4.3.2: 1830 - 1910 - The bookshop, its organisation and function

In the year 1890, the bookseller W.P. van Stockum, Sr. at The Hague recalled the classic trading business of the Amsterdam firm of P. den Hengst en Zoon as it was in 1828: 'The distinguished and characteristic folios and quartos of Church Fathers and the classics stood in the display cases, whereas the sales area was separated from the front shop by glass sliding doors. On the left-hand side a partitioned office where the lottery business was conducted [...] A staircase in the shop led to the upper floors where the stocks of older and newer books as well as the publisher's list items were kept in large lofts covering the entire length of the house.' In 1899 it is added that it was a large, sparsely lit area. Wheras the equipment at Den Hengst still reflected the publisher-bookseller combination, a large difference would develop in the course of the nineteenth century between the nature and furnishing of the publisher's stacks and the sales area (the shop) of the retail trader. The publisher had a large number of copies of a few titles in stock, the retail trader equipped his shop in accordance with the needs of his customers, his stock usually consisted of one or a few copies of books in all, or if it was a specialist bookshop, a number of disciplines. The books were arranged systematically, alphabetically or by publisher. The latter was done in order to keep commission goods together which were returned to the publisher each year. Such an arrangement could also be found in the storeroom where books 'on account' and those sent on consignment were kept separate. Some best-selling categories such as schoolbooks, picture books, church books and dictionaries as well as novels were kept outside the alphabetic arrangement in the shop. The other titles were arranged alphabetically and for reasons of space the large books (folios and quartos) were separated from the octavos and the books that could stand upright in the bookcases.

Although a few booksellers could afford to sell books only, a large number of retail traders ran a 'mixed business'. In this respect the retail trader, depending on the place of his establishment, functioned from an advertisement address for personnel and houses to be let, collector of the lottery, seller of pills and ointments, to a place where books were borrowed (commercial library and circulating library) or stationery was purchased. For a long time the bookseller also acted as a distributor of magazines and newspapers.

The books usually stood in cases placed against the walls, separated from the customers by counters. Expensive works were kept in special display cases. New books and titles to which the retail trader wished to draw attention were put on display on a table in the shop where the customer could browse. The shop window was still a closed section, separated from the shop.

Even after the refurbishment in 1901 of the bookshop of Van der Velde in Leeuwarden did its layout and furniture still remain traditionally nineteenth century: a front facade with the entrance in the middle and a closed shop windows to the left and right of the door. In the shop area with a length of eight metres stood a counter to the right, with a desk on both sides. On the left were shelves with office requisites and prints. In the rear counter prayer books, bibles, fountain pens, ink, etc. were placed and against the left-hand wall a case containing, among other things, luxury writing paper, against the right-hand wall a case containing picture books, children's books and novels, neatly packed in parchment paper which was carefully removed by the staff when a customer was interested in a particular book.

As far as the entire furnishing is concerned, time seems to have stopped between 1830 and 1910.

author: B.P.M. Dongelmans

The bookshop, its organisation and function