Arthur der Weduwen - historian

I have been collecting early printed books since 2014. Here I wish to provide an overview of my collection, gradually curating a virtual reflection of my small library of rare books. Every fortnight I hope to post a brief description of an item, accompanied by a few pictures. The second item to be profiled is another book that I have owned for a while, a copy of one of the most popular series to appear in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic: an installment of the wildly successful Hollandse Mercurius.

Book #2: chronicling the present

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“Holland Mercury, bringing the most remarkable [news] concerning the wars and alliances of turbulent Europe, occurred in the year 1657. The eighth part.”

From 1651 onwards Pieter Casteleyn, brother of the Haarlem newspaper publisher Abraham, produced each year the Hollandse Mercurius, a 100-page summary of the most notable events of the year to have taken place around Europe. The issues were largely composed from reports and extracts from contemporary newspapers, pamphlets and other official documents, but interspersed with Casteleyn’s own remarks. This “Holland Mercury” proved incredibly popular; it was pirated by Amsterdam publishers, and was continued after Pieter Casteleyn’s death in 1676 by his brother Abraham Casteleyn, and afterwards inspired numerous similar series. Demand was so great that Pieter Casteleyn frequently reprinted old issues: the copy of my edition, covering the year 1657, was reprinted in 1669 (misprinted 1679). This issue, like all others, featured an engraved title-page with representations of some of the more notable events of the year.

The Hollandse Mercurius can often be found listed in contemporary book trade catalogues, but generally as a complete series, rather than individual volumes. Nevertheless, from the early 1660s onwards individual issues were also frequently advertised in newspapers: Casteleyn often notified potential buyers that the series was available as a set, or as individual issues. On 14 March 1668, Pieter Casteleyn announced the eighteenth instalment in his brother’s newspaper, stating that the issue contained ‘illustrations of Chatham, Sheerness and the earthquake at Ragusa’ - but ‘the previous seventeen parts are also available, all with illustrations’. Copies could be found in Haarlem with Casteleyn, but also in Amsterdam with Pieter Arentsz ‘and with other booksellers’.

Ultimately, Casteleyn’s Hollandse Mercurius proved such a successful venture because there was significant demand for contemporary history amongst serious book collectors in the seventeenth century. Newspaper publishers knew this too, and they were quick to advertise their weekly papers as suitable chronicles of modern times: that is, if one subscribed to every issue, and bound them together. This marketing ploy never really took off: news writers were not well-equipped to judge the future importance of current events, and newspapers invariably included a fair share of inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Pieter Casteleyn, on the other hand, could make his pick in January or February of the new year of the reports which had turned out to be true, and which were clear to be of importance for future developments.

Bibliographical description

Hollantse Mercurius, Brengende het aenmerckelijckste omtrent de gebeurde Oorlogen, en Verbonts-Actien, voorgevallen in den ontrusten Omme-kringh van Europa, Binnen den Jare 1657. Het Achtste Deel.

Tot Haerlem, Gedruckt by Pieter Casteleyn, Boeck-Drucker op de Marckt, in de Keysers Kroon. Anno cIɔ Iɔ c LXXIX [1679 = 1669]. Met Privilegie.

4to, π4 A-O4, pp. [8] 111 [1]

167904 - b1 A n : b2 O3 rs$

USTC 1805909; STCN 123183642

Four other copies have thus far been documented


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The BOOKSHOP OF THE WORLD well received in the press:

Times Literary Supplement: “The Bookshop of the World marshals and moulds a staggering volume of research material and is every bit as diverse, copious and sophisticated as the culture it excavates.”

Times Higher Education: “A richly detailed account of 17th-century Europe’s most important centre of print.”

De Volkskrant: “A rich and deeply impressive study, a fascinating book.”

NRC: “A ground-breaking, astonishing and provocative book.”

De Boekenwereld: “Go to the shop and buy this book, because otherwise you will short-change yourself. And then buy at least one more copy for someone you love.”

Trouw: “A successful, ambitious book.”

Reformatorisch Dagblad: “Pettegree and Der Weduwen uncover the real books of the Dutch Golden Age.”

Holland Historisch Tijdschrift: “Pettegree and Der Weduwen make a superb and most necessary contribution to European cultural history”


ongoing projects

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the library - A Fragile history

Today we take the existence of libraries for granted, but behind the sober facades of modern institutions lies a fascinating story of constant evolution, upheaval and destruction. From the days of the first codices, books were subject to revolutionary transformations, and so were libraries and their readers, often with catastrophic consequences for the inherited collections of a previous age. In The Library. A Fragile History, I will offer a radical new interpretation of book collecting. Co-written with Andrew Pettegree, The Library. A Fragile History will appear in 2021.

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selling the republican ideal

Well before the age of democracy, politics was not the prerogative of the few. This was never more true than in the boisterous public politics of the Dutch Republic, where the ruling regents were confronted by a highly literate and politically active citizenry. Despite the aristocratic nature of government, the authorities of the Dutch Republic went to great lengths to explain the law and justify their policies. Based on my doctoral thesis, I am preparing a study of these political communication practices of the Dutch Golden Age.

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the birth of modern advertising

The first survey of the birth of newspaper advertising, including an English paraphrase of all advertisements placed in Dutch newspapers between 1620 and 1675.


Featured Publications

My most notable publications - see the publications page here for a full overview.

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Published by brill, may 2017

A comprehensive survey of the first century of Dutch newspaper publishing in the Low Countries, featuring 49 newspapers and documenting over 16,000 surviving issues in more than 80 libraries and archives around the world.

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published by Yale University Press and Atlas contact, 26 February 2019

Co-written with Professor Andrew Pettegree - the first study of the rich book culture of the Dutch Golden Age. 

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published in 2018 - freely available online

A radical re-assessment of what was published in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, published in Livre, a new open-access book history journal.