3.2.6: 1725 - 1830 - Guilds

Nothing essential changed in the tasks and the composition of the guilds: their main concerns were controlling amateur dabblers, actions against piracy, settling disputes between brothers in the guild and easing the regulation of public auctions and trade sales and tracing and confiscation of prohibited publications. There was a general tendency towards extending the number of years of apprenticeship. Women were also admitted into the guild, but were barred from the governing body. It usually concerned widows who continued their husband's business, but also daughters who carried on their father's, or sometimes their mother's, work. Booksellers who only operated on a wholesale basis often remained outside the guild or, as was the case in The Hague, only paid half the fee because they did not have a shop for selling directly to the public.

In 1769, the guild regulations in Amsterdam were changed in order to enable booksellers to sell their bound and unbound book stocks via a public auction or a closed auction for booksellers respectively which meant a major expansion of their trading opportunities. Amsterdam had, up until that moment, been at a disadvantage compared to towns such as Leiden, The Hague, Delft, Rotterdam and Utrecht where fewer restrictions applied.

The guilds were abolished in the constitution of 1798. Anyone was now free to establish himself as a bookseller, printer, etc. Booksellers lost their protected position and were apprehensive of the competition inherent to a free market. The new constitution of September 1801 reinstated, among other things, the guilds. With the implementation of the Patents Act in 1805, anyone who wished to practise a craft or profession had to pay an annual sum for a patent which gave admission to the sector in question and which was granted to anyone who asked for it. The continued existence of all guilds was a subject of discussion in the years 1805-1807. Opponents pointed out that a monopoly position had been created which led to high prices, poor products and local particularism. Those in favour emphasised the advantages of healthy competition in which moonlighters were squeezed out and lower prices were brought about. In 1808 the `Corporations Act' was passed which had been drawn up by the Minister of Finance, Isaac Gogel, the great advocate of a free market. These new corporations functioned more or less as the old guilds did i.e. as local organisations with restricted membership.

It is difficult to estimate the extent to which these regulations had consequences for the book trade and for books, especially since the economic malaise also had a negative influence on the production of books. After the annexation by France in 1810, the policy of Napoleon of restricting the number of printing presses and booksellers, was also implemented in the Netherlands. Only those who had been given a licence were allowed to possess a printing press or to run a bookshop.

After the ousting of the French in November 1813, a complete restoration of the guilds was generally expected. In larger towns the guilds continued to function on a provisional basis for some time (later converted to so-called booksellers' associations), but in the areas outside Holland and Zeeland there was a lot of resistance to the restoration of the guilds. The matter was resolved in 1818 by William I and the guilds were abolished for good.

In the meantime, in 1815, a number of booksellers had entered into a 'Deed of Obligation' in order to fight one of the greatest ills in the book trade at that time: piracy. This agreement is considered to be the founding charter of the Vereeniging ter Bevordering van de Belangen des Boekhandels (Association for the Promotion of the Interests of the Book Trade).

author: H. van Goinga