2.3.7: 1585 - 1725 - Foreign trade

Among the many Protestant refugees who, in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, moved from the Southern Netherlands to the Northern Netherlands were many printers and booksellers. Their arrival contributed to the flourishing of the book trade in the Republic and certainly also to foreign trade. Among them must certainly be mentioned Christopher Plantin and Louis Elzevier who came from Antwerp to Leiden and laid the basis for the internationally orientated scholarly publishing houses in the university towns. Cornelis Claesz, originally from Brabant, worked in Amsterdam around 1600 and also focused on the foreign trade with publications such as nautical books, atlases and travelogues.

Dutch books had a good reputation in Europe. They were well printed, on good quality paper. Publishers could for editing and corrections rely on the scholars and men of letters who spoke the various languages of the publications. It was of major importance that the supply of publications was large and varied. The relatively large freedom of the press made it possible that books and pamphlets that could not appear elsewhere, were brought on the market by Dutch publishers. Certain categories of printed matter were transported abroad in large numbers, in particular religious works, for instance English Bibles which were shipped to England. There was great interest in Eastern Europe in Jewish religious texts printed in Amsterdam; Catholic missals, which appeared partly with fake Cologne or Antwerp imprints, found their way to the Catholic countries. Another successful export product were the editions of classical authors, especially the 'variorum' editions with extensive notes as provided by the preceptor of the Rotterdam grammar school, Johannes Minellius.

Books from the Republic were distributed across Europe in bales and barrels. Gregorio Leti wrote in his Kort begrip der helden-deugden (The Hague, 1700) that, just as Holland had provided the whole world with its wares from the East Indies, it could truthfully be said `dat zy alleen gansch Europa, met het werk der drukkerijen, en boekhandel heeft bestraalt en verrijkt' (that only they have irradiated and enriched all of Europe with the work of printers and booksellers). Dutch booksellers also acted as intermediaries for the trade in books between northern and southern Europe and between England and the Continent, evidence of which can be found in the rich stock catalogues of large, international book trading firms such as Blaeu, Elzevier, Janssonius, Leers, and Van der Aa. In the first half of the seventeenth century, Adriaen Vlacq, a native of Gouda, played a major role in the international book trade. He worked both in London (1633-1642) and in Paris (1642-1648) but in both cities he ran, as he put it in an interesting autobiographical account, into trouble with the established booksellers, forcing him to flee, finally establishing himself in The Hague.

The Frankfurt Book Fair had long been very important in the international book trade. The major Dutch booksellers often undertook the journey to Frankfurt twice a year, also looking after the interests of their colleagues. The presence of the Hollanders and their new editions can be seen from the Messe catalogues. From the end of the seventeenth century the Leipzig Book Fair grew in importance at the expense of that of Frankfurt, although the booksellers from the Republic continued to travel to Frankfurt during the first half of the eighteenth century.

Contact with colleagues in the book trade abroad was maintained through intensive correspondence, although of the many thousands of letters sent, few have survived. The larger publishers also maintained their international contacts through business journeys. Some even had branches and warehouses abroad.

author: O.S. Lankhorst

Foreign trade