Almanac for 1644 – Page XXIX and XXX (Photo: National Library of Norway)
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 King Christian IV and his officials have succeeded in «Dane-ifying» Norway: Runes have been replaced by Latin letters and Old Norse by Danish.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.
Christian IV of Denmark (12 April 1577 – 28 February 1648), by Pieter Isaacsz 1612.
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.
The first Nielssøn prints are two small theological writings. Then he decides 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.
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.
The town and its 4,000 inhabitants had little knowledge about other writings than prayer and hymnbooks. Shall Tyge Nielssøn survive he has to press affordable books that attracts the interest of the public.
The 48-page almanac that only measures 10 x 7.5 centimeters 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 bathe 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 had access to many astronomical symbols because the almanac is filled with them.
Parish priest and sponsor Christen Steffensen Bang who wants to print his own religious manuscript «Postilla Catechetica», is annoyed that Tyge Nielssøn instead chooses to press an almanac. He takes Nielssøn to court, and on 3 April 1644 the book printer has 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.
Text by: Thor Lanesskog