2.3.2: 1585 - 1725 - The bookshop, its organisation and function

In the seventeenth century, bookshops were a familiar sight in the streets of Dutch towns. Booksellers had established themselves especially in the vicinity of government buildings, stock exchanges, churches, universities and academies as can be seen from the addresses which were used in seventeenth-century imprints. A print of the Amsterdam stock exchange (datable to before 1660) clearly shows several bookshops in front of the stock exchange building. Shop signs and plaques drew attention to the shops and sometimes also indicated the nature of the range on offer: 'At the sign of the crowned art and map shop', 'At the sign of the reformed catechism'.

Unfortunately, we have few contemporary illustrations of the interiors of bookshops. The two best known seventeenth-century drawings are those of Salomon de Bray of a book and art shop (probably located in Haarlem around 1645). These show how, in addition to books, packs of paper lay in the book cases. The occasional illustrations of bookshops in other countries also show piles of paper on the shelves. We may deduce from this that most books probably lay unbound in the shop. The loose sheets were already gathered but not yet folded into gatherings. This method of storing allowed the books to be stacked on top of one another, alphabetically or otherwise. Second-hand books for sale in the shop and possibly also a limited number of copies of the bookseller's own publications were available as bound copies. The placing of the books in the shop probably corresponded to the sequence of the shop books: by discipline and then alphabetically by author or by headword. A binder was often present in a bookshop who sat at his sewing frame fitting a simple binding to an unbound book as can be seen in the engraving 'De boeckbinder' by Jan Luyken. In addition to a bookshop, the larger booksellers often had warehouse space elsewhere for the storage of their publications.

Other items were sold in bookshops besides books. Isaac Le Long summarised them in his Konst om geldt te winnen [The Art of making Money] of 1717: all kinds and sizes of paper, pens and ink, seals and wafers, blotting paper and ivory sand (for drying writing ink), exercise books and wooden rulers, ledgers and daybooks, notebooks, newspapers and almanacs.

For a long time bookshops had also been a meeting place for scholars and men of letters. They provided a suitable place for obtaining information and exchanging news. Travelogues show that travellers in the Republic visited the bookshops to buy books but also to be informed of local scholars and libraries. Booksellers regularly took on the task of sending letters and packets for their customers.

Some bookshops were a meeting place for supporters of a political or religious movement. Thus, the shop of the Mennonite bookseller Jan Rieuwertsz in Amsterdam (publisher of, among others, Descartes and Spinoza) was, according to the ecclesiastical authorities, a meeting place for freethinkers who held 'strange discourses'. The Huguenot refugees from France met one another in the 'librairies fran├žaises' and the shop of the Scot Thomas Johnson in The Hague was supposed to have been, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the location for a weekly meeting of the deist sympathiser friends of Anthony Collins during his stay in Holland.

author: O.S. Lankhorst

The bookshop, its organisation and function

antiquarian bookshops

Definition: company trading in prints and old books which are no longer available in the regular bookshop.

general bookshops

Definition: bookshop focusing on a wide, general public, offering fiction as well as general non-fiction.


Definition: business or shop of a bookseller, a company, a chain or a buyers' co-operative.

French bookshops

Definition: term for the 18th-century production and sale of books in French, used to distinguish it from the trade in Latin books which was still predominant in those days.

Dutch bookshops

Definition: term for the 18th-century production and sale of books in Dutch, used to distinguish it from the trade in French and Latin books.

import bookshops

Definition: 1. trading in imported publications. 2. bookshop specialised in the sale of imported publications.

Internet bookshops

Definition: bookshop which offers books for sale on the Internet and sells them to order; without a shop or large stocks, but with the means of transporting books on demand quickly from the publisher to the consumer, making a varied supply possible.

children's bookshops

Definition: bookshop specialised in the sale of children's books.

second-hand bookshops

Definition: bookshop which sells books that have been used before.

women's bookshops

Definition: bookshop specialised in the sale of books on women or written by women.

academic bookshops

Definition: bookshop aimed at providing publications for academic education and research, often for the benefit of specialist institutions in that field.