3.2.2: 1725 - 1830 - Organisation of a printing / publishing business

Data on printing houses in the Republic is scarce. Where elsewhere governments registered printing businesses in connection with the application of censorship, this did not occur in the Republic where censorship was less strict. For the eighteenth century, the number of printing houses can sometimes be traced via local guild archives and/or tax assessment records. For the nineteenth century, the data from the French surveys of 1810-1812 and the patent records are available.

In the seventeenth century, the major printers in Amsterdam had produced much ecclesiastical work for the export market, but this market decreased in the course of the eighteenth century and the printers worked primarily for domestic clients. There were hardly any printing innovations during this period. Since 1708, Johannes Muller had in Leiden, in co-operation with the Luchtmans firm, been manufacturing stereotype publications of, among other things, bibles. Plate printing became more fashionable alongside book printing for the publication of music and many music publishers owned their own plate press.

Producers of books had less and less often their own printing business and those who did have one were usually major publishers. Most publishers, however, had their work printed by independent, mostly small, printers or by one of their colleagues who had his own printing house. Many books appeared with only a publisher's address on the title page and without any colophon to indicate who the printer of the publication was. Novelties even appeared without any explicit indication of the publisher, but provided only lists of distributors who had the publication in stock.

The recession in the book trade, which had started around 1670, took a turn for the better after 1725. The book trade in Amsterdam had declined less sharply than elsewhere which reinforced its pre-eminence in the book trade. After 1725 the number of booksellers and printers increased with the exception of a short, abrupt, decrease in the late 1740s. After a period of stabilisation from 1752 to 1765, a new period of growth followed until about 1785. The last decade of the century showed a sharp decline.

The number of publishing houses which limited themselves to Dutch-language publications only grew rapidly. Low-priced, popular booklets were produced for the Dutch market by specialist companies such as, for example, Jacobus van Egmont and Barend Koene and their successors in Amsterdam. The publication of newspapers reached new heights and some companies limited themselves to the publishing of a newspaper such as that of De Klopper in Leiden. French-language books were mostly published, imported and traded by specialist publisher-booksellers but, as the century progressed, their numbers decreased.

Around 1760, the separation between publisher and bookseller became noticeable, possible also due to the rise of commission selling. The term `publishing' which was used in the book trade for distribution, gradually took on a meaning close to its modern connotation. At the same time, the antiquarian book trade started to develop as an independent branch.

In 1801, three years after the official abolition of the guilds in 1798, a group of booksellers/publishers tried - in vain - to organise the book trade at a national level. Only in 1815, when 24 booksellers entered into a `Deed of Obligation' to combat piracy, was the foundation laid for such an organisation. This association grew to become the Vereeniging ter Bevordering van de Belangen des Boekhandels (Association for the Promotion of the Interests of the Book Trade) which published its first regulations in 1821. The copyright auctions which were so important for the trade were limited to one a year and this was maintained until about 1840.

author: H. van Goinga

Organisation of a printing / publishing business