2.0: 1585 - 1725 - Introduction

From the moment when the Northern Netherlands declared themselves, at the end of the sixteenth century, to be autonomous districts and especially when the South, after the fall of Antwerp in 1585, once again fell under the authority of the Spanish king, the cultural focus shifted slowly but surely to the North. Among the many refugees who came northwards looking for freedom, were a number of educated printer-publishers of whom Christopher Plantin and Lodewijk Elzevier are the best-known. These immigrants gave, among other things, a tremendous impulse to the growth and development of book production and book trading in the Northern Netherlands. Thanks to the great freedom enjoyed by scholars and publishers in the period 1585-1725 in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, the district of Holland in particular became a major production and distribution centre in Europe during this century and a half. Amsterdam, Leiden, The Hague and Rotterdam in particular played a major role. The freedom which attracted many foreigners to offer their manuscripts to Dutch publishers certainly contributed to a great extent to the exceptional and amazing development of Dutch bookselling and publishing.

In the favourable economic climate of the seventeenth-century Republic, Dutch publishers also succeeded through technical improvements such as new typefaces, small formats and cheaper production methods, in putting publications of high quality on the market which could compete with books produced by foreign publishers. The high quality of the small format text editions (editiones minores) of the Elzeviers and the atlases by Blaeu were widely known among the scholars of Europe. Moreover, in order not to have to depend on foreign imports anymore, the Dutch, from the end of the sixteenth century, also applied themselves to the production of their own paper. The paper mills of the Zaanstreek and of the Veluwe were increasingly able to provide for the domestic demand in the course of the seventeenth century.

As the degree of literacy in the Northern Netherlands was very high by European standards, the reading public in this period continued to grow. Books were read by practically every level of the population causing the production of books to increase enormously. The domestic market was very important in this, especially for Bibles, psalm books and hymnbooks, or almanacs. Books in Dutch therefore formed a large part of the general book production. As these booklets were often read to shreds, relatively few have survived so that the numbers of these publications cannot even be determined approximately. The distribution practices of the booksellers were improved by new methods in this period. In addition to restricted auctions, where complete private libraries were sold in public, the number of public auctions in which booksellers auctioned shop stocks and remainders of their own publications increased considerably during the seventeenth century. Starting in the 1660s, booksellers also introduced editions to which one could subscribe in advance, the 'subscription editions'.

Important for this period is also that the Dutch book trade and books became to a great extent internationalised. Through the founding of its own universities, including Leiden, Franeker and Utrecht, among others, which rapidly became major intellectual centres in the Republic of Letters, and the freedom already referred to here, the number of foreign scholars and students increased throughout the seventeenth century. Accordingly, publishers and printers were given every opportunity to enrich their lists with publications that attracted interest from far beyond their own borders. Moreover, as censorship was much stricter elsewhere in Europe than it was in the Republic, foreign scholars offered all those manuscripts that could not be published in their own countries to the Dutch publishers.

Latin was initially, in addition to Dutch, the major language for the books from publishers in the Netherlands but certainly after 1650, publications in French became more numerous. This was especially the case when the publishers of the Northern-Netherlands received a major impulse in the last quarter of the seventeenth century from France where French religious politics were becoming more and more repressive forcing many Huguenots to flee to the Republic. Among them were not only many authors but also publishers and printers, while various Huguenots found employment in the book trade as corrector, illustrator or translator.

The Dutch publishers and booksellers, especially in trading books, worked for an international market. From the second half of the seventeenth century their international networks of colleague book traders was so extensive and intensive that they had warehouses that could serve the whole of Europe. They also profited greatly from the genres some Dutch publishers had specialised in such as Judaica and other oriental work for which much interest was shown abroad, atlases and even catholica which were produced for a Catholic market. Through their many foreign contacts, they knew exactly which foreign editions were very successful and did, in such cases, not shrink from reprinting these titles at sharply competitive prices.

From the second half of the seventeenth century, the international book trade was strongly supported by the French-language periodical press especially in the 'journaux de Hollande' of which the first, the Nouvelles de la République des Lettres, appeared in 1684 under the editorship of Pierre Bayle and was followed by many others. The most important new editions were announced and discussed in these journals often stating the sales addresses besides including a number of stock catalogues. Certainly from the time when the international book fairs in Frankfurt and Leipzig became less important as distribution channels for the Dutch book trade, the 'journaux de Hollande' and other international periodicals were essential.

Of course, Dutch booksellers were continually confronted with all kinds of restrictive measures. Many of the books printed in the Netherlands could, after all, not withstand the scrutiny of the censor and had to be smuggled into France or England. Shipments of books were also repeatedly confiscated by customs. All kinds of clever methods such as, for example, the use of fictitious imprints were therefore used in order to smuggle the books into the various European countries. In this way, Dutch publishers were, certainly until the beginning of the eighteenth century, able to maintain their strong competitive position.

author: J.A.H.G.M. Bots