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A unique copy

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from 7 September until 8 October 1998

On 4 September the book Typographia Batava 1541-1600 by Paul Valkema Blouw will appear. For over thirty years he has been occupied with making an inventory of all publications printed in the Netherlands in this period. To this end he has ferretted around in all Dutch libraries and archives and quite a number of foreign ones - German, Belgian, English, French, American. Some 7500 different publications have been found. In the exhibition 100 unique copies from the UB collection are on display. Unique copies are books of which - as far as is known - only a single copy exists.

Rekenboek van Nicolaas Petri (Claes Pietersz.),
Amsterdam 1591
Leeskaart voor de Zuiderzee,
Amsterdam 1587

It turns out that of almost 40% of the books still to be found only a single copy is left. Indeed, Valkema Blouw's book describes hundreds of publications of which no copy is known to exist, but which according to descriptions in reliable bibliographies must have done so.

Turbulent times

Why are so many of these books so rare? There are various reasons. Times were turbulent - the rise of the Reformation and later the Dutch revolt against the Spanish rule. This entailed literally the persecution by fire and sword of protestant, heretic books by the Inquisition: books were burnt, printers and publishers banned, imprisoned, and in some cases even executed. But also many harmless books were lost. A large, expensive volume, written in Latin, that was added to a library collection on publication, had a much better chance of survival than cheap printed matter, small in size and written in the vernacular. A look at the exhibition makes this clear at once: the large majority exists of small booklets, printed in Dutch, such as almanacs, songbooks, schoolbooks, medical recipe books, arithmetic books, popular stories, etc. There are also a number of protestant and heretic publications.

No acidification, but still fragile

In the last few years we have come to realize that the Dutch cultural heritage is being threatened by decay, acidification, and this particularly where 19th-century material is concerned. This exhibition will illustrate that there is also a conservation problem for books from earlier periods. These books are not subject to acidification but they are certainly fragile. Valkema Blouw's book makes it clear that even in this age a number of unique copies has been lost as a result of the two World Wars, but also because of fires, floods, and other disasters. In recent years the UB has gradually been putting this material on microfiche, so that the original publications can be stored as safely as possible. Researchers who wish to consult the text only, can do so by using a microfiche. Valkema Blouw's inventory makes it possible to extend this operation - provided that money and personnel will be made available - to all the unique (i.e. having become unique) material that is kept in Dutch libraries and archives.

Text: Bram Schuytvlot
Last modified: 31 August 1998

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