The Luchtmans Archives – Introduction


The importance of the Luchtmans Archives can hardly be overestimated. Pubishers and printers archives from the early modern period are rare. Everyone knows the famous Plantin archives in Antwerp and the Société Typographique of Neuchatel (STN) but Luchtmans is far less known. The reason for this is clear. They are in Dutch and 17th and 18th century Dutch can only be read by specialists. The handwriting of the  does not make the task easier.

It is no wonder that Luchtmans is not well known outside the Netherlands. But it is also little known in the Netherlands, even by those who should have known better. I must make a confession here: I have worked for many years in the building where the archive is kept and I have never looked it up. Last year two Australian scholars, Simon Burrows and  James Ensor came to Amsterdam to investigate the archive and I went with them to the stacks were the volumes are kept. It was something of an epiphany. I have never been that interested in the 18th century, nor in archival matter but one hour with the archives changed all that.

I have studied the archives for some months now and concluded that it deserves as many years of study as I have spend hours on it so far. Cultural historians, historians of the Book, the Enlightenment, Spinoza, Early Modern Economy should study parts of the archive in detail. Such a study will provide them with new ideas that probably will supersede everything they might have thought about their subject.

In the 19th century Luchtmans became Brill, the well known international publisher of scholarship and so the ups and downs of this firm can be followed from the late 17th century untill today. The archives of Brill are also kept at the University of Amsterdam.

Why are these archives so interesting? That question is easy. In the 18th century the Dutch Republic was still one of the main centres of the European booktrade and Luchtmans was a very important firm. They sold their books to all European countries and also bought books from those countries to sell at home. This is an important difference with the STN. The Dutch were still the richest and most advanced country of Europe and Leiden was a great and rich city that housed one of the foremost universities of Europe. The Luchtmans bookshop kept account current for many of Leiden professors – and also of their wives and daughters.

Parts of the archive will be published here as a part of a research project for my students.  In the future I  hope that new digital instruments can be used to access the thousands of pages that together form a goldmine that has no equal.

For an overview of the Archive go to this page