Since the appearance in 1908 of the first volume of BMC the work has been relied on as one of the main authorities on the earliest printing in Europe. Its coverage of early printing from the European countries in which the new technique was successively introduced provides not only extensive bibliographical descriptions, but introduces the material with an analysis of the development of printing in the relevant areas. This final volume to appear in the series covers England, where printing was not introduced until 1476, a good twenty years after the appearance of the earliest printed books in Mainz. The England volume of BMC responds to the special circumstances of early printing in England by giving particular attention to textual transmission, systematically following each text from source or copy to print whenever possible. Printing-house methods of book-production get full consideration. Notes on further dissemination are extended by an analysis of early ownership (and by implication of readership) taking account of material outside the British Library collection. This is followed by a history of the formation of the collection from 1753 in the British Museum, which began with the great collectors of the eighteenth century, and in which the antiquarian book-trade of this and later periods had an important role.
In view of the new focal points of interest the bibliographical descriptions are more elaborate than in the previous volumes, and include extensive notes on provenance and early readers which are the work of Margaret Nickson. A new forensic element is the systematic investigation of paper used by the printing houses until Caxton's death in 1492, when the nature of production changed. This was undertaken by Paul Needham, who contributes a separate introduction on the trade in paper and paper as evidence for dating and production processes. His investigation, together with the evidence of the use of printing types, underlies the new chronological arrangement which has to be the basis for any interpretation. The resulting chronological list of all printing in England before 1501 is presented in separate tables. The work includes descriptions of 323 copies of books, representing 221 editions of items printed in England, out of a total of 395 known to date, extensive introductions and 52 full-size plates accompanying the descriptions of printing types.