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Auction catalogues in 18th-century Netherlands

Library auction catalogues are more and more considered a source for reconstructing the reception of particular authors, literary genres or movements in a given period or region. Earlier awareness of the methodological pitfalls of using auction catalogues for reconstructing literary history has been supplemented by a specific interest in international processes of literary influence.

However, if analyses of library auction catalogues are to play a role in documenting processes of literary influence, they should ideally be regarded as no more than a first – albeit necessary – step to be supplemented in due course by other types of historical data enabling a more qualitative approach to the works under study.

In order to determine which non-Dutch women authors could have exerted an influence on cultured Dutch society in the 18th century, I have created a corpus of 254 randomly selected Dutch printed library auction catalogues, dated between 1700 and 1800 and mostly drawn up after the owner’s death, consisting of:

  • 170 randomly selected auction catalogues of libraries attributed to one or more male owners, dated 1700-1800, and including anonymous catalogues attributed or attributable (for example because of the owner’s profession) to male owners.
  • 48 randomly selected auction catalogues of anonymous libraries, dated 1700-1800.
  • all known auction catalogues of 18th-century libraries belonging at least in part to women, including anonymous catalogues attributed to women, that is 30 catalogues dated 1719-1800.
  • all available 18th-century circulating library catalogues, that is the catalogues of six libraries, including all supplements, dated 1751-1800.

I excluded from my corpus all catalogues which were made up exclusively of booksellers’ stock, as well as (with a few exceptions) the appendices of the catalogues studied, since these were often used by booksellers as a means to auction off their own unsold stock along with the library of a named owner.

Since a number of the auction catalogues listed comprised more than one library, the total number of individual book owners represented by this sample is at least 306. Given, on the other hand, the widespread booksellers’ practice of mixing other collections in with that of the named library owners, it may possibly be as much as twice that number. The known library owners can be grouped as follows:

  • at least 220 men
  • at least 33 women
  • at least 53 anonymous library owners
  • 6 institutional libraries – cf. Library catalogue (public)

As a consequence of the chronological method used in selecting catalogues for study, the final distribution of the library auction catalogues throughout the 18th century is somewhat uneven. Thus, a number of years early on in the century (1704, 1706, 1708, 1709, 1711, 1713, and 1739) go completely unrepresented, while some later years (1788 and 1798) are covered by ten catalogues or more. As a general rule, the proportion of catalogues increases as the century progresses, with the first quarter of the century holding only 12% of the total number of catalogues, the second quarter 19%, the third 29%, and the remaining 40% of the catalogues concentrated in the years 1776-1800.

The findings have been studied in the article mentioned.


  • Alicia C. Montoya, “French and English women writers in Dutch library (auction) catalogues, 1700-1800. Some methodological considerations and preliminary results”, in S. van Dijk, Petra Broomans, Janet F. van der Meulen and Pim van Oostrum (eds.), “I have heard about you”. Foreign women’s writing crossing the Dutch border: from Sappho to Selma Lagerlöf. Hilversum: Verloren, 2004, p. 182-216. (N.B. All the catalogues used are listed in the appendix.)

Alicia C. Montoya, August 2004.

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  • Sources > Dutch sources > Private collections > Auction catalogues

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