The oldest book in our library – Open source in the 16th century

28 February, 2018

One of the most special books in our library is the Plictho. It's the oldest book in de library collection and it has a long title: 'Plictho de Larte de tentori che insegna tenger pani telle banbasi et sede si per larthe magiore come per la comune.' This means 'Instructions in the art of dyers which teaches the dyeing of woolen cloths, linnens, cottons and silk by the great art, as well as by the common'.  

Plictho. Het verven van garenAt the start of the 16th century the author of the book, Gioanventura Rosetti, collected recipes and processes for the dyeing of textiles in Genova, Florence other Italian cities. The resulting book was the first printed book on the dyeing of textiles (1548). The book was printed by Agustino Bindoni in Venice. Rosetti wrote the book 'per la comune', for the community. This was special in the 16th century. It was common to use secret recipes for textile dyeing and to pass the recipes on from father to son. The development of textile dyeing technology was a lengthy and complicated process. This book is an important for the history of technology because sharing knowledge in this way was new (open source) and because we gain insight in the technology of the 16th century.

Plictho. Het verven van textielRosetti wrote the book for the craftsman, with detailed instructions for the dyeing methods for the most important textile fibres. The first two parts of the book are on dyeing woollen, cotton and linen cloth and yarn. Part three is on silk. The last part gives recipes for dyeing leather and fur. The dyes used were plant-based, such as brazil wood, kermes, madder and woad. For black paints, iron, copper sulphate or tanine were used.

The Plictho is part of the Driessen collection. The municipality or Tilburg bought this collection in 1954 from the Leiden textile printing family Driessen. Many old books on textile dyeing and printing are part of this collection. The municipality bought the collection because it wanted to establish a Textile Museum, which opened in 1958.

More oldest books from libraries around the world:

Picture 1: yarn dyeing. The yarn is dyed in strands in a tub. With a special wooden utensil the textile dyers get the yarn from the tub.
Picture 2: cloth dyeing. Below the kettle you see the fire with which the dye bath is heated.

Books on the Plictho:

The art of dyeing in the history of mankind / Franco Brunello. – Vicenza : Neri Pozza, 1973.

The plictho of Gioanventura Rosetti : instructions in the art of the dyers which teaches the dyeing of woolen cloths, linens, cottons, and silk by the great art as well as by the common / Gioanventura Rosetti. – Cambridge [etc.] : M.I.T. Press, 1968.