The origins of the Plantin-Moretus Museum library go back to the middle of the 16th century when Christopher Plantin was the manager of the Plantin Press, the Officina Plantiniana. Plantin initially bought books for his proofreaders such as dictionaries, bible editions and concordances on the bible. In addition to this library for proofreaders Plantin’s grandson, Balthasar Moretus I, bought large numbers of books in the early 17th century. Balthasar was especially interested in editions by the Church Fathers and classical authors as well as books about antiquity in general, from important publishers throughout Europe. In addition, large numbers of atlases and books about art were purchased for the library. Around 1800, later members of the Moretus family began to buy books at auctions and added important rare books and manuscripts. When the managers of the Officina Plantiniana finally concluded their printing-publishing activities and the premises were converted into a museum by the City of Antwerp, Max Rooses was named the first director. He too saw to an extensive expansion in the library’s holdings. His goal was to purchase as many old Antwerp editions as possible, and in particular, editions printed by the Officina Plantiniana. It is primarily due to his efforts that the library of the Plantin-Moretus Museum now boasts the most complete collection of works printed by Plantin and his successors. Today, the Plantin-Moretus Museum houses approximately 30,000 volumes of books printed before 1800.
The Plantin-Moretus library is, in part, the library of a publishing house. This is evident in the number of special copies present in it. Copies bearing authors’ notes and corrections for new editions of their works are also common. In addition, many of these books include a handwritten privilege to print them. Others were used by the compositors and consequently contain their notes for setting the text, which provide us, today, with extremely valuable information on how books were set hundreds of years ago. The value of this library, however, increases when it is used in combination with the other collections of the Museum. These include manuscripts, working drawings, and thousands of woodblocks and copper plates that were used for the publications of the Officina Plantiniana. But above all, there are the Press’s archives. All these resources combined offer a unique library for the study of the book in the 16th and 17th centuries.