© Cor Snabel
In 1692 a report states; In Europe are no more than 10 to 12 cities
where books are printed in considerable amounts. For England in London
and Oxford, for France in Paris and Lyon, for Germany in Leipzig and for
Holland in Amsterdam, Leiden, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Five
large centers of publishers and printers in West Holland and England and
France had only two each.
Amsterdam had about 400 bookshops, but those were very different from
the bookshops we know, they hardly had books in stock, only the Bible or
a few bestsellers. In the shop window were only the title pages, that's
why the title pages were always so extensive, it had to tell the buyer
as much as possible about the contents. If someone bought a book, the
bookbinder still had to bind it for him.
What did people read? The Bible of course, the editions of this book are
countless, but also sermons were printed (and read) in huge amounts.
Bestsellers were the books of Jacob Cats and people devoured travel
stories. The story of skipper IJsbrandt Bontekoe had to be reprinted
every two years for over a century.
These travel stories served another purpose, besides entertainment for
the armchair traveler, it contained practical information for sailors
and merchants about harbors, rivers, tides, but also about customs and
traditions in other countries.
In close connection to the travel story was the atlas, which could be
bought in every bookshop. Lucas Janszoon Wagenaar published his own
charts and those were so famous in England, they still use the name
“Waggoners” to address a specific kind of sailing book.
Willem Jansz. Blaeu had his own bookshop and drew his own maps. No
sailor or merchant could leave his shop, before he was interrogated
about the new coasts he had seen. Blaeu improved his charts with first
hand information and if it was done he filled the corners with lovely
angels, grapes and the horn of plenty.
The habit of showing human figures on nautical charts originated from
the fear for the Turkish army. In the 16th century Turkey was a maritime
power and it had an army of at least 250.000 man, had conquered Hungary
and was a threat to the rest of Europe. In order to avoid the Turks to
find the North Sea, the chart makers placed human figures on their
charts; they believed the Turks would not use these charts, because the
Koran should forbid portraying human figures.