The art of printing — information reproduced

While written documents stored in archives (i.e. archive records) are unique and are single copies containing first-hand information, the texts stocked in libraries (i.e. books) have been printed or, in other words, reproduced. The first Estonian text known to be printed in book format dates back to the year 1525. Unfortunately the oldest printed text has not survived and the fact that it ever existed is known only because of an entry made in a book stored in the county archives of Schleswig-Holstein. In this entry it was said that in 1525 the Catholic town council of Lübeck captured some Lutheran literature which included a mass book printed in Estonian, Latvian and another language used in Livonia (probably in Livonian).

The oldest Estonian printed text that has survived is a catechism from 1535. Even this text has not survived in its entirety: in 1929 eleven fragmentary pages of the catechism were found inside the cover of a more recent book in the library of the Estonian Literary Society. These fragments, known by the names of the compilers of the catechism (Simon Wanradt, a priest in Oleviste Church, and Johann Koell, a preacher in Pühavaimu Church) are now stored in the Tallinn City Archives.

Agenda Parva, published in 1622 in Braunsberg (now Braniewo, Poland) has been preserved in its entirety. This counter-reformation manual for priests contains sentences in German, Polish, Latvian and Estonian (in the Southern Estonian dialect) used during Catholic rituals. The only known copy of Agenda Parva is now located in the library of the Olsztyn Theological Seminary. During the period of almost a hundred years between the publication dates of the Wanradt-Koell catechism and Agenda Parva, some more ‘non-German’ texts were published. However, none of these have been found and their existence is known only because of references to them in other archive records.

The first Estonian print shop was set up at the university established in Tartu in 1632. There was also a library at the University. The first Estonian books printed in Estonia were however printed in Tallinn, in Reusner’s print shop: the book of songs from Heinrich Stahl’s manual ‘Hand- und Hauszbuch für das Fürstenthumb Esthen in Liffland’ (Hand and House Book for Estonian Aristocracy in Livonia) and ‘Anführung zu der Ehstnischen Sprach’ — an introduction to Estonian, containing grammar rules and a dictionary by the same author. From the second half of the 17th century a greater number of Estonian texts, both printed and hand-written, has survived. Most of these texts are religious; however, secular texts were becoming more available as well. Besides oaths of office and oaths of allegiance, we now also have occasional pieces of Estonian poetry and posters in Estonian issued by the representatives of the Swedish state authorities, addressing local country people.

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