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

marbled paper

Definition: decorated paper with a marbling effect produced by placing drops of colour on a liquid surface (the marbling size), using a marbling trough.

brocade paper

Definition: kind of decorated paper: hand-made paper, coloured with a brush on one side on which a (imitation) gold leaf decorative pattern or picture is printed.

paper boys

Definition: person who daily delivers a paper in the letterbox of readers with a subscription.

rag paper

Definition: kinds of paper that have been made entirely of rags. As soon as rags are only partly used in a kind of paper, then this is rag-content paper.

marbled paper

Definition: kind of paper used inter alia for bindings: paper on which - by a special process - a decorative pattern, which sometimes resembles marble, is created by applying a thin layer of paint of two or more colours, or paper printed with an imitation resemblingit.

laid paper

Definition: hand-made paper or (mostly) imitation hand-made paper with a fine screen of water lines.

hand-made paper

Definition: hand-made paper, laid or not, made with a mould, usually with watermark and deckle edges.

wood-pulp paper

Definition: paper containing ground wood-pulp with many small impurities, usually easily torn; cheap but not durable.

wood-free paper

Definition: paper that does not contain wood-pulp, but which is made from pure cellulose and/or cotton or linen rags. It has a beautiful colour and is durable.

Lombardy paper

Definition: name for imported paper of Italian origin, common until the end of the 17th century.

bulky paper

Definition: paper which combines great thickness with a relatively light weight (used by publishers to make small books look more voluminous).


Definition: general term for a material produced in the form of reels or sheets, formed by draining a suspension of vegetable fibres (rags, straw, wood, etc.) on a sieve and usually used, after sizing, for writing, drawing or printing; the name 'paper' is used for aweight of up to about 165 g/m2, 'cardboard' or 'board' for a higher weight.

paper finishers

Definition: workmen in a printing office who hang the damp paper up to dry on a line after it has been printed.

paper conservation

Definition: the restoring, stopping or preventing paper decay caused by acidification and wear and tear.

paper mills

Definition: industrial concern in which paper is produced on a large scale.

paper manufacturers

Definition: 1. owner, employer of a papermill. 2. producer of hand-made paper.

paper formats

Definition: dimensions of a sheet of paper.

paper wholesale businesses

Definition: company that resells large quantities of paper, supplied by producers, to printing offices and other businesses.

paper trade

Definition: economic activity of trading paper, i.e. the buying and selling of paper, as intermediary between production and consumption.

paper traders

Definition: someone whose profession is trading paper.

paper industry

Definition: collective name for all branches of industry concerned with the production of paper.

paper machines

Definition: machine with which paper is formed, pressed, dried and smoothed, from cellulose fibres and other paper ingredients. The result is turned into rolls or cut into sheets.

paper mills

Definition: water mills or windmills where the production of handmade rag paper took place. The drive mechanism of the mill was used to move the beaters loosening the rag fibres.

paper research

Definition: 1. testing paper to judge its appropriateness for a certain use. 2. analysis of paper to determine age or origin.

paper production

Definition: 1. the total of paper produced. 2. paper making.

glossy coated paper

Definition: highly-glossed paper.

kinds of paper

Definition: collective name for variants in paper, originating in the use of different raw materials, sizes and production methods.

paper splitting

Definition: in book restoration: the splitting of paper into two layers which are pasted together again after a support layer has been placed in between.

paper treaters

Definition: labourers in a printing office who wet the paper before printing, so that the ink is absorbed better.

permanent paper

Definition: alkaline paper which satisfies international standards as regards composition and physical properties, so that a durability of at least 150 years is guaranteed.

lignin-rich paper

Definition: kind of ligneous paper: lignin is an element of wood. It causes a rapid ageing of paper whose fibrous composition consists partly of lignin.

decorated paper

Definition: collective name for all sorts of decorated paper whose decoration has come into being either during the manufacturing process or by graphic or other final processing of the sheet of paper.

woodblock paper

Definition: kind of decorated paper printed by means of wooden blocks, which are frequentlyderived from cotton print-works, with a decorative pattern in one or more colours; used especially in the 18th and 19th centuries for covers, endpapers and as pasting materialfor the boards of books.

Troy paper

Definition: name for imported paper of French origin, used until the end of the 17th century.

wove paper

Definition: non-laid hand-made paper, sometimes with a watermark in the bottom edge of the paper

machine-made paper

Definition: paper made using a paper machine

acid-free paper

Definition: paper with a neutral pH value (about pH 7), mainly used in conservation and restoration.