3.3.2: 1725 - 1830 - The bookshop, its organisation and function

The interior of the bookshop during this period probably differed little from that of the seventeenth century except that the number of bound books in stock increased during the eighteenth century. Contemporary illustrations of interiors continue to be scarce. The best known are the engraving by Reinier Vinkeles of the bookshop of Hermanus de Wit (1763) and the painting by Johannes Jelgershuis of the bookshop of Pieter Meyer Warnars in Amsterdam (1820). These and other illustrations from the beginning of the nineteenth century show bound books on most of the bookshelves. Around 1800, the use of, initially, cardboard or paper publisher's bindings increased, but a bookbinder was also present in Warnars' shop to bind the unbound books for customers. In the second half of the eighteenth century more and more books were published by subscription resulting in bookshops being decorated with all kinds of prospectuses and sample sheets to attract buyers.

The booksellers continued to sell, as they had done previously, writing materials, paper and pens, trade printing such as receipts, bills of lading, lottery tickets, etc. A contemporary (1775) complained that the book trade was demeaning itself by also selling powders and health drinks.

There were a number of changes in the second half of the eighteenth century in the organisation of the book trade: the rise of the antiquarian bookshop, commission trading and shop libraries. This ensured an increase in diversity among bookshops: a more varied range, the opportunity to start a shop without having own publications, expansion of the shop function with an associated library. The earliest known shop library was that of the bookseller Hendrik Scheurleer at The Hague with the first catalogue dating from 1751. The title engraving of the catalogue provides a view into the library.

Few texts are known from this period about the profession of bookseller. The most extensive is that written by Hendrik Scheurleer in his Almanak der boekverkoopers of 1761 in which he states that the bookseller had to be able to write Low German properly and had to have some knowledge of Latin, French, English and High German. He had to have a universal knowledge of books, he had to know who were the most famous and best writers in all kinds of disciplines and languages, which books they had written, where these books were printed, which were the best editions and from whom they could be obtained and at what price. This knowledge enabled the bookseller to put together a well-prepared catalogue.

Until the end of the eighteenth century, the word `bookseller' continued to refer to someone whose profession was the publication, sale or trading of books. The terms 'book trader' and 'book trade' also came into use in the eighteenth century.

The bookshops retained the function of meeting place for scholars and men of letters. In the time of the Patriots, in particular, the lively political debate ensured a stream of pamphlets and the flourishing of the periodical press. A number of booksellers clearly voiced their political opinions and their shops became meeting places for supporters of a particular political movement.

author: O.S. Lankhorst

The bookshop, its organisation and function