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Van der Hoek, Leiden

The lending library of C.C. van der Hoek (1792/93-1876) of Leiden is an interesting case. In 1822 Van der Hoek began business by taking over an existing lending library and in 1856 he in turn transferred the company to two of his sons. In 1897 and 1899 the brothers retired from the firm. The library was carried on until 1946 by new owners, though still under the name of Van der Hoek, but died a lingering death.

Various catalogues and a section of the books belonging to Van der Hoek’s lending library have survived. These catalogues and books are housed in Leiden’s Municipal Archives (Gemeentearchief) and form a very valuable source. The information derived from them gives an idea of what people apparently read in the 19th century.

The lending agency’s commercial basis suggests that Van der Hoek’s firm tailored its purchasing and investment policy to its clients’ tastes . This was in contrast to the public libraries (Nutsbibliotheken), which operated on the principle that they knew best what was worth reading. Whether Van der Hoek’s books actually were read, whether they were borrowed often or only sporadically, and by whom, such questions of course remain unanswered. The fact however that the Van der Hoek brothers depended on the firm for a living suggests that these were sought-after books, which attracted enough customers.

Bernt Luger has carried out research into 19th-century lending libraries, that of Van der Hoek in particular. On the basis of the catalogues in the Leiden municipal archives, Luger asserts that when Van der Hoek senior handed the business over to his sons in 1856, there was a total of 11,000 titles, in Dutch, German, English and French (Luger 1997, 25). The new owners then held a thorough purge of the stock, pruning away the (popular) science section and the older literature too. They retained part of the collection and supplemented it with new titles. All books were then renumbered and relabelled, and their first alphabetical catalogue appeared in 1859, comprising 2,286 entries.

There were sequels to this catalogue, including those for 1873 and 1887. The input into the WomenWriters database is based on these three catalogues. The books’ unique numbering system enabled Luger to work out the year of purchase: he noted this in his own copies of the catalogue, which are now in the possession of S. van Dijk. We have made grateful use of them in dating the reception in the database.

The Van der Hoek Catalogue (i.e, the series of catalogue sections from 1859/73/87 added to our database) comprises a total of 7822 works, spread over all sections (Dutch, English, French, German). Of these, 1473 were written by women. The other 6349 are thus either written by men, or by authors whose gender is as yet unknown. In terms of percentage, this means that roughly 80% was written by men, and 20% by women. At a later stage it will be interesting to see how this percentage relates, for example, to total book production and literary criticism.

This source not only provides information on public interest in books, but also on the existence of translations. Van der Hoek presents us with questions, however, on a number of works. For example, the WomenWriters database includes 272 translated works the only evidence for whose existence (for the present) is what we have gleaned from Van der Hoek.. In no Dutch library (according to the NCC) are copies of these books to be found for which the catalogue does not usually give an exhaustive bibliographical entry. Thanks to this catalogue we have also learned of the existence of translations into German, French or English. In a number of cases these were available from this lending library:

  • There are for example 19 records for German translations of Swedish works. The German section contains such works as Die Kinder der Arbeit, a translation of Arbetets barn by Marie Sofie Schwartz.
  • 4 records with German translations of English works have been added to the database. For example, Frauen und Töchter, a translation of Wives and daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell.
  • There are likewise 23 records in which Van der Hoek shows that there were French translations of 1 German work, 5 Swedish and 17 English (UK, US) works.
  • There is 1 record which reveals that there was an English translation of a Swedish novel: Twelve months of matrimony as translation of Ett år van Flygare-Carlén.

More translations than original works were read, at least where the work of women was concerned: the Dutch section comprises a total of 599 works which were originally written in another language. Compared to this, the presence of original works by Dutch women writers is relatively limited, namely 266 works.

The foreign work mainly concerns that of English women writers: of these 356 were stocked by Van der Hoek in the original language (315 from GB, 19 from the US, 22 from Ireland). A large number, which was mainly due to great names such as Miss Braddon (32), Florence Marryat (30), Margaret Oliphant (24), Miss Mulock (22), Ouida (20) and Wood (31), but also to other women writers. All in all there are thus more original versions by English women writers than by their Dutch counterparts.

The presence of a particular book in lending libraries forms an indication of the popularity of that work. For example Jan ten Brink wrote about Melati van Java: ‘however many copies of her work they may have, there is seldom one to be found in lending libraries’. Fourteen of her works were indeed available at Van der Hoek’s.

The 19th-century press frequently made denigrating remarks about book clubs and lending libraries. Some works were considered suitable for the clients of lending libraries. That was usually no compliment. The novel Een dwaas huwelijk (1875, date of Dutch translation unknown) by May Agnes Fleming was discussed thus by a reviewer from the Leeskabinet (1882):

It is a pity that Mrs Fleming still devotes herself to this old-fashioned sort of sensational novel, which does well enough in lending libraries and book clubs, but which real connoisseurs of art put aside with a disdainful shrug, and the American authoress surely does not deserve this.

Sure enough, the Van der Hoek brothers had this book in their collection from 1882. Another example is the novel Cecil Forster (1844, Dutch translation 1845) by Ida von Hahn-Hahn. The reviewer from the Vaderlandsche letteroefeningen (1846) is not enthusiastic, but finds it acceptable for lending libraries.

Without possessing any particular excellence, this novel is a pleasant read and deserves a place in book clubs and lending libraries, alongside and above many others.

This book was probably already in the collection compiled by Van der Hoek senior, and was evidently so popular that it withstood the purge of his sons in (or just before) 1859, as it is mentioned in the catalogue of 1859 ….


  • Bernt Luger, “Een negentiende-eeuwse leesbibliotheek” and “Wie las wat in de negentiende eeuw?”, in Wie las wat in de negentiende eeuw?, eds. Willem van den Berg and Marita Matthijsen. Utrecht, Matrijs, 1997, pp. 21-32 and pp. 33-58.

Susanne Parren, September 2007
Transl.: Jo Nesbitt

  • Note that when arriving in the database WomenWriters your status will be "not logged on", meaning that your access to the database is limited. For complete access (and participation in the project), contact Suzan van Dijk.

  • Sources > Dutch sources > Library catalogues (public)

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