When to Bathe and Bloodlet: The Oldest Text Printed in Norway is a Fortune-Telling Book
The year is 1643. Norway has been a Danish province since 1536, the year before the Protestant Reformation. King Christian IV and his officials have succeeded in “Dane-ifying” Norway: Runes have been replaced by Latin letters and Old Norse by Danish.
Parish priest Christen Steffensen Bang in Romedal in Eastern Norway persuades the 33-year-old Danish book printer Tyge Nielssøn to move his business northwards from Copenhagen to Norway and Christiania (Oslo).
Bang’s motivation is to get his own religious scripts printed. The Danish book printer receives 200 riksdaler (dollars) and 300 “rice” paper (1 “rice” equals 20 books, each containing 500 sheets of paper) in compensation.
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In 1643 when Tyge Nielssøn establishes himself, there are no other printing houses in Christiania. Whoever wants to get something pressed must travel to Denmark or other European countries further south, something very costly and time consuming.
Example of a 1568 printers - At the left in the foreground, a "puller" removes a printed sheet from the press. The "beater" to his right is inking the forme. In the background, compositors are setting type. ( Public Domain )
The first Nielssøn prints are two small theological writings. Then he decided to produce the Almanac for 1644 with the full title: “En Ny Allmanach paa det Aar efter Jesu Christi Fødsel 1644. Christiania Aff Tyge Nielssøn” (English: “A New Almanac for the Year after the Birth of Jesus Christ 1644. Christiania by Tyge Nielssøn”).
Fortune-telling books were certain sales successes and far more lucrative than theological writings.
Postcard ‘At the Fortune Teller.’ ( National Library of Norway )
Movements of the Sun and the Moon
It was in Denmark’s interest that Norwegians could read and write Danish. In the middle of the 1700s, there existed virtually no illiteracy in Norway, and already in the year 1644, a majority of Christiania’s population could read and write.
Image of the first book ever published in Norway, the almanac “Allmanach paa det aar efter Jesu Christi Fødsel 1644”, published by Tyge Nielssøn in 1644. ( Public Domain )
The town and its 4,000 inhabitants had little knowledge about writings other than prayer and hymnbooks. For Tyge Nielssøn to survive he had to press affordable books that attracted public interest.
The 48-page almanac only measures 10 x 7.5 centimeters (4 x 3 inches) and contains an overview of the days of the year. In addition, there is an overview of the movements of the sun and the moon, planets and stars, and it provides references to passages in the Bible.
It also gives information about when it is advantageous to take a bath and perform bloodletting.
The last part of the almanac contains an overview of important market days in Denmark and Norway, as well as a Prognosticon, a weather forecast for the coming year.
The book printer must have had access to many astronomical symbols because the almanac is filled with them.
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Updated version of the 1644 fortune-telling book. Note the variety of astronomic symbols. ( Public Domain )
Parish priest and sponsor Christen Steffensen Bang who wanted to print his own religious manuscript “Postilla Catechetica,” was annoyed that Tyge Nielssøn instead chose to press an almanac. He took Nielssøn to court, and on April 3, 1644 the book printer had to hand over all his printing equipment to Bang.
Today, only one copy of Norway’s first printed book still exists – owned and stored by the National Library of Norway.
Tyge Nielssøn’s stay in Christiania was short, but he left a permanent mark on Norwegian history with his little fortune-telling book.
Pages within the 1644 edition of the fortune-telling book. ( National Library of Norway )
The article, originally titled ‘ Almanac for 1644 – The First Book Printed in Norway ’, by Thor Lanesskog was originally published on ThorNews and has been republished with permission.
National Library of Norway (n.d.) “En Ny Allmanach paa det Aar efter Jesu Christi Fødsel 1644. Christiania Aff Tyge Nielssøn.” https://www.nb.no/items/1cbb5737ed0ec7c6dad78e6676c4ddba?page=0&searchText=Tyge%20Nielss%C3%B8n
ndla (2011) “Den lesende offentligheten (1660–1814).” https://ndla.no/nb/node/72401?fag=156500