2.2.6: 1585 - 1725 - Guilds

With the growth of publishing and bookselling from the end of the sixteenth century, demand grew for new organisations which could promote the interests of local entrepreneurs in this branch. This meant that printers and booksellers had to move away from the existing craft guilds, usually the guild of St Luke. The first Dutch town with its own printers' and booksellers' guild was Middelburg. Due to the influx of people from, particularly, the Southern Netherlands, the numbers employed in the book trade grew at such a rate that an application for a separate guild was made in 1590 to the city council. This was approved and a guild statute, probably based on a model from the Southern Netherlands, was drawn up in which the production of printed matter, the binding of books and the trade in books, paper and stationary was regulated. Requirements relating to professional expertise were also laid down.

In 1599, the printers and booksellers of Utrecht obtained their own guild, followed in 1616 by their colleagues in Haarlem. There were 24 provisions in the Haarlem guild regulations. Typical is the attempt to regulate the local book trade and to protect it against competition from outside the profession and from outside the city. Thus the sons of members were favoured, teachers were no longer allowed to sell schoolbooks and trading by pedlars was curbed.

It is remarkable that booksellers' guilds were only set up fairly late in the larger cities. In Leiden, the guild evolved in 1651 from a board of book auctioneers which had been set up twelve years previously. Pieter de la Court, a local merchant, had already at that time expressed his fears that internal regulation and protection would in time be more harmful than beneficial to the book trade. In Amsterdam the printers' and booksellers' guild was established in 1662 after much discussion with the city council and resistance from the guild of St Luke which did not like to see the prosperous printers and booksellers leave. A guild was only set up in Rotterdam in 1699 and in The Hague in 1702. In other towns, such as Delft, the printers and booksellers stayed within the existing guild of St. Luke.

The provisions of the guild statutes differed from place to place. The obligation to produce a masterpiece did not exist in Leiden or Amsterdam but did elsewhere. The mandatory entrance fee or 'income' could vary greatly. In Rotterdam non-citizens paid 36 guilders (about € 16.-), citizens 18 guilders (about € 8.-) and sons of guild members 9 guilders (about € 4.-), twice as much as in Amsterdam. The annual contribution usually amounted to 1 guilder (about € 0.45). The length of an apprenticeship also varied, from four years in Amsterdam to six years in Leiden. Sons of masters were exempt from this because they received in-house training. Although women were normally not allowed to run their own businesses in those days, the widows of printers and booksellers had the right to continue the trade of their deceased husbands until a successor was found. The guilds in the larger cities, incidentally, allowed much more freedom than those in the smaller towns; in Amsterdam and Rotterdam some entrepreneurs even operated completely outside the guild.

The management of the guilds was in the hands of a board of three or four prominent and experienced members, called 'vinders' or 'hoofdlieden' chaired by a 'deken'. They negotiated with the city council, supervised book auctions, mediated in conflicts and gave advice on the application for privileges. Although the guilds in the seventeenth century no longer had a religious background, they did, however, still have an important social function, illustrated by, for instance, the banquets and the obligation to be present at the funeral of a member of the guild. Those not appearing paid a heavy fine.

author: P.G. Hoftijzer


university printers

Definition: a printer appointed by a university to publish scholarly texts produced in that university

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printers' manuals

Definition: practical book of instruction on the technical side of printing, in which aspects of composing and printing are discussed.

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Definition: symbol or figure (emblem, monogram) sometimes with an emblematic representation and/or accompanied by a maxim, used by printers in their publications to identify their company.

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government printers

Definition: printer employed by a governmental institution taking care of the publication of the official documents that are produced by this institution.

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provincial printers

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Definition: printer appointed by a town council to print the publications of the local government.

printers to the Provincial States

Definition: printer appointed by the States of a Province in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces to print the publications of the provincial government.