4.3.7: 1830 - 1910 - Foreign trade

Little systematic attention has so far been paid to the foreign trade. The general picture is that at the beginning of this period the Netherlands mainly produced for the domestic market. The production of books in foreign languages such as French and Latin had come almost to a full stop after the French period (1795-1813). Because of the language barrier there could be no large-scale export of Dutch-language books, although they were exported to countries and regions were Dutch was spoken (South-Africa) or where large groups of Dutchmen were present (Dutch East Indies). Thus the publisher Koenraad Fuhri of The Hague tried to set up a Dutch bookshop in Batavia and A.W. Sijthoff had contacts with South Africa (via J.C. Juta & Co). The export to the Dutch East Indies took place mainly via representatives in Java who wanted books for the civil servants. A substantial export also took place to Dutch immigrants in North America (for instance to Michigan), especially of orthodox edifying literature, popular books and children's books.

The trade with Belgium was always laborious and hardly of any significance, even for the Dutch-language book, barring some incidental contacts. Only the foundation of De Nederlandschen Boekhandel in Antwerp in 1892 at the initiative of the Nederlandse Uitgeversbond (Dutch Publishers Association) was to mark the beginning of a period of structural improvement for both the Flemish booksellers and the Dutch publishers.

Trade with countries such as France, Germany and England mainly concerned imports of foreign works and, to a far lesser extent, the export of Dutch-language works. It was a large problem to raise awareness abroad of titles published in the Netherlands. In the second half of the century, foreign booksellers' magazines such as The Publisher Circular and The Bookseller begin to pay some attention to Dutch titles. Presentations at international shows (London 1851, Philadelphia 1875) were tried as well.

Foreign books seldom came directly to the individual booksellers, but usually through the intermediation of specialist importers. An increase of 149% between 1847 and 1870 of works from England is due to the increasing familiarity with the English language, in particular because of its introduction in secondary education. At the end of the century, specialist import bookshops such as Jac. G. Robbers and Kirberger & Kesper covered the major part of the Dutch market for the English book. Although export figures to England and the Cape show a growth of 528%, these should be qualified as this also includes the export of books earmarked for shredding in the paper mills.

The import from Germany, in addition to German-language works, mainly concerned Greek and Latin scholarly works and titles from other European countries which entered via the Leipziger Buchmesse. A number of foreign booksellers such as F.A. Brockhaus (German books) established themselves in the Netherlands.

Here too the foreign contacts mainly went through depots in foreign cities (Leipzig, Brussels) or through direct relationships with firms in London. In the year 1853 18 Dutch booksellers had a correspondent in Leipzig, by 1863 this number had risen to 28. The volume of book exports slowly increases: 1846: 111,403, 1857: 184,142, 1859: 208,518. The nature of these works is mainly scholarly. Publishers such as E.J. Brill in Leiden (Greek, Latin, Hebrew), and W. Nijhoff in The Hague in particular played a prominent role as book exporters. Bilingual or multilingual dictionaries and grammars also found their way abroad, as did the antiquarian book which, thanks to someone like Frederik Muller, was to become a branch of export in its own right. His, often specialist, catalogues were distributed on an international scale.

Besides books, a lively foreign trade in illustrations such as wood engravings and lithographs existed as well.

author: B.P.M. Dongelmans

Foreign trade