granted the privilege of selling books "... as long as we decide" (“... indtil saalænge vi anderledes derom tilsigendes vorder”) (Sars and Lundh 1874, 243, 490).

[3] If nothing else is mentioned, sections 4, 5 and 6 are based on (Tveterås 1951, 4-67).


Governmental papers, National Archives of Norway

Danske Kanselli 1572-1799, RA/EA-3023/F/Fc/Fca/Fcab/L0013: Norske tegnelser (mikrofilm), 1684-1687, s. 272a.

Books and Articles

Appel, Charlotte. 2001. Læsning og bogmarked i 1600-tallets Danmark. København: Museum Tusculanums Forlag.

Ilsøe, Ingrid. 1982. "Christian Cassube boghandler i København 1650–1693". Fund og Forskning 26: 43–68.

Nyrop, Camillus. 1870. Bidrag til den danske Boghandels Historie. Vol. 1. København: Gyldendal.

Rian, Øystein. 2010. "Sensuren i Danmark-Norge 1536–1814". In Demokratisk teori og historisk praksis, edited by Hilde Sandvik, Mona R. Ringvej & Kai Østberg, 123–160. Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press.

Rian, Øystein. 2014. Sensuren i Danmark-Norge. Vilkårene for offentlige ytringer 1536–1814. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Sars, Johan Ernst, and Otto Gr. Lundh. 1874.  Norske Rigs-Registranter. Tildeels i Uddrag. Vol.5.[s.n.]: Christiania.

Tveterås, Harald. L. 1951. Den norske bokhandels historie. Vol. 1. Oslo: I kommisjon J. W. Cappelens forlag.


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