Searching VU Library’s devotional book collection for lost 17th century books

VU Library holds the world’s best collection of 17th century Dutch devotional literature.

12/05/2017 | 4:06 PM


Pettegree_VanWeduwenDuring the coming two weeks Professor Andrew Pettegree and postgraduate student Arthur der Weduwen of St Andrews University (UK), will be conducting research in the VU Library’s devotional book collection. This work is a crucial part of their preparation for writing a book on publishing during the Dutch Golden Age – to be published in 2019.

World’s best collection of 17th century Dutch devotional literature
‘We are here because the VU Library holds the world’s best collection of 17th century Dutch devotional literature’, says Professor Andrew Pettegree. ‘Very often the VU has the only surviving copy of many of these 17th century devotional books. From our earlier work, a complete survey of all books published in the first age of printing, the Universal Short Title Catalogue, we learnt that many early printed books survived very badly. Often just one copy survived. So it is very probable that many books did not survive at all. In the case of the early newspapers surveyed by Arthur for his study of the beginnings of the Dutch press, over 60% of the copies that can be traced are unique.’

Many lost 17th century books
‘The original print run of these books might well have been 300 to 800 books, and yet a third of all editions are known only from one surviving copy. So there is a mathematical certainty that there must be many lost 17th century books. We are working on discovering books that you can prove have existed, because of references in other books or archival sources, but which can no longer be found in public or private collections. Already this morning, on our first day, we found an interesting list of the works of the Dutch minister Willem Teellinck published before 1623, and it turned out that six of the titles could not be traced to a surviving edition. So that is another group of lost books that can be added to our database.’

BoekVruchtdesGebedtsTrading Books in the Age of Rembrandt
‘Our book will be titled “Trading Books in the Age of Rembrandt” and remarkably enough it will be the first book about the general phenomenon of publishing during the Dutch Golden Age. So far attention was focused very much on the painting of the Dutch Golden Age. Yet the Netherlands had a very buoyant economy and printing culture, and the most literate population in Europe with a great interest in reading. We are now trying to make a complete survey of all the books published in the Dutch Republic in the 17th  century. We believe the results will be revelatory, both about how much was published in the Dutch Republic and the impact these books had on Dutch and European society.’

Professor Andrew Pettegree and postgraduate student Arthur der Weduwen are visiting the VU Library on invitation of the Amsterdam Centre for the History and Heritage of Protestantism