2.2.11: 1585 - 1725 - Language/genre

At the end of the sixteenth century, book production in the Northern Netherlands was still focused to a great extent on the national market. This is reflected in the language of the books. Three quarters of the publications distributed via the booksellers were in Dutch, 20% in Latin and the remaining 5% in French and other languages. Supply consisted mainly of a fairly limited and regularly reissued corpus of religious and historical texts.

Both economic and political factors contributed to the rapid expansion of the book trade in the early seventeenth century and it becoming much more international in character. Production had reached a high technical level and good transport facilities were available. The authorities had a tolerant attitude towards controversial texts and reprinting of foreign publications was a generally accepted practice. Internationalisation became apparent at first in the production of books for a scholarly or interested public throughout Europe. In all scholarly fields, high quality, new and reprinted Latin works were published to which the Elzeviers, for example, owe their international reputation. Unsurpassed cartographic products such as the atlases of Willem Janszoon and Joan Blaeu were published as well. Other publishers, however, specialised in books for a particular foreign target group. Some of them printed virtually nothing other than English Bibles and prayer books intended exclusively for the British market and for English immigrants in the Netherlands. Whole editions of religious books in Hebrew, which were printed in large numbers, especially in Amsterdam, were intended for Jewish communities in Poland, Germany and elsewhere in the Diaspora. The German, Spanish and even the Armenian and Malaysian publications were intended for very specific readers.

After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), many Huguenots established themselves in the Netherlands. Among them were many publishers who, in the following decades, brought many and extremely important books in French onto the European market. They took advantage of the fact that French was beginning to take over the position of Latin as the international lingua franca. This can also be seen clearly in the journals published here, a genre which gained in importance around 1700, for example, the Journal des s├žavans. Thanks to the strong, innovative impulse from this 'French book trade', the Republic continued to play an influential role on the international cultural and scholarly stage.

Throughout the whole period, the production of books in the university towns was largely connected to the academic world. Although small in size and in small print-runs, thousands of Latin dissertations, disputations, and inaugural addresses were published by the academic printers, sometimes also by others, The scholarly texts of the professors were also often printed in these towns. Leiden, moreover, had a reputation to maintain as a centre for books in Arabic and other Oriental languages and scripts, primarily due to learned printer-professors such as Raphelengius and Erpenius.

In the early decades of the seventeenth century the share of Dutch-language books in the total production decreased; it stabilised from 1630 onwards at about 50%. In absolute figures, however, there was a sharp increase. Compared to other countries, the literacy level in the Netherlands was high and many households owned at least a Bible, a psalm book cum catechism and one of the works of Jacob Cats. Many people bought an almanac each year. Popular literature, songbooks and - in turbulent times - pamphlets were in great demand as were historical tales, travelogues and other non-specialist works. Here too it can be seen that, particularly the smaller, printer-publishers focused on a number of specific genres. Many government publications such as proclamations and ordinances came from the presses of town printers and state printers which remained, however, largely outside the book trade. Finally, two kinds of publication should be mentioned because they were 'invented' in the Republic and because of their respective eminent book-historical and social importance: the auction catalogue (1599) and the newspaper (1618).

author: Jan Bos


state printers

Definition: printer who is appointed by the government to print the publications of central government.