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

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.