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Book Sales Catalogues Online (BSCO) offers a comprehensive bibliography of book sales catalogues printed in the Dutch Republic before 1801. A sophisticated search menu provides access to some 3,750 digital facsimiles from ca. 50 libraries across Europe, including major collections in the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, France, and Russia. More catalogues will be added in the future. These catalogues are a key primary source for research on the history of the book and libraries, the history of ideas, the history of collecting, the history of literature, and the history of art. They contain information on books from all over Europe in various languages, such as Dutch, French, and Latin.
The early seventeenth century witnessed the sudden rise of the Dutch Republic as the focal point of the European book trade. Venice and Antwerp had ceased to play their parts; Germany was shattered by the Thirty Years' War; The British Isles and the Scandinavian and Iberian Peninsulas were peripheral; centralism and censorship were crushing France's native genius. Books prohibited there and elsewhere were published or offered for sale in Amsterdam, Leiden, The Hague, and Rotterdam. Dutch booksellers and publishers became the most productive and most versatile of their time, with permanent agents in the book centres of other countries. This condition lasted, without much challenge, for a century and a half.
The printed auction catalogue was a late sixteenth-century Dutch innovation that led to the rapid development of a flourishing auction system. In Leiden in particular, large scholarly libraries of international repute were auctioned; Amsterdam was known for the auctions of the stocks of the major booksellers; and, especially in the early part of the eighteenth century, numerous private libraries of high-ranking officials, foreign ambassadors, and other collectors of valuable libraries were shipped to The Hague to be sold in auctions. Dutch scholars, divines, members of the professions, merchants and magistrates assembled relatively large libraries, and the printed auction catalogues of these collections were used in the Republic of Letters as models, bibliographic reference tools, and guides for tracing the best books in the most handsome editions.
At the end of the sixteenth century, the first auction catalogue of a scholar’s library was printed in the newborn Dutch Republic. This catalogue has rightly been regarded as an important innovation in the international book trade because this type of catalogue was soon to be printed and distributed all over Europe. In the seventeenth century, the most important auction towns in Holland were Amsterdam, Leiden and The Hague. Thousands of auction catalogues have been printed here. No wonder Holland was called ‘The Bookshop of the World’.
The Dutch Republic was the greatest 'clearing-house of European print' in the seventeenth century, and it remained extremely significant during the following century. Complete 'freedom of the press' was still an unknown concept, but in the Dutch Republic, censorship was fairly limited compared to many other European countries. Non-Dutch authors were able to publish their books in the Republic, and Dutch book publishers and traders issued translations of works in Latin and European languages that challenged traditional scientific, social, and political conventions. Many of these works had a profound influence on European history and culture.
Book Sales Catalogues as Sources
Auction catalogues are indispensable sources for research on:
The history of the book
Catalogues prepared for an auction of a publisher's wholesale stock provide information about the titles published and distributed by him. Booksellers’ stock catalogues and stock-auction catalogues give a picture of the books present in a bookstore at a given time. Like the catalogues of private libraries, they repeatedly list books which have since disappeared. Auction catalogues contain information about the provenance of manuscripts and unique copies of printed books.
The history of libraries
Few records of important private libraries of the past have been preserved. Interest in book ownership in early modern times is increasing and with it the demand for historic auction catalogues.
The history of ideas and literature
More than any other source, sales catalogues offer the possibility to determine to what extent books circulated.
The history of art
Combined book and art auctions were common. Auction catalogues often list not only drawings and prints but also feature sections on paintings as well as coin and medal collections.
Readership: All those interested in the history of the book and libraries, the history of ideas and literature, the history of collecting, the history of art, and the Enlightenment.
“This is a wonderful resource, and a goldmine of information for anyone interested in the religion, politics, literature and intellectual culture of the early modern period. By the seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic had earned the title of ‘the bookshop of the world’, not just for the quality of its publications but also for the number of foreign imprints sold in its marketplace. The catalogues presented here help us to understand the book world in all of its various guises: the international trade in jurisprudence, the many varieties of medical texts, learned and vernacular, the sophisticated market in Bibles and devotional texts, the emerging passion for history and literature. The Dutch were the first and most sophisticated exponents of the book auction, and the editors of this project have trawled the world for examples, many of which survive in only one single copy. Exhaustively researched and beautifully presented, there is no better example of how digital technology can unlock the secrets of what previous generations chose to buy and to read.”
Andrew Pettegree, Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews, and Director of the Universal Short Title Catalogue.
Contributing Libraries and Archives
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