Uncovering Lost Newspapers in Auction Catalogues

By Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen |


June marks the 400th anniversary of the earliest surviving Dutch newspaper, the Courante uyt Italien, Duytslandt, &c., published on 14th June 1618 by Caspar van Hilten in Amsterdam. To mark the occasion, our blog posts this month will focus on the history of news printing.


Newspapers are among the most fugitive of all early modern printed works. This is particularly so of Dutch newspapers, which were generally published as a single half-sheet, with text on both sides. Abandoning the archetypal pamphlet form for serial news pioneered in the German lands was very economical in the use of paper, but made the issues far harder to bind together. As a result, some 60% of all the surviving issues of early Dutch newspapers are known only in a single copy, and these copies are disposed in over 80 libraries and archives worldwide: in fact, less than half the issues can be found in libraries in the Netherlands. Many are in major collections abroad, often in the capital cities of rival nations, to which they were despatched so that foreign governments could enjoy these excellent news sources.

By 1619, Amsterdam had two competing weekly papers, the Courante uyt Italien, Duytslandt, &c. of Caspar van Hilten (featured above) and the Tijdinghen uyt verscheyde Quartieren of Broer Jansz (featured below). When they were first published remains a matter of speculation. The earliest known issues are unnumbered, and no substantial run survived until 1626 for the Courante and 1637 for the Tijdinghen. The first known issues date, respectively, from 14 June 1618 and 10 February 1619.


Amsterdam Newspaper
An issue of Broer Jansz’s Tijdinghen uyt verscheyde Quartieren.

Now we are able to revise this early history, thanks to an extraordinary find in the Copenhagen Royal Library, one of our partners in Preserving the World’s Rarest Books. The Copenhagen library does not have a large collection of Dutch newspapers, certainly nothing to rival the Royal Library in Stockholm, where the rediscovery of an enormous cache of seventeenth-century newspapers in the 1930s completely reshaped our knowledge of the early Dutch press. The Copenhagen library does, however, have a considerable collection of Danish auction catalogues in a run of bound volumes which includes over one hundred for the seventeenth century alone. These auction catalogues are themselves very rare books: more often than not the copy in this collection is the only copy that survives.

In October 2017, delving into these volumes for references to Dutch books on sale in Copenhagen, we came across an extraordinary lot, number 126 of the folios of the library of a Danish doctor, auctioned in 1661:


Auction catalogue entry, Copenhagen

126. Tiidingen uyt verscheiden Quartieren van den 15. Decemb. 1618. Tot den 18. Decemb. 1641. 2 Volum.

To grasp the significance of this we have to understand that references to newspapers in auction catalogues are quite rare, and if found, usually refer in the most general terms to a collection of a specific title, usually the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant, which swiftly became the leading Dutch newspaper after its establishment in 1656. No reference in an auction catalogue is as specific as this Copenhagen discovery. This auction lot, however, offers not only a specific date range, but dates that predate the first surviving issue of the Tijdinghen.

From this we can now confirm that both Amsterdam papers were published from, at the latest, 1618. Neither had yet established a regular day of publication, but this likely represents proof of the existence of around ten lost weekly issues (the earliest surviving copy being from 10 February 1619). Ten lost books in one surviving unique auction catalogue: what discovery could better demonstrate the interpretative potential of Preserving the World’s Rarest Books?


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Andrew Pettegree is Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the Universal Short Title Catalogue. He is the author of over a dozen books in the fields of Reformation history and the history of communication including Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Cambridge University Press, 2005), The Book in the Renaissance(Yale University Press, 2010) and The Invention of News (Yale University Press, 2014) and Brand Luther: 1517, Print and the Making of the Reformation (Penguin, 2015). His new projects include ‘Preserving the World’s Rarest Book’s’, a collaboration with the international library community funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. His most recent book, Trading Books in the Age of Rembrandt (co-authored with Arthur der Weduwen), will appear in March 2019.

Arthur der Weduwen is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews and the author of Dutch and Flemish Newspapers of the Seventeenth Century (Brill, 2017). His PhD is a study of government attempts to cultivate public opinion in the seventeenth-century Low Countries. He is a long-term associate of the Universal Short Title Catalogue, having first worked for the St Andrews-based project as an intern during his undergraduate years in Exeter.  His most recent book, Trading Books in the Age of Rembrandt (co-authored with Andrew Pettegree), will appear in March 2019.


Photographs by Arthur der Weduwen.

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