3.3.4: 1725 - 1830 - Range (genre/language) and form of books traded

On 1 January 1790 A.B. Saakes began his Naamlijst van nieuw uitgegeven boeken. This provides us, from that year onwards, with the first continuous, to some extent systematic, record of production for the domestic market. In addition, a number of book trade records and catalogues for lending libraries have survived from the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century. As a result of research into these sources we are reasonably informed about what was sold across the counter.

The range of books available changed during this period. The eighteenth century is the century of the rise of new categories such as the (moralising) novel, the children's book and the periodical. These were all new kinds of reading material although only a few titles were actually sold on a large scale. G.J. Johannes shows, for example, that journals had to be as general as possible in character if they were to have a chance of survival. This chance of survival was small: the majority of newly published periodicals turned out to be short-lived.

There were, indeed, new categories of book titles on the market but the majority continued to be of a religious nature. Recent research has shown, however, that the religious section of the corpus became more and more varied. Instead of mainly bibles, psalm books, hymnbooks and catechisms, more and more different types of devotional literature began to circulate such as collections of sermons. Some clergymen were real 'best-selling' authors. It has also been shown that booksellers were dependent for a substantial part of their turnover on stationary and locally published texts of local interest only. In addition to the range of books sold, an assortment of lending and reading circles existed. Novels and travelogues, in particular, found their way to their readers perhaps more often through libraries and reading circles than through bookshops.

Just as nowadays many complaints are voiced about the ubiquity of English, at the end of the eighteenth century the same was said of the influence of French. The eighteenth century is known as the period of frenchification. French was not only fashionable as a spoken language among the elite but many French-language books were read. It is also assumed that Latin was gradually replaced by French as the universal language of scholars. Research into consumption has shown that frenchification was perhaps not as bad as assumed. Even in the cosmopolitan city of The Hague French books were only to be found in the bookcases of a small elite minority.

The proportion of Latin books did, however, decrease and they also had their own specific distribution channel. Many Latin works in inventories from The Hague appeared to have been published abroad.

Contemporaries also often complained of the dearth of original Dutch texts: 'we are flooded with nothing but translations'. The precise proportion of translated works will hopefully become clear in the coming years when the results of new research into the composition of the domestic supply becomes available.

The format of books also changed. Fewer and fewer of the old, venerable folio volumes were produced, even in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, octavos and smaller formats were by far the most numerous although some publishers such as Pieter d'Hondt of The Hague continued to service their market segment with de luxe editions in large formats.

Other booksellers began to specialise as well, such as, for example, the publisher-bookseller from The Hague, Pieter van Cleef , who sold many German-language titles. The bookseller Pieter van Damme was perhaps the first antiquarian bookseller to specialise in old books. The eighteenth century was also the century of the antiquarian bookshop.

author: J. de Kruif

Range (genre/language) and form of books traded