3.3.7: 1725 - 1830 - Foreign trade

The Dutch continued to play an important role in the international book trade in the first half of the eighteenth century. Some came from the Republic such as, in Leiden, the Van der Aa and Luchtmans companies, in Rotterdam, Reinier Leers, in The Hague, the Van Dole, De Hondt, Moetjens and Uytwerf families and, in Amsterdam, Rudolf Wetstein. In addition, there was a considerable number of booksellers and printers among the Huguenots who had come to the Republic after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The most important among them were the Huguetan brothers and Henry Desbordes in Amsterdam, Abraham Acher in Rotterdam and Jean Neaulme in The Hague.

There are no serial sources available for the whole period of the Republic with exact details concerning the import and export of books. There was a customs levy (convoys and licenses) which was imposed on the import and export of nearly all trade goods including books. From 1655 onwards, the amount to be paid for printed books valued at six guilders was set at four stivers both upon import and export. The surviving accounts of the admiralty tax collectors unfortunately only give the total figures for the proceeds per month without specification by product. There are only incidental lists up until 1784.

Import and export figures have survived for England for the whole of the eighteenth century and these have been published by G. Barber. These show that in the period 1700-1780 30% of the total import of bound books (older editions, therefore) came from Holland and no less than 61% of unbound books (recent editions). Export of unbound books from the Republic to England peaked in the period 1706 to 1742, afterwards decreasing until 1757 followed by a revival - although not to the levels of the first half of the century - until about 1768 and a final decline up to 1780, the year in which the Fourth Dutch War began.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the trade with other countries declined as well, mainly because of the rise of competitive publishing centres on the border with France such as Liege, Bouillon, Neuchâtel, Lausanne, Kehl and Maastricht where, from then onwards, the French philosophers and men of letters of the first and second order were reprinted. In France itself censorship was less strict after 1750 under the regime of Malesherbes and Choiseul as 'directeurs de la Librarie', resulting in less demand for French-language books produced in the Republic. In addition, production costs were higher in the Netherlands than elsewhere, mainly because of the relatively high wages.

In The Hague, especially, the decline of the international book trade around 1740 led to a series of bankruptcies. The real causes of this are not completely clear but they were primarily caused by a lack of liquid assets for too high a level of production.

During the eighteenth century, the major international booksellers continued to visit the Frankfurter Book Fair and the Leipzig Book Fair, where Leipzig was gradually gaining the edge on Frankfurt. Some book traders had associates in Leipzig. A number of accounts of journeys to the book fairs and to England by the booksellers Johannes and Samuel Luchtmans of Leiden have survived.

The last prominent international bookseller in the Republic was Marc-Michel Rey in Amsterdam. He published works by, among others, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, C. Wolff, D'Holbach and Louis Racine. With his death on 8 June 1780, the international role of the Dutch book trade came more or less to an end. A number of booksellers continued to trade abroad such as Elie Luzac and the Luchtmans company of Leiden.

author: O.S. Lankhorst

Foreign trade