3.4.7: 1725 - 1830 - The survival chances of books

In 1724, the 39th revised and enlarged edition was published of the Pansfluitje, apparently a very popular songbook. Of the preceding 38 editions only around five are still to be found. Remarkably enough, there are fourteen copies in total of those five editions and no less than six copies of the 39th edition. How is it possible that all those other editions have disappeared without a trace? Did they even really exist? And how many more were published after 1724?

A full inventory of what was published in the Netherlands in the period between 1725 and 1830 is lacking. The Netherlands never had a fully functional legal deposit such as other countries had. Contemporary bibliographies are far from comprehensive. Further information is drawn from sources of variable bibliographical reliability and representativeness, such as publisher's lists, stock lists and auction catalogues (forms of publications which themselves have not survived well at all), estate inventories, lists of books in books, newspaper advertisements, applications for privileges and accidentally preserved printers' and publishers' records. This means that, in particular, there is no clear overview of the ephemeral literature, which is hardly ever included in these sources, nor of the various editions of known titles either. All this makes it more difficult to determine what and how much is still extant. A necessarily very rough estimate of the extant book production of this period amounts to 175,000 to 200,000 different editions. Moreover, there has been hardly any quantitative research yet into the present traceability of the books which are mentioned in these sources. The introduction to the Nederlandse bibliografie 1801-1832, for instance, mentions that some titles in Saakes' Naamlijst were not to be found in the Central Catalogue of the Netherlands (NCC), but no figures or percentages are given. The vast majority of these titles (the regular books of the book trade) do seem to have survived to this day in one or more copies. A recent estimate of surviving sermon publications from the period between 1750 and 1800 amounted to around 85%.

It is generally assumed that many consumption books (schoolbooks, church and prayer books, song and music books, occasional poems and children's books) did not survive. Research into Catholic church books from the period between 1680 and 1840 postulated, with arguments, at least three editions of which all copies had been lost for every publication that had survived. More expensive, larger and better bound church books in roman type had a significantly better chance of survival than their cheaper, smaller, poorly bound counterparts in black letter type, even if the print-run of the latter was much larger. These factors will often have played a similar part in the survival or loss of other intensively used books.

In the nineteenth century, romanticism and nationalism heightened the interest in the past, introducing the first collectors, who saved not only the works of important national authors and scholars, but also a considerable number of popular novels and songbooks from further disappearance.

The chance of survival of a book, finally, is not equal to its traceability. Occasional poetry and government publications are sooner to be found in archives - still not properly catalogued - than in libraries. Edifying literature and esoteric literature, traditionally not within the collection area of scholarly or scholarly libraries, is often still hidden in private collections or in the monastic libraries.

author: Jan Bos

The survival chances of books