3.3.3: 1725 - 1830 - Kinds of booksellers

Among the wealthiest book and map sellers were the `marchands libraires' (bookseller-entrepreneurs) who also called themselves 'merchants'. They were primarily wholesalers, had major lists and maintained many contacts abroad. A few traded without an 'open shop' meaning that they had no retail trade. The books they bought on a large scale abroad were partly re-exported, especially to England, and partly sold through booksellers' auctions in the Netherlands. Traders of this calibre were primarily to be found in The Hague, Amsterdam and Leiden but disappeared with the decline of the international book trade in the second half of the century. Mentioned in particular should be the Dutch music publishers who supplied music to the whole of musical Europe north of the Alps.

The number of publishers who brought Dutch-language books only on to the market grew. Differentiation increased alongside the increase in the number of businesses. In addition to the large trader-publishers, many large and small booksellers are active in divergent companies. Around 1760, it becomes noticeable that a separation between bookseller and publisher took place. The increase in commission trading may possibly have contributed to the fact that, for many small booksellers, retailing, the sale of stationary and bookbinding became the major sources of income. On the periphery were the salesmen and women of schoolbooks and church books, almanacs and individual maps, prints and playing cards. For the distribution of all kinds of topical material, the established book trade was largely dependent on itinerant hawkers. In the 1780s, Christoffel Fredrik Koenig, bookseller at Leiden, employed 'newspaper vendors' to distribute his `news sheets'. After 1750 a few booksellers found a new source of income: the operation of a circulating library. Halfway through the eighteenth century, the trade in remainders increased and some booksellers specialised in selling older books at reduced prices.

A new figure emerged from the 1750s onwards: the main correspondent, a bookseller who disseminated new editions on a sale or return basis, organised returns for more than one publisher and took care of all administration. In the nineteenth century, main correspondents were concentrated in Amsterdam. They took care of business for booksellers throughout the Netherlands. From the mid-century, some booksellers of whom no major publishing activities are known, acted as middlemen and played an important role in the distribution of 'novelties'.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the trade in second-hand books and new books was still mixed but separation came slowly but surely and old books became the field of specialised antiquarians. Booksellers in The Hague had, since the beginning of the century, been organising impressive large-scale public auctions of antiquarian books they had bought up both at home and abroad. The first to sell exclusively antiquarian books was Pieter van Damme, established since 1756 as a bookseller in Amsterdam and specialising in manuscripts and incunabula. At the same time, a number of booksellers began publishing special antiquarian catalogues indicating that antiquarian bookselling had acquired an independent position within the trade. An exponent of this was the firm of Luchtmans in Leiden whose oldest known antiquarian catalogue dates from 1751.

The abolition of the guilds (in 1798 legally, in 1805 with the introduction of the Patents Act, de facto in 1818), meant that the book trade missed any official form of organisation. After the French period the publishers and booksellers applied themselves to organising the branch at a national level. This led in 1815 to the establishment of the national Vereeniging ter Bevordering van de Belangen des Boekhandels (Association for the Promotion of the Interests of the Book Trade).

author: H. van Goinga

Kinds of booksellers