Page 62 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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synonymous with Amsterdam p rin ting and its continuing re­
The printers of the seventeenth century, then, almost thirty in
number, produced more than 580 books. What were the high­
lights? How did they influence history?
First, let us get a feel for what almost 600 books mean. When
Shabtai Bass published the first Hebrew bibliographical work
in 1680 he recorded 2,200 titles in existence up to tha t time. On
the one hand we know that he missed many; on the other hand,
he was already including the Amsterdam books up to his cut off
date. (As a matter of fact, Bass traveled widely to record Hebrew
books wherever they were, bu t he ended up in Amsterdam
where he found many, in private and public collections, that
he had not known before; this says a great deal about the high
level of Jewish culture in Amsterdam towards the end of the
seventeenth century.) The 580 books thus represent a consider­
able percentage of all Hebrew books printed from the very
beginning of printing. No other printing center at the time was
producing books in such quantity.
What of quality? Of course it was uneven. By way of generali­
zation we might say that the wealthy Sephardi community ex­
pected its books to be beautifully designed, to be well printed
on good paper, and to be nicely bound. The less affluent Ash­
kenazi group was satisfied with less. Thus, though Immanuel
Benveniste and Uri Phoebus were the most prolific producers,
and many of their productions were handsome indeed, their
primary market was the German community; and Uri especially
seemed to cater to a demand for prayerbooks, Bible parts, and
other modest productions. There is general agreement that
Joseph Athias, filling the needs of the Sephardim, reached the
highest artistic level.
Athias, in fact, was a real entrepreneur, a merchant in tune
with his times. He was perhaps the first Hebrew prin ter to
announce his new books in the Dutch press, though Menasseh
ben Israel, also of the sophisticated Sephardi community, had
earlier been the first to publish a sales catalog of his publica­
tions. Athias was also the owner of a type foundry and was