400th birthday of Edward Raban bringing his printing press to Aberdeen

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The printed word has revolutionized our world; it changed ideas, transformed politics, art, culture and science, and put into circulation a vast array of journals and books.

There can be no one in Britain who has not, at some point in their life, read a newspaper, leafed through a bestseller or literary classic or picked up a commercial brochure, magazine or leaflet – or , God forbid , had a political party leaflet stuffed into his hand during a shopping spree.

And that explains why a group of Aberdeen organizations have planned a series of events to mark the 400th anniversary of pioneer Edward Raban’s coming to Granite City with his printing press.

It was a pioneering initiative – for although the city had long been interested in tracts, treatises and official documents, all their books were imported from elsewhere and it was not until Raban’s arrival that a native printing industry established itself in the northeast.

Edward Raban at work on his printing press in Aberdeen. Picture by George Mackie

This compatriot Raban, a widely traveled Englishman who lived from around 1579 to 1658, first learned the art of printing in the Netherlands, particularly in Amsterdam and Leiden before settling in Scotland.

While in Holland he was associated with the famous Pilgrim Press, which was the brainchild of some of those who later became the Pilgrim Fathers and sailed to America aboard the Mayflower.

The long road led to Aberdeen

Raban, a talented and ambitious man, quickly established himself as a printer of distinction in Edinburgh and then in St Andrews, before being lured to Aberdeen at Pentecost in 1622 by the Bishop of Aberdeen, Patrick Forbes, and Sir Paul Menzies, who later became the city provost.

He was encouraged in his activities by the city council and the university and was appointed official printer of both institutions.

Edward Raban was a pioneer in Aberdeen in the 17th century.

Raban, who described himself as the “Laird of Letters”, occupied a house on the north side of Castle Street and operated there under “the Townes Arms”. His first book, printed in Aberdeen in the summer of 1622, was a collection of academic dissertations, Theses Philsophicæ.

He worked closely with David Melvill, bookseller and bourgeois of Aberdeen. Raban’s publications were generally associated with the political and religious troubles of his time, but he was also known for his “Prognostications” or almanacs which later developed into the yearbooks we know today.

A true pioneer figure, he remained official printer of the city and the university until his retirement in 1649.

He died in 1658 and was buried in St Nicholas Kirkyard. A commemorative plaque was installed there in 1922 to mark the tercentenary.

And now, a century later, its name and fame are going digital.

Events are planned to commemorate Edward Raban.

Raban 400 will include two physical exhibitions, including a seminar at the Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University of Aberdeen in July.

This free event will be organized by the University of Aberdeen Special Collections and it will be possible to see Raban’s work up close, accompanied by a talk on the man himself and the development of the book trade in Scotland .

The second event is being held at Aberdeen Central Library, building on their collections, in November 2022 after Scotland Book Week.

Alongside these events, four workshops are also run by Peacock Visual Arts, covering introductions to printmaking, between July and October. These will be open to everyone.

The Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University of Aberdeen will host an Edward Raban event in July.

The initiative has just received £7,980 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to support commemorative activities later this year.

And Professor Peter Reid of Robert Gordon University, who runs Raban 400, told me: “The commemoration of Edward Raban’s arrival in Aberdeen reminds us of how important and powerful print is.

Edward Raban created the first printing press in Aberdeen in 1622.

“He established a native printing industry in the city, which lasted four centuries. He also tells us about the foresight of civic and academic leaders in Aberdeen at the time.

“They recognized the importance of having printing technology and skilled artisan printers at the heart of the commercial and cultural life of the city.”


To learn more, visit the project website at raban400.com

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