The beginning of De Zilverdistel: myth, memory and reality
The emergence of the first Dutch private press De Zilverdistel, is shrouded in mist due to the lack of archives, deliberate myth forming and conflicting memories. Everything about its establishment is questionable. The date could have been 1909 or 1910; the number of people involved from day one is held at two and then also at three; the exact date on which the founders became acquainted is unknown; and the origin of the name is mysterious. Confusion existed even before the appearance of the first book.
The first four editions were Worstelingen [Struggles] by P.N. van Eyck (printed in December 1910), Naar 't geluk [To happiness] by Jan van Nijlen (April 1911), Experimenten by Geerten Gossaert (October 1911) and Het eigen rijk [The private kingdom] by Albert Verwey (November 1912). The three poets J.C. Bloem, Jan Greshoff and P.N. van Eyck were involved in the first period.
Bloem (1887–1966) studied law, worked as a civil servant and clerk but was primarily a poet whose first volume appeared only in 1921. Over the years, with the motto ‘I have expected practically nothing from life’, the volumes became thinner, the style more succinct and sombre. Greshoff (1888–1971) worked as a journalist and critic. He lived from 1939 in Cape Town and during the First World War in New York; he was the driving force behind many bibliophile series and schemes.
Van Eyck (1887–1954) also studied law; he published poetry from 1909, worked as a journalist in Rome and London, and in 1935 succeeded his mentor, the poet Albert Verwey, as professor of Dutch Literature in Leiden. The characters of the three, the indolent Bloem, the restless Greshoff and the ambitious Van Eyck, determined in part the beginning of De Zilverdistel. (PvC)
Jan Greshoff, photograph from: Den gulden winckel, 10 (1910), (15 februari), p. 24. KB: T 2173. (KB)
From left to right: J.G. Veldheer, Jan Greshoff, Anja en Gerda von Mendelsohn, photograph from: Den gulden winckel, 13 (1914), (15 november), p. 169. KB: T 2173. (KB)
Struggling with publicity
Jan Greshoff (21 years old in November 1910) threw himself into the promotion of the new publishing company, causing confusion and irritation. In his poetry anthology Het jaar der dichters [The year of the poets] (1911) he placed this advertisement: ‘at “De Zilverdistel” of Gouda, Worstelingen Dialogical poem by P.N. van Eyck has been published. This work, printed on the presses of the company Joh. Enschedé of Haarlem, will be issued in an edition of 40 copies, numbered and signed by the author. Treated with all possible typographical care, the work will be printed on quarto format Van Gelder paper with a very lovely seventeenth-century type. In an Ingres wrapper, 5 guilders. To order from the Secretariat of the “De Zilverdistel”, Wachtelstraat, Gouda or from the writer: Columbusstraat 223, The Hague’. The book was not yet ready. Van Eyck wrote the poem Worstelingen in June 1909 and it was published in the literary periodical De gids of the same year.
Greshoff, who had moved from The Hague to Apeldoorn, had plans to move again when he composed the advertisement, but he never moved to Gouda. Meanwhile, the advertisement drew attention. The Hague newspaper Het vaderland published the notice that ‘some young Dutch writers (including Jan Greshoff, P.N. van Eyck, Jules Schürmann)’ had established a publishing house ‘in Gouda’. This was the first time something could be read about the goal of De Zilverdistel: ‘the exceptionally meticulous publishing of old and new books’.
A literary unknown was then smuggled into De Zilverdistel: Jules Bernard Schürmann (1873–1927), opera singer, poet and writer. He responded almost immediately, but hardly clarified the situation: ‘I have nothing more to do with the publications of ‘De Zilverdistel’. I was only interested in Baudelaire and other great foreign poets. I will probably withdraw from the whole combination’. The latter seems to imply that he was financially involved in the undertaking but it is unknown whether such a subscription was based on shares. Evidently he had subscribed to all publications for a future edition of Baudelaire (he had lived in Paris and loved French literature).
Schürmann contested his involvement in various newspapers, but the newspaper for the book trade got wind of it and reported that the story was ‘incorrect from a–z’. Greshoff had briefed them. De Zilverdistel was about ‘carefully and beautifully executed books, both original and reprinted, and a very limited number of each, 20 to 100 copies, kept totally outside the trade. Profit is out of the question, the subscribers pay the costs’. In practice, the publishers (sometimes also the authors) paid the costs.
The term ‘combination’ was taken over by Enschedé’s printing shop and must have been fabricated by the poets. Perhaps they brandished it about to make a businesslike, solvent impression on buyers and the printers. Greshoff wrote that De Zilverdistel planned ‘to issue work in combination’ that was of ‘bibliophile value’. The newspapers fought on for a while over details.
Greshoff brought De Zilverdistel to the attention of the general public with this squabbling while only 40 copies were printed. And this is before the first book appeared. It would not be his last advertisement issue. In the second year of publication of Het jaar der dichters, once again an advertisement appeared that caused disagreement in De Zilverdistel. Greshoff numbered the editions Opus I to IV. Bloem was ‘offended’ by this ‘moneyed advertising’ that gave the impression of ‘unreliability, of quackery, autokleophily [glory-seeking]’. Van Eyck agreed but a rectification was not forthcoming. Greshoff used the name ‘Opus’ earlier in August 1911 (the gentlemen had not reacted) in a review of the second De Zilverdistel edition and probably borrowed the term from the German Einhornpresse who had announced an ‘Opus I’ in December 1909. (PvC)
A start with or without Gelderland sausage
The three publishers were young: at 23 years old Bloem was the oldest of the group. Greshoff said later that it was about uniting ‘artist and technician, designer and maker in one person’. Greshoff’s memories are notoriously unreliable and were published much later in 1969. Earlier, in 1914, he claimed that De Zilverdistel was founded as an attempt to make ‘modern printing of some value’ and that this could not be left to ‘the real typographers, the technicians’ and therefore ‘young artists’ did it themselves.
The young writers became acquainted not as publishers but as poets and poetry editors. Greshoff had known Van Eyck since late 1908 and their debuts were published in 1909. It is unclear when J.C. Bloem met them: it may have been 1909, but he had not yet published any poems then. Only in late March 1910 did Van Eyck write warmly about Bloem and Bloem sent poems to a magazine whose editor was Greshoff.
Later Greshoff wanted to make clear that the three together did not found De Zilverdistel, but that Van Eyck became involved somewhat later. The first identifiable document about the publisher dates from autumn 1910 and corresponds to their letters: in August 1910 Van Eyck and Greshoff had not yet named De Zilverdistel; Bloem did so in a letter to Van Eyck (September 1910), from which it also appears that they were both involved as publishers. In the meantime, Van Eyck had become a Zilverdistelian. In an advertisement from November 1911, Greshoff stated that he and Bloem had made plans ‘in autumn 1910’ and later he contradicted himself. His tempting details were misleading. There was a discussion in his lodgings at The Hague on St. Nicholas’ Eve, during which they dispatched a Gelderland sausage.
The publishing of Worstelingen was taken up seriously in September 1910 and, given the production times in those years, a start around this date seems likely. Greshoff wrote that De Zilverdistel Society was founded as a bibliophile association (perhaps in imitation of the German Hundertdrucke that worked with subscriptions from 1909) and so with Bloem he went to Joh. Enschedé & Sons (where some Hundertdrucke books were printed). However, there is not a shred of evidence for this visit. One thing was certain according to Greshoff: Van Eyck did not share in the eating of the Gelderland sausage and only Bloem and Greshoff undertook ‘the first steps’, namely a visit to Enschedé printers. Therefore ‘Bloem and I’ were the founders. The first Dutch private press was in retrospect prestigious enough for associates to claim ownership. (PvC)
De Zilverdistel as private press
De Zilverdistel differed sufficiently from earlier enterprises to be spoken of as the first private press. P.C. Boutens (the older generation) took a different approach as the publisher of his own work and translations: he acted alone and up to the year that De Zilverdistel began, printed his own work exclusively. After 1910 he also published the work of colleagues, probably in imitation of De Zilverdistel.
De Zilverdistel was the work of a group and mainly published the work of others. Only Van Eyck published his poetry at De Zilverdistel; Bloem and Greshoff did not. Moreover, they presented a programme of intended publications in advertisements. They wanted to serve the international market with French and German texts (Baudelaire and Andrian).
De Zilverdistel initially focused on contemporary literature in contrast with the German and English presses of the time. According to the newspaper for the book trade (December 1910) there were plans for a translation of Petronius’ Satyricon (not published) and poems by J.J. de Stoppelaar (published elsewhere). These titles were suggested by Greshoff, who tried to bend the policy to his will.
De Zilverdistel had no printer’s mark although Greshoff harboured a desire for it. All copies of the early De Zilverdistel publications were hand-numbered and signed by the authors. This was not the private press practice in England, although it was a bibliophile custom in Germany and also with de luxe special editions in the Netherlands. Other typical private press characteristics were that the books remained ‘totally outside the trade’, the texts were labelled as exclusive (‘new unpublished collection’, ‘a commercial edition will not appear’) and ‘profit’ was out of the question. But profit was certainly there.
From advertisements and messages it was apparent that the authors pursued an ideal of typographical perfection. Even more so, R.T.A. Mees (of the same generation) who knew everyone involved, claimed in 1917 that the founders of De Zilverdistel actually had wanted to set up a printing shop (there is no evidence of this), but the plan ‘to purchase a hand press and good type material’ turned out to be too costly and time consuming.
De Zilverdistel turned to not just any printer but the most renowned printer of the Netherlands which had earned its place in the bibliophile world due to its unique typefaces. While Enschedé’s editions for French publishers from before 1900 are not typographically exceptional, in the 1890s they printed a few milestones of Art Nouveau: Kunst en samenleving and Sonnetten en verzen in terzinen geschreven. Since Otto Julius Bierbaum in November 1909 and Hans von Weber (with Hundertdrucke) from May 1910 had granted commissions to Enschedé, some impressive editions were supplied to the German bibliophile market.
The choice of old Dutch typefaces underlined the ideal of a Dutch private press. The origin of the name De Zilverdistel is unknown, however the reference to native flora united seamlessly with the decorative style of Art Nouveau. Van Eyck declared in 1918 that he had thought of the name first. Greshoff later thought that this was correct. The business arrangements of Bloem, Van Eyck and Greshoff were simple. They all had a right to one copy and one third of the profits that was sometimes shared with the author, as in the case of Van Nijlen who bought up half of the edition. It was also agreed that Verwey was entitled to half the profits. The trio convened no meetings and did not confirm agreements in writing, which is why Bloem could ask: ‘What exactly are the plans of the thistle?’ (PvC)
From the archives of Joh. Enschedé en Zonen: the first contact
The first letter from Greshoff to the printer Joh. Enschedé & Sons in Haarlem on 22 September 1910 was lost, but not the response of 28 September 1910. This first document about De Zilverdistel reads in full:
‘Possessing your valued letter of 22 inst., we thank you for your esteemed application in connection with the printing of de luxe publications of poetic works of P.N. van Eyck & Baudelaire (Fleurs du Mal). In regard to the former work, it is in the nature of things somewhat difficult for us to make a price calculation without knowing the right size or having seen the text; we have, however, knowing that you wish to use the same fount as the ‘Schöne Mädchen von Pao’, also assumed that you wish to have the same line width as used there, with the except that now just 15 lines need to be on a page. This suggests a size no larger than 4º Schryf, maximum 4º Bykorf; both are formats in which Van Gelder has Holland paper in stock. – The price per sheet of 16 pages will amount to approximately 23.00 guilders excluding paper. – The price for the latter depends on the weight and is only to be determined when you have confirmed your choice. – Perhaps you may also wish to supply the paper yourself? Regarding Baudelaire’s “Fleurs du Mal”, it is somewhat easier for us as we know the work and its size. Currently we have viz. the same work in hand for a German publisher. Since this is a special edition, we do not believe that the publisher concerned will object to our printing your edition, while his work is not finished. – Should this be the case, we will not be able to take on your work. Carried out as you wish it, we estimate the maximum to be 18 sheets, for which we have a beautiful 18th century Augustyn type in mind; with a text type of the same sort it will probably come to a maximum of 20 sheets. – The price per printed sheet of 16 pages of gr.:Med: 4º, also excluding paper will be approximately 27.50 guilders. – For a more definite price calculation and confirmation of the paper, we look forward to receiving your detailed information, accompanied by text, and sign herewith under your recommendation’.
The quote reveals that De Zilverdistel used a German edition as a model and that a French edition of Baudelaire was a serious option in September before any other title was being considered and before the newspapers reported it. (PvC)
The German 'model'
Das schöne Mädchen von Pao by Bierbaum with illustrations by Franz von Bayros was printed by Enschedé for Georg Müller of Munich in 1909–1910. A review appeared in the Beiblatt der Zeitschrift für Bücherfreunde (August/September 1910) and the work was shown at the exhibition ‘Het boek’ in Amsterdam (June–August 1910). Enschedé could have shown it to Greshoff and Bloem. The old typefaces were highly valued in Germany. De Zilverdistel editions would have a different format and layout; the book served only as a point of reference. De Zilverdistel did make use of Enschedé’s old typefaces.
The commission for a Baudelaire edition posed a problem for Enschedé who was just then working on a similar edition for Hans von Weber. To be sure, Enschedé asked Weber for permission to print a de luxe edition for ‘Eine Kombination von drei Niederländische Bibliophilen’. A proof page for De Zilverdistel edition was made and sent on 9 November 1910 to Van Eyck (who did not show it to Bloem). De Zilverdistel Baudelaire would later be printed elsewhere.
The involvement of Bloem and Greshoff
After September 1910, Greshoff no longer corresponded with Enschedé. He wrote later that the publishing trade was ‘not congenial’. The production of the first Zilverdistel book was under the leadership of Van Eyck: it was his text after all. With later books, authors also made direct contact with the printer.
Bloem involved himself with the text choice and typography but hardly ever with the production. He regularly inquired about the situation of ‘our Donkey’s beloved plant book’ and the term ‘Zilverdistelians’ appears to have been invented by him. His interest had a worldly cause as he shared in the proceeds, and therefore he continually promoted the editions to his friends. Moreover, Bloem was entitled to a free copy, an advantage for a bibliophile.
Bloem was closely involved in the text choice, as demonstrated by his intention in The Hague ‘to brew many Zilverdistels with you and Jan!’ In autumn 1911 he proposed a poetry collection by Henriette Labberton-Drabbe for which he made an estimate of the size (‘3 to 4 sheets’) and the possible profit. He also wished to be ‘completely in charge of the proposed edition’.
The erroneous idea that Bloem and Greshoff did not involve themselves with the publications was perhaps inspired by the fact that in September 1912 Van Eyck asked his co-publishers of De Zilverdistel to withdraw. It was expedient for him that Greshoff was more of a planner than a hard worker and that Bloem was satisfied with pleasant social gatherings and presents for his book collection. Van Eyck was ambitious enough to take over the venture when the opportunity arose. Greshoff called his way of talking tense, hasty and deadly serious. He had no need of ‘revenge and rejoinder’, but his ‘discourse’ was ‘always substantial and always interesting’. His diligence and accuracy would benefit the texts, but for special typographic ideas the later contribution of J.F. van Royen was necessary. (PvC)
Prominent books: P.N. van Eyck, Worstelingen
De Zilverdistel strove for ‘superb editions’ and the quotation Greshoff requested of the printers Joh. Enschedé & Sons of Haarlem on 22 September 1910 for the printing of P.N. van Eyck’s poem ‘Worstelingen’ was answered within one week, but proved difficult to formulate. The printer did not have the copy or an indication of the format. Was the estimate based on discussions about examples from Enschedé’s publisher’s list?
The publishers first selected the typeface of Das schöne Mädchen von Pao. The printer assumed that a quarto format was chosen for which Van Gelder paper was available. The printing cost per sheet (16 pages) would amount to about 23 guilders and the paper 24 guilders. The book finally consisted of seven sheets. Van Eyck managed the project; the name Greshoff was crossed out in the commission book (without adding a new one). In the end, Van Eyck disputed each item on the invoice.
The Bierbaum example quickly faded into the background. De Zilverdistel avoided illustrations and chose a different type and format. For the text, a Fleischman type (No 68), roman 16 pt; for the dedication and acknowledgements, the italic 16 pt (No. 69) was used; other text (including the prose inserts, imprint and colophon) were composed in 12 pt (No. 50). The types, all by J.M. Fleischman, were cut in 1739 and 1732. For the title and author’s name the 24 and 18 pt capitals (Nos. 795 and 800) by J.F. Rosart from 1743 and 1756 were chosen. The first Zilverdistel edition was robust and looked squarely-built (287 x 228 mm). Enschedé printed the first books not on a hand press but the cylinder press. The word ‘hand press’ did not appear in the correspondence, it was not (yet) an issue for the publishers.
KShort production time
Worstelingen (dedicated to M.A. Eck, a childhood friend) contained at the end the poem ‘Terugblik’ [Review], dated 20 October 1910. The book came into being at the end of December 1910. On 15 October 1910, Enschedé, as agreed, sent a proof page in a typeface and format thought suitable by the printer. On 3 November followed a ‘preliminary proof’ with a request to correct it. Van Eyck wished to confirm the typeface, paper and format, but the printer thought it advisable to completely compose the text and then make further decisions. On 9 November 1910 came a ‘corrected proof’. The size had increased to 56 pages: ‘3½ sheets of 16 pages’. Enschedé printed on half sheets of eight pages, hence it resulted in seven sheets that so ‘nicely thickened the book’. The proof was printed on ‘paper chosen by you for the print run’ and it was asked whether the printer’s device should be printed in red or black. Van Eyck had meanwhile visited the printers and possibly raised the subject of a second colour.
The entire book, including the printer’s device, was printed in black. On 24 November the printer again asked about the corrections. Co-Zilverdistelian J.C. Bloem inquired after the developments and asked Van Eyck, alluding to the title Worstelingen: ‘When will the gymnastics arrive?’ He tried to attract buyers but required an example, ‘that always makes them more acquisitive’.
On 23 December 1910 Enschedé sent two copies of Worstelingen to Van Eyck, one in a marbled and one in a blue Holland paper cover. Van Eyck had not made a choice ‘at your visit here’. A grey Ingres cover was chosen. Van Eyck inquired about the possibility of the book being bound in a ‘Magnus binding’ by C.J. Mensing of Amsterdam. Worstelingen was released stitched. Many copies were later given a private binding. The author/publisher received the entire edition before the New Year.
At a price of five guilders and in an edition of 40, the maximum yield would be 200 guilders. The invoice of 31 December 1910 was at first 130.05 guilders (nowadays approximately €1,300). 26 copies needed to be sold to recoup the costs and the profits could grow to about 70 guilders, minus the author’s fee (in this case probably omitted), postage and advertising costs. The order book stated, ‘40 Worstelingen by P.N. van Eyck 7 Sheets. In grey Ingres, with title label. 128.50. A box, 1.50 guilders’. (Postal fiscals cost five cents.) The box was needed for the shipping of the entire edition.
Van Eyck did not understand why the cost came out higher than the original quotation. On 3 February 1911 the printer answered that the method of stitching had changed, cover labels had been printed and there was heavier paper used, but it was mainly about the additional correction: ‘Correction not yours but ours. – These deluxe works are especially well made. – Everything was checked again, less perfect and erroneous letters cleaned up, and then when the form was on the press, the print was subject anew to a revision and stripped of flaws’. The line spacing was also examined extra thoroughly. The costs could only be calculated afterwards, but Enschedé was willing to keep to the quotation (110 guilders). Enschedé did charge 8.50 guilders for contingencies and the packaging costs remained. With that, the printing costs came to 120 guilders. An agreement on the price was reached on 18 February 1911, after Enschedé made clear that the ‘special types’ had demanded extra attention with typesetting and printing. Van Eyck recorded an amount of 111.50 in his ledger plus an extra 4.50 for expenses. The entire production had taken just over three months. The author numbered all copies in the colophon and added his signature. (PvC)
P.N. van Eyck,Worstelingen. ’s-Gravenhage, Uitgegeven door de “De Zilverdistel”, 1910, title page. MM: B 001 D 034. (MM)
P.N. van Eyck,Worstelingen. ’s-Gravenhage, Uitgegeven door de “De Zilverdistel”, 1910, colophon. MM: B 001 D 034. (MM)
The first buyers
On 4 January 1911, Bloem congratulated Van Eyck ‘on the occasion of this worthy publication of your artwork. I just looked through it while cutting and saw at once such beautiful fragments’. It seemed as if Bloem had seen the poem for the first time and even then did not immediately read the entire text. Probably Worstelingen was thus Greshoff’s or Van Eyck’s idea.
They tried to sell copies to friends and acquaintances, like the poet Geerten Gossaert and the novelist Aart van der Leeuw. A prospectus or circular was not printed; Greshoff’s advertising had possibly drawn enough attention. An old classmate of Bloem, the chemist R.T.A. (Reint) Mees (1890–1972) bought Worstelingen and ‘is committed to take all future editions of De Zilverdistel’. Mees published articles on private press books and also collected them. In July 1914 he visited Cobden-Sanderson and in London ‘threw himself entirely into book art’, but by late 1914, he had to cancel subscriptions at the Doves Press due to ‘financial difficulties’.
The influence of De Zilverdistel continued. ‘For a long time, I have held the ideal to become a printer and perhaps thereby also a publisher. My plans, which were first in the direction of the private presses, are somewhat changed to a democratic direction’. He meant something like Everyman’s Library and was convinced by others (such as De Roos) ‘that good printing really does not need to be more expensive than bad printing’. Mees did not become a publisher (unlike his brother C.A. Mees) but head engineer at the Patent Office. He would continue to follow De Zilverdistel until after the First World War, when his contact with Van Eyck, Greshoff and Van Royen petered out.
Bloem hoped to sell through antiquarian booksellers such as Meijer Elte of The Hague, but the distribution proceeded slowly. Van Eyck sent a copy to his favourite poet Albert Verwey (of the Generation of Eighty) only in September 1911, perhaps because a purchase by Verwey had still not occurred after some months. ‘It is in any case beautifully printed, real Enschedé work’ he wrote and Verwey found it ‘lovely’.
In November 1911 Greshoff advertised the first three Zilverdistel volumes in Het jaar der dichters (1912) with details of typeface, paper, format, print run and price. In May 1912 an advertisement was placed in De witte mier. In August 1912 there were still copies for sale; the book was sold out by 1915. In the late 1920s other collectors, such as Hendrik Boekenoogen, would try to buy the first Zilverdistel books as a retrograde completion of their collection of Dutch private press books. By then the sale of such editions proceeded only with difficulty. (PvC)
The typography of De Zilverdistel, 1910-1912
Greshoff initially took care of the advertising and text choice. He devoted himself to an edition of the Flemish poet, Jan van Nijlen (1884–1965), his contemporary, in which Bloem and Van Eyck had little interest. Van Eyck was now developing as an editor and administrator. However, none of his sketches for the layout or typographic notes have been kept. In the beginning, Bloem was involved with the typography.
In 1911, the three publishers arrived at arbitrary decisions together or independently, one incidence of which was Greshoff’s wilful advertising policy. Authors were also involved in the typographical choices. The books, contrary to what was often claimed, were not ‘fully left to the concern’ of the printer. The layout was thus determined by personal preferences and this composite of tastes was a deviation from the private press ideal in which the design was left to one individual artist.
Remarkable for the time (but identical to Boutens’ earlier typographical attempts) was that illustrations and decoration were omitted, a feature of the modern book design that focused on the typeface. Also typical for a trio without a printing press was that it leaned heavily on the strong traditions of the printing shop.
The first four Zilverdistels ‘miss an individual and original character’, wrote later critics, who found the format ‘impressive’. With subsequent Zilverdistel editions, Van Royen’s involvement went much further and the contrast between the early and later Zilverdistels was detrimental to the first editions. These four books, known as ‘the first period of De Zilverdistel’, were certainly encircled with concern by the publishers and authors. The result nevertheless had something of the nineteenth century: the quarto format gave an old fashioned, monumental impression, partly due to ‘the heavy, old Holland paper’, the old type, the ‘wide line spacing and very large margin’.
Influence from a distance: Jan van Nijlen
Van Nijlen’s Naar ’t geluk was discussed on 18 February 1911 with the printer and on 6 March the copy was received. The author (who had married on 7 February) did not go to Haarlem to give personal instructions. The book appeared very much like Worstelingen. Typeface, paper, format and layout were partly suggested by the printer and decided upon by Van Eyck. However, Van Nijlen was consulted for the cover, which was a choice of two samples, and he had to approve the proof for the cover. But Van Eyck corrected the text and on 5 April he gave his imprimatur. On 6 May the printed book proved to be ‘not in order’. Van Eyck intricately described what was wrong and did not perceive how simple the problem was. The binder wrongly folded the first quire: the print run was returned and the error corrected.
The collection of poems, completed in May 1911, provided De Zilverdistel with some influence in Belgium. F.V. Toussaint van Boelaere wanted to be an editor of De Zilverdistel. He and Ary Delen found Naar ’t geluk ‘expensive’ but ‘superb’. A few months later, they took up the plan to publish a similar series of books in Flanders under the name ‘Zonnewende’ [Solstice]. This failed. (PvC)
P.N. van Eyck,Worstelingen. ’s-Gravenhage, Uitgegeven door de “De Zilverdistel”, 1910, p. 14-15. MM: B 001 D 034 2b. (MM)
An author and his choice of type: Geerten Gossaert
Titles of German and Dutch books served as examples in the correspondence about De Zilverdistel. English or American examples extensively discussed in Het drukkersjaarboek were not labelled as such. The beginning of the Netherlands’ private press movement was influenced more by the German than the English ‘printing revival’. Nevertheless, the format and type deviated from German examples, such as Das schöne Mädchen von Pao (1910) and the editions of Hans von Weber, Der Nibelung Nôt (1910) and Kudrun (1911), which were printed by Enschedé. Also, they did not compare with earlier Dutch editions such as Verwey’s poetry collection mentioned by Bloem, Uit de lage landen bij de zee [From the lowlands by the sea] (printed in 1904 by Enschedé for Versluys publishers).
In January 1911, Bloem – of all people – suggested the Verwey edition as an example for the third Zilverdistel edition: Experimenten by Gossaert. He suggested going to The Hague in order to determine ‘directly form, paper and type for our 3 prepared works’. He proposed at least one de luxe edition on Japanese paper and wanted Experimenten to be printed with the type of Uit de lage landen bij de zee, ‘at least if Enschedé still has it’.
For Experimenten an italic Fleischman type was eventually chosen in consultation between publisher, author and printer. Gossaert (pseudonym of the businessman and historian F.C. Gerretson (1884–1958), made arrangements with the ‘foreman’ at the printers at the end of August 1911. Enschedé later apologized: he was on holiday and so missed a discussion about typography and fine printing with Gossaert. Gossaert pondered the format of Vondel’s Adam in ballingschap [Exile] (printed by Enschedé for Oosthoek publishers of Utrecht, 1910). It was printed not in octavo, but in quarto, a smaller size thus than the previous Zilverdistels.
In July 1911, Van Eyck suggested an italic Gando type (1795) and Gossaert chose the italic type of the Bierbaum edition (both the Bierbaum and Vondel were probably shown to him at the printers) but the printer nudged attention towards the Fleischman (16 pt italic) and advised against the use of ‘fussy’ initials. In fact, through this author, Enschedé introduced variation in the layout of De Zilverdistel publications. The type for Worstelingen and Naar ’t geluk could be used again, ‘but you and I now want something different’.
The position of Gossaert was more than that of author. Enschedé thanked him ‘for your commission’ for the typesetting and printing of Experimenten while writing to Van Eyck that the commission had been received through Gossaert as middleman. Van Eyck ordered 40 copies and Gossaert later changed that to 60. The book was finally delivered to the author’s home in Rotterdam. Enschedé agreed with the author on the ‘format, sort of type, paper, etc.’ and reported as much to Van Eyck who was in contact with Gossaert on the matter. Thus arose a triangle of typographic consultation in which the printer demanded his freedom.
Gossaert’s page layout was ‘unfortunate’ due to the unequal length of the poems. Owing to spaces being too large, poem XVI for example was composed anew, for which a few stanzas (pages 41–43) had to be broken. ‘Some liberty should be allowed to the printer because he too has his demands’. The triangle did not always work well; Gossaert forgot the colophon and Van Eyck blamed that shortcoming on the printer.
At completion, Bloem criticized the printing as ‘not flawless’. In one of the copies (number 22) the poem ‘Het verlaten landhuis’ appeared too faint; and yet the text showed through on the verso in every copy: ‘That is not permitted in a bibliophile edition’. The 60 copies were stitched in red combed marbled paper with a title label pasted on. This book marked the first mention of De Zilverdistel in the printer’s order book. Gossaert wanted one copy printed on vellum, but due to the haste of De Zilverdistel to have the book published on 1 October it was unavailable and a copy was printed on Japanese paper (now in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek). The printers arranged for it to be bound in vellum. Gossaert was unhappy because it was ‘spoiled through carelessness of printers or binders’. Indeed in many places, the wet ink had set off on the facing page, but the printer pointed out the haste of the publisher; he would normally have first allowed the book to dry thoroughly.(PvC)
G. Gossaert, Experimenten. ’s-Gravenhage, Uitgegeven door “De Zilverdistel”, 1911, p. 18-19. KB: 50 F 11. (KB)
G. Gossaert, Experimenten. ’s-Gravenhage, Uitgegeven door “De Zilverdistel”, 1911, colophon. KB: 50 F 11. (KB)
G. Gossaert, Experimenten. ’s-Gravenhage, Uitgegeven door “De Zilverdistel”, 1911, upper cover with label. KB: 50 F 11. (KB)
Long discussions: Albert Verwey
For the fourth edition, Van Eyck regularly met with the author, Albert Verwey, whose wishes always were countered with new proposals by Van Eyck. Verwey had certain ideas about typography, Van Eyck, however, had others. Verwey did not wish to see italic capitals, ‘except only for the word Contents’. In August 1912 the printer’s quotation arrived and Van Eyck retorted: ‘I would advise you not to print the captions at the top of the page’. The title would be swimming ‘completely at the top of the void’. Also, the title was centred and the poem was not, so it could seem that the title was too much ‘to one side’.
Van Eyck did not realize that he could choose to set the title only optically at centre. There were disputes about the obsolete habit to which Verwey appeared to be attached: he referred to seventeenth-century books in which the running title held the page in balance. He found the page numbering at the bottom of the page ‘ugly’ and gave new suggestions on the format.
Verwey wanted the book to look like his poetry collection, Uit de lage landen bij de zee. De Roos described it in 1910 as a ‘more successfully printed book’, even though the typography was unbalanced. The type area of Het eigen rijk was changed. The poems were not centred vertically, otherwise a short poem started lower down the page, which Van Eyck saw as a typographical error: ‘Throughout the whole book I consistently keep to the same height as for the beginning’. It did mean that some poems did not fit on one page. Poems with long lines were set as solid matter.
After countless directives from the poet (whom he regarded as his master), Van Eyck gained every freedom: ‘in the meantime, I intend to prescribe nothing’. Van Eyck had to follow his own judgement and make a real Zilverdistel. But Verwey’s approval was needed for just about everything, including the price. He demanded six presentation copies (three was normal) from an edition of 60. Eventually there were officially 100 copies printed (actually 105). This large print run was probably a mistake because even in 1925 the edition was not yet sold out.
For this fourth Zilverdistel the first prospectus was printed (print run: 250) and sent out in early October 1912. Over a year earlier Bloem had proposed the printing of a prospectus for the unrealized edition by Labberton-Drabbe. He then asked Van Eyck for 50 or 60 circulars. With the third edition, Gossaert asked who would send the ‘order form’ but there is no mention of order forms in the order books and correspondence with Enschedé. Since the fourth Zilverdistel each book had a prospectus with an order form for which the print runs ranged between 100 and 320.
Enschedé’s printer’s mark did not have to be used but it would do no harm as it was a recognized mark of quality. Van Eyck found that it needed no extra emphasis because it was no ‘publisher’s mark’. This remark could indicate that in 1912 he wanted to make De Zilverdistel into a real publishing house. (PvC)
Prospectus voor Albert Verwey, Het eigen rijk. ‘s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1912, p. 1. Particuliere collectie. (MM)
Albert Verwey, Het eigen rijk. ‘s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1912, titelpagina. KB: 1771 C 121. (KB)
Albert Verwey, Het eigen rijk. ‘s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1912, p. 92-93. KB: 1771 C 121. (KB)
Albert Verwey, Het eigen rijk. ‘s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1912, p. 144 (met colofon). KB: 1771 C 121. (KB)
Old Dutch types
Enschedé had so many types from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that the choice would seem a hopeless task for a layman. The only experts at the time were at the printers. In 1908, the director, Charles Enschedé (1855–1919), published his overview of the type held by the printers. The choice of old type for modern poetry may seem strange at first, but in 1910 the modern Dutch typefaces did not exist: after all, the first appeared only in 1912: the Hollandsche Mediaeval by De Roos. The printers regularly pointed out that working with the old type was not without problems. Sometimes additional letters had to be re-cast, as for Het eigen rijk in October 1912.
With the first four editions of De Zilverdistel, neither the format nor the typeface was standard. The typography was determined anew for each book, in consultation between printer and publisher and between publisher and author. At the time, the layout and design of the printing was at the highest level of publishing in the Netherlands by commercial publishers such as Brusse, Versluys and Van Kampen. Hence these publications stood head and shoulders above the average such as that of the major publisher Veen and the Wereldbibliotheek.
The voice of the author counted in matters such as misprints, cover paper, typeface, format and layout. The printer also suggested the format and typeface. The publishers had their say about all elements. With some books the printer had more influence on layout than with others. The similarities in the layout of the first Zilverdistel with other books printed by Enschedé were wide margins, title page layout (it was centred horizontally and vertically) and standard justifying of the imprint with crosses.
One deviation, for example, was pagination: from top left and right to centre bottom. Section breaks were sometimes not emphasized (Gossaert, Verwey), and then sometimes emphasized by a dash below (Van Eyck) or a dash above and below each poem (Van Nijlen). Even titles above poems, tables of contents and colophon varied. The Gossaert edition was without both colophon and table of contents. The publishers (especially Van Eyck) were insufficiently technically informed to know the possibilities and difficulties, and on the other hand, Van Eyck’s instructions were not always understood.
In the eyes of Van Eyck, Enschedé sometimes committed typographical sins. When there was insufficient type for Het eigen rijk, Enschedé suggested using a second typeface for the table of contents: ‘Printers are very curious people, and old Mr Charles Enschedé, the typography leader of the business, in particular’, wrote Van Eyck. ‘That is also a terrible shame of Enschedé to use so many typefaces (and on a title page)’. Enschedé had to, because the large size in the Rosart was not on hand for the Fleischman.
The printer was a diplomat, with an affinity for the aspirations of the young poets but without forgetting his business interests. He edited the wishes of the publishers to produce an acceptable result, but the initiative lay with the De Zilverdistelians and their choice of Enschedé was sensible. Yet the design of the first four books was too much of a mixture of tastes to propagate the true private press idea. (PvC)
De Zilverdistel, 1912-1914
In 1912, Van Eyck explored the possibility of making a living (only) from De Zilverdistel: ‘There is profit in it’; not in Dutch poetry, but in German, French or English texts. Just before the First World War, De Zilverdistel sailed into turbulent waters: Greshoff and Bloem stepped out; Van Royen stepped in with new typographic ideas.
Although Van Eyck no longer wished to share the proceeds with Greshoff and Bloem, within a year he had drawn up a contract with J.F. van Royen, who would share in the profits. Then he left for Rome as correspondant for the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche courant (NRC) (April 1914). In late December 1915 he returned to the Netherlands. During his absence, much was left to Van Royen, who operated as sole leader of the publishers. That would lead to a schism, but first to a deepening of the ideals of De Zilverdistel: step-by-step towards the hand press, a self-designed type and finally ownership of a private printing press. Enschedé’s printer’s mark no longer appeared in the books.
The triumvirate disbanded
Just like their clients, the three editors of De Zilverdistel were collectors with bookplates and collections that were later auctioned or bequeathed to libraries. Greshoff turned away from limited editions. Bloem continued to worry about typography, but he sold the rare Boutens edition of Leopold’s Verzen [Verses] when a new commercial edition appeared. As a collector Bloem was a hoarder and a debtor. Van Eyck spent much money on his collection, sometimes at the expense of housing. He displayed his ‘beautiful bibliophile editions’ to visitors with pride. Reint Mees, who knew the trio well and also befriended Van Royen, paid them visits ‘to see a great deal in the area of book art’. He saw much ‘English book art’ at Van Royen’s and Van Eyck’s; early on, Greshoff and Van Royen also had German books.
Love of literature was of course no practical basis for a publisher. Technical knowledge was necessary and that was held most strongly by Greshoff, although he did not occupy himself with technical production. He supported his interest in typography with practical knowledge. In 1911 he learned the etching technique and produced a few landscapes and floral studies.
After he left De Zilverdistel, in June 1912 he was apprenticed to the then revolutionary printing shop of Franciscus Nicolaas MacDonald (1887–1960) at 58 Broerstraat in Nijmegen. He worked ‘even at the type-cases’. This benefited his own work for the typography periodical De witte mier and his collaboration with the Apeldoorn publisher C.M.B. Dixon from 1912 to 1917. Van Eyck was once guilty of drawing a decorative border in an old Baudelaire edition. Later he drew the initials for Verlaine’s Romances sans paroles (De Zilverdistel, 1914).
In September 1912 Van Eyck wrote: ‘Probably De Zilverdistel will become mine alone’. In November, Greshoff made public that Bloem and he would withdraw from De Zilverdistel so Van Eyck could realize his ideas about book arts. Van Eyck wanted to publish ‘fine and rare books’ and pursued ‘pure typography, without decorations’.
The sphere of influence changed. The examples were no longer German, but English. Furthermore, Morris and Ricketts were not the models, but Cobden-Sanderson. Meanwhile, Van Eyck was too busy with his law studies, his fiancée and literary articles to manage De Zilverdistel alone. For future income he threw himself into the Baudelaire edition.
‘My Baudelaire has cost me dear but I have the chance of a nice profit’, which would prevent him having to seek a job ‘If I want to marry soon after my PhD, then the profits of a few successful editions will be absolutely necessary’. After all, a publishing house does not take up so much time. ‘Anyway, once the book is set up, then everything takes care of itself. If necessary, I can check the proofs during meals’.
Greshoff pulled out first and unconditionally: his contract with Dixon did not permit a second publisher’s role. For Bloem, resignation was not a problem because he already did little but he wanted affairs to be well organized: ‘as the situation is now, each gets a free copy of our editions and the profits are divided between the three of us’. Van Eyck did not want to provide more complimentary copies. Bloem found it outrageous that he should withdraw without compensation from ‘a commercial firm – for that is still what we are, albeit in miniature’. He remained entitled to a free copy of all De Zilverdistel editions.
That Greshoff no longer received a free copy was due to ‘exaggerated pragmatism’: he could have a 50 per cent discount instead. In June 1913, Bloem still received 25 guilders as a final payment. The matter was not contractually regulated, so that in 1916 the dispute continued about the right to a share of the profits.
In December 1912 the matter was brought to a close. There was a steady clientele attracted by starting a Vereeniging der Vijftig [Association of Fifty] (the effect was not felt until some years later). Van Eyck initiated an (over) ambitious publishing program with a series of 12 medieval texts. Only Lanseloet and Suster Bertken were (after great delay) realized. A second unrealized series concerned Dutch poets of the Golden Age (Vondel, Hooft, Bredero and Poot). He also wished to publish ‘eminent modern works’, but primarily English, German and French literature.
The following appeared in succession in this period: Leopold Andrian’s Der Garten der Erkenntnis (July 1913); Leopold Andrian’s Gedichte (August 1913); P.N. van Eyck’s Bevrijding[Liberation] (colophon August 1913, published in September 1913); Charles Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal (colophon 25 October 1913, published November 1913); Een abel spel van Lanseloet van Denemerken (colophon September 1913, published in December 1913); Paul Verlaine’s Romances sans paroles (colophon 30 October, 1913, published April 1914); and Novalis’ Die Gedichte (colophon June 1915, published August 1915). (PvC)
Ets door Jan Greshoff, 1911, gedateerd en gesigneerd: ‘ J.Gr. 9-V-11’. MM: EPH 369. (MM)
Paul Verlaine, Romances sans paroles. La Haye, De Zilverdistel, 1913, p. 3, detail. KB: 52 E 22. (KB)
Paul Verlaine, Romances sans paroles. La Haye, De Zilverdistel, 1913, p. 48 (colophon). KB: 52 E 22. (KB)
Leopold Andrian, Gedichte. Haag, De Zilverdistel, 1913, p. 26-27. KB: 165 D 9. (KB)
Leopold Andrian, Gedichte. Haag, De Zilverdistel, 1913, p. 28-29 (colophon). KB: 165 D 9. (KB)
Charles Baudelaire, Les fleurs du mal. La Haye, De Zilverdistel (Paris, M.A. Blaizot distr.), 1913, p. 272-273. MM: B 002 D 017. (MM)
Charles Baudelaire, Les fleurs du mal. La Haye, De Zilverdistel (Paris, M.A. Blaizot distr.), 1913. KB: 50 D 18. (KB: JU)
Zilverdistel books, published and in preparatio, MCMX-MCMXIV. 's-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1915, p. 6. MM: B 002 D 022. (MM)
The arrival of J.F. van Royen
Greshoff knew Jean François van Royen from The Hague ‘arts and crafts’ circles, coaxed articles from him for De witte mier and quickly became on first-name terms. In 1912 Van Royen also became acquainted with Van Eyck and on 10 September 1912, received a (late ordered) copy of Worstelingen from him. Van Royen (1878–1942) was then already an active collector of private press books purchased directly from the Eragny Press, Doves Press (July 1912) or the Hyperion Verlag and the Januspresse; he also bought through dealers. In July 1913, he immersed himself in calligraphy based on Edward Johnston’s Writing & illuminating, & lettering. He joined the national postal and telephone services (PTT) in 1904 where from 1912 he was occupied with aesthetic design.
In 1920 he was retroactively named as ‘general secretary’ and became responsible for the ‘house style’. Amongst other things, he commissioned artists for stamps and furniture and his duties also included the summoning of local authorities about ‘the road-works after cable laying’. His influence grew partly because of his managerial engagement in numerous organisations in the field of applied art, such as the VANK (Association of Traditional Crafts and Applied Arts) and Film Society of The Hague.
According to Mees, De Zilverdistel sought his advice when Verwey’s Het eigen rijk was ‘ready for press’ (1912). However, the contract between Van Eyck and Van Royen was signed only on 22 June 1913. The arrangement was to together publish ‘books of a bibliophile character’, ‘under the common name of “De Zilverdistel”’. The profit was to be divided into three: one third was to be invested in the company, the rest distributed fifty–fifty to the partners. Also, each of them would receive five presentation copies. (Statute 8 provided that Bloem received one copy.) Termination of the contract was invalid in cases of force majeure and this covered moving to another location, such as Van Eyck’s stay in Rome and later in London.
Most of the work was soon given to Van Royen. From 1913, Van Royen exchanged more letters with the Enschedé publishers than Van Eyck; from 12 March 1914 the contact was only through Van Royen. The way they worked differed enormously. Van Eyck designed a book by cutting and pasting (‘the book form with all the glued bits which this entails’). With the Verlaine he found it ‘awkward with all those mottos and those narrow verses’. He tried to control the process through long missives and dozens of corrections but rarely visited the printers.
Van Royen was an active networker. In May 1913 he visited Lucien and Esther Pissarro in London, the beginning of a lifelong friendship for him and his wife Gusta. He would intensify his contacts in London over the following years: he sought advice from C.H. St.J. Hornby, Cobden-Sanderson, J.H. Mason and others and was encouraged by their kindly words about De Zilverdistel. Van Royen dared to appear more and more on the work floor at the printers. Between June and December 1913 he visited ten times, probably related to the Verlaine edition. Between February 1914 and June 1915 he travelled to Haarlem 22 times for the Novalis edition; 11 times in May alone. He began a new edition in 1913 with a ‘detailed report about the printing of Lanseloet’.
Despite these different approaches they did work closely together. In January 1913 the work was neatly divided: ‘At each time Mr. Van Royen takes one book in hand, I another’. The reality was more inconsistent. Van Eyck, for example, interfered with the Lanseloet edition that Van Royen was preparing and he corrected proofs. Enschedé spoke not only with Van Royen about typographical issues with this book, but also consulted Van Eyck about the layout because the printer was irritated with ‘the equal line spacing of the names’. Van Royen also busied himself with the Andrian editions under Van Eyck’s preparation.
Meanwhile, Enschedé was not the only printer with whom they worked. Van Eyck inquired about the cost of printing at Ipenbuur & Van Seldam, but later commissioned two Zilverdistel books from G.W. van der Wiel & Co of Arnhem. In December 1912 agreement was reached over the Baudelaire edition (part had already been composed at Enschedé’s) and Van Eyck’s own collection Bevrijding was printed there, both in the Hollandsche Mediaeval.
The Baudelaire edition, with a print run of 310 copies, was a profitable publication, partly because 150 copies were distributed by the Blaizot bookshop in Paris, and partly because the costs remained within limits. Van Eyck contested the invoice and managed to get a ten per cent reduction. There were 293 copies sold for more than 3000 guilders, half of which was profit. For this edition instructions were given by Van Royen and Van Eyck, and also S.H. de Roos. But the printer Van der Wiel had most to do for Van Eyck. He declared that he ‘has never worked for someone who made so many demands’. (PvC)
Foto van J.F. van Royen, 1896, Bezuidenhout 189, The Hague. Private collection. (MM)
J.F. van Royen, photograph from: Persoonlijkheden in het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in woord en beeld: Nederlanders en hun werk. Amsterdam, Van Holkema & Warendorf’s U.M., 1938, p. 1261. KB: LHO AW.B 11 NL PERS. (KB)
Satirical portrait of J.F. van Royen by Ton van Tast (pseudonym of Anton van der Valk). Private collection. (MM)
Willem Kloos, Verzen. Amsterdam, Versluys, 1894, with a proof sheet for Een boecxken gemaket van Suster Bertken (1918) als omslag. MM: Obj. 1397. (MM)
Paul von der Aelst, Blumm und Außbund Allerhandt Außerlesener Weltlicher, Züchtiger Lieder und Rheymen. München, Hyperion-Verlag, 1912, p. 423. KB: 3 A 1. (KB)
A.F.A. van Royen-Saltet, ‘Voorhofje “The Brook”, Hammersmith’, 1949, drawing in a sketchbook, pl. 15. Private collection. (MM)
A.F.A. van Royen-Saltet, ‘Achterhuis “The Brook”, 1949, drawing in a sketchbook, pl. 16. Private collection. (MM)
P.N. van Eyck, Bevrijding. Verzen. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1913, title page. MM: B 002 E 066. (MM)
P.N. van Eyck, Bevrijding. Verzen. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1913, p. 2-3. MM: B 002 E 066. (MM)
P.N. van Eyck, *Bevrijding. Verzen. * ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1913, colophon. MM: B 002 E 066. (MM)
The German market
As well as the French market, De Zilverdistel also wanted to conquer the German, and made the attempt with two editions of Leopold Andrian (1875–1951), an Austrian diplomat stationed in Warsaw. Andrian did not have his editions to hand, which caused problems during production. There were many alterations and corrections by Andrian which Van Eyck did not agree with. With Der Garten der Erkenntnis he decided to have 35 copies printed in Andrian’s desired version and the remaining 100 in his own preferred version. This he described to the printer as ‘a weighty thing!’
The editions differed, e.g. on page 28 (line 9 from top) version I reads ‘ein solches Leben ist’ and version II, ‘ein solches Leben erscheint’. On page 35 (lines 7 to 8 from bottom), version I, ‘weil in dieser geheimnisvollen [...] eine Erkenntnis ist’ becomes in version II, ‘weil diese geheimnisvolle, [...] eine Erkenntnis verspricht’. These were actually minor differences; a commercial publisher would not consider publishing two different editions.
Enschedé disagreed with some typographic interventions by Van Eyck who did not want indented paragraphs. The printer gossiped about this with the poet Boutens but did exhibit the work one month later at an international graphics exhibition in Amsterdam.
In Germany, copies sold little by little. The exclusive selling rights were granted to the antiquarian Horst Stobbe of Munich who took 60 copies. He was more cautious about the other Zilverdistels. He increased sales with advertisements in periodicals (including Der Zwiebelfisch). He took on fewer copies of the second edition, Andrian’s Gedichte. In Germany, the ‘Drucke der Zilverdistel’ was displayed in the Netherlands entry (edited by Van Royen) for the Internationale Ausstellung für Buchgewerbe und Graphik in Leipzig, 1914. (PvC)
Leopold Andrian, Der Garten der Erkenntnis. Haag, De Zilverdistel, 1913, proof copy with manuscript corrections by P.N. van Eyck, front cover. MM: B 004 A 020. (MM)
Leopold Andrian, Der Garten der Erkenntnis. Haag, De Zilverdistel, 1913, proof copy with manuscript corrections by P.N. van Eyck, p. 28-29. MM: B 004 A 020. (MM)
Leopold Andrian, Der Garten der Erkenntnis. Haag, De Zilverdistel, 1913, proof copy with manuscript corrections by P.N. van Eyck, p. 35. MM: B 004 A 020. (MM)
Leopold Andrian, Der Garten der Erkenntnis. Haag, De Zilverdistel, 1913, front cover. KB: 165 D 15. (KB)
Leopold Andrian, Der Garten der Erkenntnis. Haag, De Zilverdistel, 1913, p. 28-29. KB: 165 D 15. (KB)
Leopold Andrian, Der Garten der Erkenntnis. Haag, De Zilverdistel, 1913, p. 35. KB: 165 D 15. (KB)
A new or an older way of production?
In May 1913 it came to light that the production rate was lower than Van Eyck intended due to lack of type: Suster Bertken was cancelled because the type was ‘tied’ to other projects. The ideas of Van Royen resulted in more delays. He suggested printing on the hand press rather than the cylinder press and under ‘personal supervision’.
According to Enschedé, this outdated method did not deserve recommendation. Van der Wiel also wrote that the result demanded by De Zilverdistel ‘could only be achieved on the cylinder press’. For the rest, Enschedé did as Van Royen requested and put the hand press printer to work ‘as William Morris did. But neither as printer or type-founder, would I willingly follow his example’. Van Royen thought that printing on the cylinder press was not black enough. The Verlaine, Lanseloet and Novalis editions were printed on the hand press. The result was that the printing for De Zilverdistel sometimes stopped completely.
The printers earned more by printing postage stamps and bank notes; staff were often set to print them. ‘Yes, that hand press printing is a silly story’, wrote Enschedé, ‘we are not equipped to use these presses for normal book work – who is?’ It was apparently so confusing for Enschedé that later it was reported that the Andrian editions had already been printed on the hand press as well.
The involvement of Van Royen with the actual printing became increasingly fundamental. He went to Haarlem to personally dampen the paper before it was printed because his instructions (taken from his British advisors, especially Hornby) did not produce good results. He also came for printing without line spacing and registration. Van Royen had less haste than Van Eyck and left the printed books to dry thoroughly before sending (‘6 to 8 days’). He commented tirelessly on initials, commas, semicolons, paragraph marks, paper and ink. Fifteen years later at the printers there was still ‘a vivid recollection of the despair to which one of the best compositors in the world and an excellent hand-press printer were reduced in the course of this work’.
Van Royen wrote to Hornby on the publication of Novalis: ‘You found the weak spot in the book: the red printing’. He himself had stood at the press: ‘I could only print the black myself’; the rest was printed the next day in his absence. ‘The pressman had a real struggle with his rollers’ and there was something wrong with the red ink. That was in 1915 and Van Royen already knew that at the end of the year his own printing press would be available in The Hague.
But this transition to a true private press was gradual. First, a personal printer’s mark was designed by the architect and designer K.P.C. de Bazel. The stylized silver thistle was completed in October 1913; it was first used in the colophon of the Lanseloet edition (1913) and from then on mainly on vellum bindings.
The next step was an exclusive typeface. In July 1913, Van Royen asked the printers to make a new typeface for De Zilverdistel: a design was not yet made. Enschedé would then use the type exclusively for De Zilverdistel. After a discussion with his associates, Enschedé wrote that they believed that ‘that it is not desirable for a publisher [to print] his editions always with the same type’. But what Van Royen desired, came about. ‘The cutting of the typeface comes to 2500 guilders’; the matrices and casting of sufficient type would cost the printers another 500 guilders.
Enschedé wondered for how long De Zilverdistel would be committed to his firm – no strange question now that books were also printed by Van der Wiel – and asked about the amount of compensation due in case the relationship between publisher and printer would cease. Enschedé advised against the proposal by return mail and also did not wish to modernize an old type. Van Royen would still get his personal type: one year later, in July 1914, he made arrangements with De Roos about the Zilver type. Enschedé would earn nothing from it because this type was produced by the Amsterdam Type Foundry.
The books of De Zilverdistel increasingly acquired an English private press character, primarily through the layout, but also by the use of a red spot colour and wood-engraved titles, e.g. in the Novalis edition. Electroprinting was used in order to save the woodblock. Van Royen explicitly demonstrated his ‘visible’ typography with Novalis. Lines of special poems were given wider line spacing, e.g. at the beginning in the poem ‘Zueignung’ and at the end in ‘Hymne’.
The Van Royens visited Enschedé and his wife in October 1915 to congenially conclude their association with a final visit. The remainder of the paper supplied by De Zilverdistel (nearly 2000 sheets) was returned to The Hague. The Enschedé printers became one of the usual suppliers (e.g. of hand rolls).
Van Eyck was still in Italy and felt ‘excluded’. On 14 July 1914 he wrote that he did not feel like ‘becoming a pointless money-raking nonentity’. His collaboration became almost impossible due to the outbreak of the First World War. After his return to the Netherlands on 30 December 1915, he lived in Driebergen but worked at The Hague department of crisis affairs of the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce (1916–1919) before moving to London. He could again devote himself to editorial work for De Zilverdistel.(PvC)
De Zilverdistel, 1913-1918. KB: 24 D 46; 165 D 16; 165 D 19; MM: B 002 D 021; KB: 54 F 21; MM: pp ned Zilverdistel 1918.01; B 002 D 019; B 005 F 013; KB: 165 D 13; MM: B 001 E 036; B 002 E 037; KB: 165 D 17; Private collection. (KB: JU)
De Zilverdistel, 1913-1918. KB: 24 D 46; 165 D 16; 165 D 19; MM: B 002 D 021; KB: 54 F 21; MM: pp ned Zilverdistel 1918.01; B 002 D 019; B 005 F 013; KB: 165 D 13; MM: B 001 E 036; B 002 E 037; KB: 165 D 17; Private collection. (KB: JU)
De Zilverdistel 1914-1922
Van Royen’s attempt in July 1913 to acquire a private type from Enschedé failed, but shortly afterwards when he became acquainted with William Anton Engelbrecht (1874–1965), he seized the chance to set up his own private press. Engelbrecht was a partner in the Rotterdam shipbroker firm Wambersie & Son, active in the iron-ore trade and shipping. He developed the same broad interests and administrative responsibilities as Van Royen. Their meeting in September 1913 stemmed from their interest in Willem Witsen.
Van Royen wanted to loan a painting from Engelbrecht’s collection for an exhibition. He also hoped ‘to inspect your Chaucer by Morris’. Engelbrecht would expand his collection of private press books over the next few years. Early January 1914 he bought the Zilverdistel edition of Baudelaire. Halfway through the year they discussed the beginning of a private press and in August Engelbrecht assured Van Royen that ‘the transportation of the press from England to the Netherlands will go very well and also will be easy to insure against loss through all marine and war risks’. The ‘disruptive circumstances’ of the First World War, which had just broken out, were no reason to abandon the plan.
Engelbrecht became his patron. In mid-September 1914 Van Royen ordered an Albion press from Payne & Sons through Lucien Pissarro, who also had one. ‘With this it was possible that details could be added’ which would enhance the freshness and purity of the work. ‘In Holland and Germany these particulars are unknown’. The adjustments were perhaps related to the tympan and the form.
The press weighed 1200 kg and Van Royen’s brother Rudolf calculated that ‘whether that thing will sag through the ceiling’. The composing and printing rooms were arranged on the top floor of Van Royen’s house at 43 Van Boetzelaerlaan in The Hague: the composing room in a small side room, the press in the large adjoining balcony room at the rear of the property. The floor was reinforced with a 4 cm thick framework. The type weighed 800 kg. Van Royen formulated detailed instructions for the setting up of the press which in December 1914 ‘with great interest from the neighbourhood [was] hoisted into the house’.
The financing was simply arranged. Wambersie would reimburse the costs made by Van Royen with cheques. Engelbrecht paid for the purchase and installation of the press and two new types. The costs amounted to approximately 5800 guilders from which Engelbrecht received nothing in return. A written agreement was lacking, but his involvement remained undisputed even after the death of Van Royen. When the heirs donated the press with archive to the Dutch state, Engelbrecht’s name stood in the deed of donation.
S.H. de Roos designed the Zilver type and Pissarro the Distel type (cut by Edward Prince); the Amsterdam Type Foundry cast both types. The Distel type, based on Carolingian script and Italian incunabula, was intended as ‘a powerful, as it were, youthful type’ for publications of medieval religious songs and literature from the Golden Age (a reference to Van Eyck’s older publishing programme). ‘De Roos’ type’, he wrote to Engelbrecht, who was kept informed of every detail, ‘is more modern (though relying on the most beautiful renaissance scripts such as Jenson and Ratdolt)’ and would be used for the ‘new writers’ that is to say, ‘Shelley, Keats, Browning’.
As with Enschedé, Van Royen threw all his knowledge and ideas into the struggle to design the type. He commented on their drafts in dozens of letters to De Roos and Pissarro. Both designers expertly handled the ‘fuss over such a type’.
De Roos’ type was delayed partly because the working drawings were sent by the foundry in March 1915 (the punches were to be engraved in Germany) and became lost. Consequently, Van Royen suddenly had spare time that he filled ‘with the printing of Novalis by Enschedé, our last book there’. In November 1915 the first of the Zilver type arrived at Van Royen’s, ‘It’s magnificent! So I am thus burning to finally get going with composing and printing’. The Distel type was not ready until late 1916.
On 22 November 1915, Van Royen was as happy as a child when he first set a text in Zilver type: ‘Last night at 6 o’clock was an historic moment!’ He hand printed a proof which, although he described it as ‘very imperfect’, he felt ‘looked like a page from an Italian incunable’.
Finally he printed one book for De Zilverdistel in Distel type, Suster Bertken (colophon April 1918, published in July 1918) and four in Zilver type: Over boekkunst en De Zilverdistel (colophon 28 March, 1916, published in June 1916); J.H. Leopold’s Cheops (colophon July 1916, published August 1916); Shelley’s Prometheus unbound (colophon May 1916 to November 1917, published in March 1918); and Willem Kloos, Verzen (colophon September 1919, published July 1920). Van Royen began Kunera Pers in 1922 and later printed - exactly the opposite in terms of type choice – four books in Distel type and one in Zilver type. (PvC)
Portretfoto van W.A. Engelbrecht, uit: Persoonlijkheden in het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in woord en beeld: Nederlanders en hun werk. Amsterdam, Van Holkema & Warendorf’s U.M., 1938, p. 437. KB: LHO AW.B 11 NL PERS. (KB)
The garden of 43 Van Boetzelaerlaan, The Hague, photograph, 1916; standing on the balcony in front of the printing room are A.F.A. (Gusta) van Royen-Saltet and her three children: Uus, Beatrice and Sebald. Private collection. (MM)
Photo of the house front at Van Boetzelaerlaan 43, The Hague, 1915: H.A.F.A. (Gusta) van Royen-Saltet, daughter Uus and J.F. van Royen stand at the window on the first floor. Private collection. (MM)
Printer’s device for De Zilverdistel, designed by Lucien Pissarro, 1917. Proof with corrections in pencil by J.F. van Royen and print from the electrotype after corrections. Private collection. (MM)
Friedrich von Hardenberg genannt Novalis, Die Gedichte. Im Haag, De Zilverdistel, 1915, p. 12-13. MM: B 002 D 020. (MM)
Solo in social context
In July 1914, Van Eyck understood that his position would completely change due to Van Royen’s private printing shop. He was only belatedly granted a share in the typefaces, but his comments were ignored. He briefly thought that he and Van Royen would pave the way to become printers in an ‘idealistic collaboration’, but Van Royen alluded to the end of De Zilverdistel ‘ in the present form’ and did not invite Van Eyck to participate in the new financial arrangement.
Yet Van Royen did not work in isolation. First there was Van Eyck, at least in the years 1916–1919, who was busy with editorial work for the Shelley and Kloos editions. He helped with the folding and packing (‘I folded all the books except for a single sheet of Kloos’) and he also sold copies. Van Eyck never stood at the rack or the press.
Assistants were sought, whose remuneration was not accounted for in the ledgers. Van Royen wrote to Engelbrecht in September 1914 that he had found a printer, an ‘old worker of the Government Printing Office’. The man was a hand press printer, ‘well-to-do’, orderly and had free time. ‘Could not better. Furthermore, a great love for the trade. He visited me one evening to see what we required; he thought the work from the hand press (Lanseloet, Verlaine, Novalis) superb and remarked on the great difference with the earlier books’.
His name was not recorded. But from the moment in December 1915 that Van Royen was ‘busily composing’ the prospectus for the Vereeniging der Vijftig, he had assistance. ‘Kop’, ‘Koos’ and his successor ‘Louis’ were mentioned. One note from Koos survives (‘Would you please tidy up some pages because there is no more spacing material. Koos’). He was certainly active around 1920, when Van Eyck inquired whether he was ‘decent [...] after all’. Koos, ‘the boy of the trade’ came for ‘the rougher work’; Van Royen never let the ‘rolling of the ink’, out of his hands.
Family members helped with the composition and distribution of text pages. Van Royen occasionally printed a small occasional piece for them, e.g. in 1917 a programme for an afternoon party for his three children (this was set in Hollandsche Mediaeval and not in one of the new types). (PvC)
Willem Kloos, Verzen uit de jaren 1880-1890. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1919, p. 3 (contents). MM: B 002 E 036. (MM)
Willem Kloos, Verzen uit de jaren 1880-1890. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1919, p. 8-9. MM: B 002 E 036. (MM)
Willem Kloos, Verzen uit de jaren 1880-1890. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1919, p. 20-21. MM: B 002 E 036. (MM)
Willem Kloos, Verzen uit de jaren 1880-1890. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1919, p. 60. MM: B 002 E 036. (MM)
Programma Pret maken op 21 juli 1917 by Guus, Sebald en Beatrice van Royen. Den Haag, printed on the press of De Zilverdistel, 1917. MM: VR 202 (MM)
De Zilverdistel abroad
From 1919, Van Eyck lived at 49 Russell Gardens, Golders Green, in London, where he tried to sell editions of De Zilverdistel. Some antiquarian booksellers found the price too high, other found the texts not English enough or the style too similar to the Doves Press. Van Eyck managed to sell a number of copies of the Shelley edition under the guise that it was ‘out of print’.
His stay in London made him an outsider in the Zilverdistel firm. The relationship was clearly strained after he heard on the grapevine: ‘Is De Zilverdistel splitting up?’. His informant Bloem could not understand it: ‘v. Royen can surely manage on his own?’ The contract between Van Eyck and Van Royen needed renewal. ‘Now that I live in England, I can do even less for De Zilverdistel than before’: i.e. editorial work, correction of texts and when he was in the Netherlands, folding.
‘It goes without saying that now suddenly a different financial arrangement must be affected’, wrote Van Eyck, who wanted to remain a partner of De Zilverdistel and retain the right to a few copies in exchange for his literary contributions. Now that Van Royen printed the books at home, ‘the true Zilverdistel book [was] Van Royen’s work’. There remained ‘not much room’ for Van Eyck’s views. He found that Van Royen had ‘finally well organized’ the publishing house. Van Royen did not accept his offer to make a financial break with De Zilverdistel.
Foreign sales went well due to mentions in catalogues and newspapers. Orders arrived from renowned collectors such as Henry Petiet and H. Wilmerding Bell, who ordered French and English editions. Bell compared the Zilver typeface with the Doves typeface: ‘the result being that (with the exception of the upper case W) I very much prefer yours. There can be no doubt that it is the most beautiful type of our time and one of the most beautiful now cut’.
Petiet admired the Distel typeface and particularly ‘la perfection de la votre impression’. Louis Jou also expressed his critical appreciation. Not only were the books well received, there was also demand for the type itself: the printer Anselm Hartog enquired early in 1918 about the conditions under which he might use the Zilver type. He was not permitted to. Samuel A. Bartels of Chicago received the same answer years later. (PvC)
The editions of 1915-1922
The first edition in this period was composed not in the new type but in Hollandsche Mediaeval, a set of which Van Royen purchased in September 1914 ‘to practice composition’. Among other things, he made proofs of Baudelaire’s Petits poèmes en prose. On 16 March 1915 Van Royen wrote to Engelbrecht that he was ready to print acatalogue of Zilverdistel publications.
The first book in Zilver type was the programme Over boekkunst en De Zilverdistel by Van Eyck and Van Royen (Van Royen changed their names around on the title page ‘without consultation’). De Roos’ new publisher’s mark, completed at the end of December 1915, was printed below the colophon. It depicted a bow and arrow after an idea of Van Royen’s, who may have already considered a new name for the press. However De Roos drew a circle of thistle leaves around the mark. From then on the books were bound by C. Verschoor & Son in The Hague, some copies by Geertruid de Graaff and, for older Zilverdistel publications, the firm Elias P. van Bommel was used.
The success of certain editions (Shelley’s Prometheus unbound, for example) caused delays. Van Royen wrote to Van Eyck (he addressed him as ‘BM’ [Beste Makker], or ‘My dear chum’) announcing that the edition was almost fully subscribed (93 copies). Therefore ‘the entire run must be bound and Verschoor, who does that all alone, must get moving. Furthermore, it has turned out that all the vellum is gone and finding more has been very time-consuming’.
The paper for the next edition, Suster Bertken,was not available from England due to the war and was delivered in February 1918 by Van Houtum. It ‘looked and felt just like Batchelor’ only it smelled nicer. Incidentally, the paper used for Cheops was in most instances rust-stained. Some collectors had the book ‘washed’ in Paris, for which the binding was removed from the book. There followed unashamed requests to have De Bazel’s Zilverdistel stamp printed on the new binding (this continued well into the second half of the twentieth century).
Van Royen was too busy (and not for the last time): ‘You must know that I am more than a little overworked,’ and so carried out only the essentials. Perhaps that is why imperfections crept into the composition. Van Eyck wrote that he suffered ‘agonies’ with the British booksellers, ‘that they [might notice] the omission of the h in which’ in Prometheus unbound. The ‘h’ had been forgotten on page 17 in the third verse.
Success was partly due to the Association of Fifty, which had supported De Zilverdistel since 1916 with approximately 40 loyal subscribers. Between 1918 and 1928 the following members were listed: W.A. Engelbrecht; Gretie Smith van Stalk; Ary Prins (later Frans Mijnssen); D. Albers; C. Mensink (later N.J. Beversen, and then W. Fahrenhorst); H.J. van Royen; Paul May; W.J.M. van Eysinga; Esther Crol-Halbertsma; A. van Leer; J.D. Reelfs; the Koninklijke Bibliotheek; R.N. Roland Holst; Annie van Beuningen-Eschauzier; A.W. Hartman; Henriëtte van der Schalk; H.R.A. van Schelle (later H.M. van der Ven); Martinus Nijhoff booksellers (two copies); Van Stockum booksellers; J.P. Fokker; Charles Nypels; H. van der Muelen-Burg; W. Broese van Groenou; C. van Toulon van der Koog (later A.J.A. Baron van Herzeele); Jac. J. de Jong; Erich Steinthal Verlag; Mrs. Sprenger; Scheltema & Holkema booksellers (four copies); W. van Dam; Evert van Ketwich Verschuur; and W.H. Borgman.
Later members were L.M. Schwartz; Geertruid de Graaff; the Mouton printers; Jo van Regteren Altena; Hendrik Boekenoogen and A. Sickenga-Knappert. Some were from Rotterdam circles or the maritime Linschoten Association of which Engelbrecht was a member. Others were from the Dutch Indies where Van Royen’s childhood friend Hartman lived; still others were artist friends or fellow students. (PvC)
Drukkersmerk De Zilverdistel, ontworpen door S.H. de Roos, uit: J.H. Leopold, Cheops. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1916, p. 14. KB: 24 F 18. (KB)
J.H. Leopold, Cheops. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1916, p. 9 met gebruikssporen en roestvlekken. KB: 24 F 18. (KB)
Percy Bysshe Shelley, *Prometheus unbound. A lyrical drama in four acts. * ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1917, p. 17. KB: 57 C 37. (KB)
Percy Bysshe Shelley,*Prometheus unbound. A lyrical drama in four acts. *’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1917, p. 94-95. KB: 57 C 37. (KB)
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus unbound. A lyrical drama in four acts. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1917, colofon. KB: 57 C 37. (KB)
The end of De Zilverdistel
Van Royen worked on several books at once and did not always let his ‘chum’ know. For example Van Eyck heard from Bloem that a second book by Leopold, Oostersch,would be printed. Even Lucien Pissarro knew of Kunera Pers before Van Eyck did. The Van Eyck–Van Royen relationship was under stress, but it was not until August 1923 that the bombshell dropped. Van Royen wrote in the prospectus for Oostersch that the press was nameless and would now be called Kunera Pers.
It was a slap in the face for Van Eyck, who claimed that Van Royen tried to brush away ‘the meaning that the Zilverdistel had for your press’. He wrote a bitter unpublished article and painful letters to Van Royen and cherished plans to continue the Zilverdistel alone. In retrospect, Van Royen acknowledged (indirectly through his wife Gusta) that his conduct was ‘unfair’ and ‘offending’, but continued undaunted along his new path.(PvC)
J.H. Leopold, Oostersch. Verzen naar Perzische en Arabische dichters. 's-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1924, p. 3. MM: B 006 G 005. (MM)
Prijslijst en prospectus (1923) voor J.H. Leopold, Oostersch. Verzen naar Perzische en Arabische dichters. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1924. MM: B 006 G 005 (loose page). (MM)
A sidetrack: Het Eikelpersje, 1929
In 1929, Robert Floris van Eyck (1916–1991), one of P.N. Van Eyck’s two sons, printed the poem ‘In memoriam J.I.D.H.’ that his father had written about the poet Jacob Israel de Haan, assassinated five years earlier in Palestine. It was a simple broadside, a one-sided printed sheet (about 190 x 120 mm). Two copies have been preserved on imitation Japanese paper and one on wood paper. The caption reads, ‘Printed by R.F. van Eyck on the THE EIKELPERSJE Autumn 1929’. This seems to be the only publication of the press.
The Van Eyck family lived in London from June 1919. Robert went to school there and studied art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He developed into a painter and restorer. During the Second World War, he wrote poems which were published by Stols: Endless interval (1941) and Perpetual treason (1944). It was not Robert, but his father, who was involved with the typography of these collections.
Robert was 13 years old at the time of Het Eikelpersje. His father, who first provided the text, assisted his printing at home. The publication of Het Eikelpersje was fairly well set but unevenly printed. It is unknown which press was used. Father Van Eyck did not have the financial resources for an Albion press and in his letters he was silent about its installation. Based on the paper format, the simplicity of the publication, the unequal inking and the naming of the press (‘persje’ [little press]), it can be assumed that it was a small proof press or a galley press. The type was English, as shown by the separately set type i and j instead of a long ij (used seven times in this sonnet). The standard for Dutch printers was an ‘ij’ ligature.
The print run was undoubtedly small and did not come onto the market. The printers were not very extravagant with copies. Only two friends of Van Eyck confirmed its receipt: the novelist Aart van der Leeuw wrote on 28 November 1929: ‘How well done by your son. Who knows, perhaps a famous private press will come of it’. J.C. Bloem enjoyed ‘the product of father–son co-operation’. He wrote on 6 December, ‘because I think it such a great achievement for Robbie. It really is particularly nicely printed. And how nice that he takes pleasure in it!’ On 11 February 1931 he inquired into the further adventures of Het Eikelpersje: ‘Is Robbie still printing much?’ He suggested that the boy should print Bloems’ new poems in ‘a broadside in a few copies’ because otherwise ‘you two will be buried in paper’. Therefore it seems very likely that the press stood in Van Eyck’s home and not at that of friends or a printer’s. In London Van Eyck did not seek contact with private press figures such as Pissarro although previously as a collector he had corresponded with Cobden-Sanderson.
Shortly afterwards, Robert apparently changed his interest to music. In July 1930, Bloem asked, ‘has Robbie given up his work in the Aldijn-Elzevir-Morris-CobdenSanderson field? I would find that a pity’. In 1931 he inquired twice more but Het Eikelpersje seemed no longer to exist.(PvC)
P.N. van Eyck, In memoriam J.I.D.H.. London, Het Eikelpersje R.F. van Eyck, 1929. LM: E 00453 D 4. (KB: JU).
De Heuvelpers, 1926-1935 (1)
In June 1927, S.H. de Roos (1877-1962) sent out an Announcement about De Heuvelpers. He sought the ‘legitimacy’ of this private press in the craftsmanship. Runs were limited to 125 copies in order to spend ‘the most possible care’ on the publications.The four editions of De Heuvelpers fulfilled this goal: Spinoza’s Tractatus politicus (May 1928), Heinrich Heine’s Die Nordsee (1928), Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Hand and soul (1929) and Eugène Fromentin’s Les maîtres d’autrefois (1931). Except for Hand and soul, in October 1926 these titles were listed in a number of suggestions that also contained, for example, the Dutch novelist Couperus and the Greek tragedies.
The limited edition was just one characteristic of the private press tradition. Van Gelder Sons produced special handmade Holland paper with a watermark of the letters H and P with a hawthorn flower. It was printed on an Albion hand press in the (reinforced) home of De Roos in the Hyacintenlaan in Hilversum. De Roos made dozens of sketches for a publisher’s mark; the letters DHP in a wreath of hawthorn leaves.In 1927, he designed a new typeface, the Meidoorn [Hawthorn].Banners and initials were engraved in wood but printed with electrotype. Bibliophiles could choose between austere cardboard covers or vellum bound by Stokking’s Electr. Boekbinderij or Wansink & Daemberg.
The announcement was also the prospectus for the first edition. De Roos wrote to Van Royen that it was ‘not [printed] on the hand press’: ‘it will go better on one. Pass no final verdict on the type just yet’.The Meidoorn type was generally less well received than the Zilver type or the types De Roos designed for the Amsterdam Type Foundry, where he worked from 1907 until his retirement in 1941.
Almost all his types display minimal ornamentation which was seen as one of ‘the private press peculiarities’.With this type, which was considered ‘nervous’ and ‘sophisticated’, De Roos did himself a favour: it was meant exclusively for De Heuvelpers.The Meidoorn was compared with the Koch Antiqua (1923), due to ‘a strong diagonal stress, a certain angularity, capitals of the same height as the ascenders, a faux-mediaeval feel’. The individual letters were called ‘prickly’, but as a whole it is ‘a surprisingly pleasant text face’.The Meidoorn was cast in one body size of 14 points. The press had 302 kilos type in stock.De Roos designed the hanging figures 0-9 besides capitals and lower case.
Although De Heuvelpers was created as a private press, it was not a ‘private’ enterprise. The idea may not have come from De Roos; the antiquarian bookseller Menno Hertzberger (1897-1982) claimed it.In 1920, Hertzberger founded an International Antiquarian and Modern Bookshop in Amsterdam for which De Roos designed a vignette (1922). In 1925, Hertzberger was closely involved in the creation of the Nederlandsch Verbond van Boekenvrienden, a small association of bibliophiles, and since 1921 he had belonged to the circles of the Spinoza Society.As a bibliophile, dealer and Spinoza collector, he agreed wholeheartedly with the text selection for the first edition: Tractatus politicus.
After a year of discussion about the press and the prospectus having been distributed, De Roos, Hertzberger and banker Paul May (1868-1940) concluded ‘an agreement to establish and exploit a private press’. That occurred on 25 August 1927.May was the Director of Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co. of Amsterdam and a bibliophile with a broad cultural interest. His contribution was not meagre: 10,000 guilders and the entire financial risk. De Roos was paid for ‘the artistic direction’, an annual maximum fee of 1,000 guilders. Hertzberger was responsible for the distribution; it was his chance for profit. The contract would expire on 31 December 1931 and could be automatically renewed.(PvC)
De vier uitgaven van De Heuvelpers, 1928-1931: Hand and soul (MM: B 003 E 048); Tractatus politicus (MM: B 003 C 026); Les maîtres d’autrefois (MM: B 003 D 025); Die Nordsee (MM: B 003 C 040). (KB: JU).
Benedictus de Spinoza, Tractatus politicus. Hilversum, De Heuvelpers, 1928, p. 1. KB: 167 C 19. (KB)
Benedictus de Spinoza, Tractatus politicus. Hilversum, De Heuvelpers, 1928, p. 24-25. KB: 167 C 19. (KB)
De Heuvelpers, 1926-1935 (2)
The texts were jointly determined, but the vote of May was decisive – it was after all his money – and he came up with initiatives. When in 1928 De Roos agreed to print the Scharten-Antink couple’s novel ‘on his own initiative’, ‘the others nipped it in the bud’.May rejected several texts. Some outsiders inadvertently had influence on the publications. De Roos approached his brother-in-law Tobie Goedewaagen (a philosophy teacher of Utrecht) for a Latin text. He was thinking of Cicero, but Goedewaagen suggested Spinoza, whose Tractatus politicus he found more topical.It would be the first time that a Dutch private press published a Latin text. The name of the press was translated: ‘Prelum collinum’. (For the English edition, the name ‘The Hillpress’ was used, for the German ‘Hügel-Presse’ and the name was not translated into French.) De Roos was later embarrassed by his relationship with Goedewaagen, who became a national-socialist and was the administrator of the Kultuurkamer during the war.
Hertzberger not only maintained contacts with buyers, he also co-ordinated the internal correspondence and he consulted with May. Hertzberger and May never came to Hilversum to see the press in action. De Roos bought an electrically powered Victoria II platen press from his employer, but this was not used for the editions.Perhaps it was used for printing the prospectus. For the real work an Albion press was purchased in London. De Roos did not print on that either. He gave the composing and printing over to an experienced printer, Arie Benschop, from nearby Baarn, and particularly to his son, Sjoerd de Roos Jr., though the editions ‘were carried out according to his design and under his supervision’.A certain ‘Bertus’ and ‘Frankie’ also helped.De Roos was not trained as a printer and realized that he had not enough practical knowledge. Hence in the beginning he asked Van Royen: ‘When there are hitches, may I bother you again for advice from your 10 year experience of printing’.Initially it was mainly Benschop who helped, even though he was also no hand press printer. He had the tympan spanned with parchment with a piece of felt underneath to absorb the roughness of the parchment. The proper thickness was obtained by adding ‘pressboard and paper’. He saw to it that the ‘delicate strokes of the letters and the initials’ during the printing process remained ‘just as tight and thin’ because the type should land ‘sharply and not rough, full and not thick’ on the paper.
The quality of the Spinoza edition was not perfect: ‘In the Tractatus politicus many edges are too black’. The inking consistency for each page was successfully maintained with the second book. Son Sjoerd de Roos (who set up his own Electrical Printers ‘De Roos’ at the Torenlaan 3 in Hilversum) was properly paid for the composing and printing. He spent more than 1300 hours on the Tractatus politicus. The chosen paper was not easy to print: ‘It is quite strongly laid & wove and heavily glued’. The grey Charles I paper from Barcham Green for the fourth Heuvelpers edition was even more difficult to print, ‘like sandpaper’. The printing went badly and the planned edition of 125 copies was not achieved.
The typography differed in details per book. The Spinoza text was composed compactly with small spaces and no line spacing, which gave the text a ‘closed look’. Heine’s poems are more spaced with a 2 point spacing. A print ‘in two colours’ was announced for the Tractatus politicus. The spot colour was red, as in Hand and soul. For Die Nordsee an unusual choice of green was made and Les maîtres d’autrefois was printed entirely in black. Previous proofs exist with initials drawn in red. There was no standard format. De Roos designed the initials in the various editions. The French title for Hand and soul was a wood engraving and the initial B on the first text page was coloured in with blue watercolour to evoke the artistic atmosphere of Pisa. Hence subtle differences between individual copies are visible.
De Heuvelpers had an international audience in mind; an advertisement was made with a ‘specimen’ in The fleuron of 1927. Dutch texts were inappropriate for that audience. De Heuvelpers was the only Dutch private press that officially did not publish one text in Dutch: unique. The texts were in Latin (Spinoza), German (Heine), English (Rossetti) and French (Fromentin). Notices of these editions were printed in the relevant language, excepting the first.
The three partners of De Heuvelpers chose the Latin text of Spinoza (untrnslated) out of ‘considerations of prestige’. Another Latin text did not come further that a one-page proof, ‘Liber Genesis (especially composed for a trade fair in Cologne, 1928). On invitation for the Goethe exhibition in Leipzig (1932), De Roos made a similar selection in German of two pages from Goethe’s Iphigenia. An Aretino edition fell through because the editor found the Meidoorn type too Gothic for Italian.
The only Dutch texts (besides one announcement) were at least two occasional publications. The first comprises the minutes of a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce after the death of the Chairman (1930), the second was a printed speech to J.G. Veldheer on his departure from the Netherlands dated 14 February 1931. De Roos thanked the graphic artist for ‘the pioneering work you performed at a time when I was practically still a boy’.(PvC)
Eugène Fromentin, Les maîtres d’autrefois. Hilversum, De Heuvelpers, 1931, p. 2. KB: 43 F 1. (KB)
Eugène Fromentin, Les maîtres d’autrefois. Hilversum, De Heuvelpers, 1931, p. 32-33. KB: 43 F 1. (KB)
Heinrich Heine, Die Nordsee. Hilversum, De Heuvelpers, 1928, colofon. MM: B 005 F 007. (KB: JU)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Hand and soul. Hilversum, De Heuvelpers, 1929, p. 6-7, met ingekleurde initiaal. KB: 2297 A 132; MM: B 003 E 048; B 005 F 015. (KB: JU)
Prospectus voor Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Hand and soul, De Heuvelpers, 1929. MM: B 006 E map L.05. (MM)
Aan J.G. Veldheer bij zijn vertrek uit ons land. Hilversum, De Heuvelpers, 1931, proof. MM: B 006 E map L.09. (MM)
De Heuvelpers, 1926-1935 (3)
The internationally oriented antiquarian bookseller Hertzberger was probably the best operating base for a private press. This relieved De Roos of the bothersome (for a private press) administration: correspondence, invoices, packaging and mailing of prospectuses and books. The market for the bibliophile book in the Netherlands was then too small, even for an edition of 125 copies. Jan van Krimpen saw that the well-designed Dutch book was limited to ‘150 to 200 copies’.
The number of Dutch speakers was limited to 15 million people worldwide and most Dutch texts were uninteresting for the Dutch speakers outside the Netherlands. The market was thus limited to ‘some seven million people. One may therefore say that an edition limited to 200 copies is about equal proportionately to one of 2500 copies in England’. Dutch printers were envious of those big runs. Then to add insult to injury was the price of the book. ‘People continue to call expensive what abroad would be deemed cheap’. With its edition of Hand and soul (1929), De Heuvelpers released far fewer copies than Stols had done one year earlier with an un-sellable edition (110 instead of 350).
The buying-public disappeared in the early thirties. ‘The coffers of De Heuvelpers emptied’. In May 1935 the press was dismantled. The hand press was put at the disposal of the Museum voor Grafische Vakken in Utrecht. The Meidoorn did not disappear into a museum or into the currents of the river Amstel as might have been expected of a private press type. To get some return from the investment, the letter had to be converted to cash.
Publisher A.A.M. Stols could not afford it at the time and so the Meidoorn did not go to a bibliophile printer but to an Amsterdam commercial printer, Drukkerij J.F. Duwaer & Son. There were subsequently more publications printed there in the Meidoorn than by De Heuvelpers. During the war, A.A. Balkema’s Vijf Ponden Pers published a clandestine edition in the Meidoorn, Jacques Perk’s Eene helle- en hemelvaart [Descent into hell and ascent into heaven]. De Roos had occasional works printed in the Meidoorn on his sixtieth and sixty-fifth birthdays.
The Meidoorn remained employed after the war. In 1959, Dick Dooijes (a student of De Roos) used it for Peter Schlemiels Schicksale by Adelbert von Chamisso, because ‘its angular nature’ fitted the text and illustrations. The Duwaer family later abandoned the type and eventually it was returned to the world of the private press under the supervision of the marginal printer Jan Keijser.(PvC)
De Marnix-pers, 1932-1946 (1)
Of the few private presses of the interwar period it was De Marnix-Pers that led a hidden life. The publications appeared mainly as private occasional publications. The press, clearly used for private pleasure, also had no claim to eternal fame. This first Amsterdam private press was equipped out of admiration for Palladium and the Kunera Pers by the brothers Pieter Johannes Venemans (1907–1995), bookseller and writer, and Bernard Albert Venemans (1908-1992), then a theology student.
The ‘duality of poet and theologian’ they found reflected in Marnix van Sint Aldegonde, to whom the national anthem is attributed and whose name inspired that of the press. Eighteen publications appeared between 1932 and 1939. Six later issues were contracted out under the name Marnix-Pers to commercial printers (1939–1946).
De Marnix-Pers departed from other private presses in its choice for primarily religiously slanted literary texts. Catholic writers were called upon such as Gabriël Smit who also published under the publishers Rozenbeek and Venemans in Hilversum, the commercial equivalent of De Marnix-Pers. The firm was exploited by P.J. Venemans and the bookseller Berend Cornelis Rozenbeek (1889–1940) after 1934. A few authors and artists also came from the Gooi area.
Comparing the publications of private and the commercial publishers reveals that the latter were related in style to the ‘mainstream’ and bibliophile editions of Nypels and Stols. While Marnix-Pers works are not large and the designs are simple, a certain liveliness was achieved through spot colours (blue, red, green), illustrations and changing formats. Three different printer’s marks were sparingly used. Technically it did not all run perfectly, for example, registering.
The brothers learned the ‘trade’ from Van Hasselt, an employee at the Amsterdam Type Foundry. An ‘old’ hand-operated platen press, a gift from the publisher Muusses in Purmerend, was set up in the parental home basement at 37 Moreelsestraat in Amsterdam-Zuid. It was a small press on which one page at a time could be printed under the pain of uneven pressure. Other material was purchased from the Amsterdam Type Foundry. They chose De Roos’ Erasmus-Mediaeval type and his initials. Paper was supplied by Bladergroen in the Raadhuisstraat. The stationery indicated P.J. Venemans as the ‘leader’ but that correspondence should be addressed to B.A. Venemans.
Initially, both brothers were occupied with composing and printing, but B.A. departed as a minister to Friesland and P.J. then called on their other brothers. P.J. Venemans worked between 1930 and 1933 for the Dijkhoffz Bookshop in The Hague (in 1944 he became co-director) and travelled from The Hague to his parents’ home to work on the press. (PvC)
De Marnix-pers, 1932-1946 (2)
The first edition was the Latin text of Psalm CXXX with seven Dutch translations, including one by the namesake of the press. The publisher’s name was omitted and P.J.’s partner Rozenbeek was mentioned instead. Forty copies were printed, but the brothers had to make a large number of proofs, and wasted much paper in mastering printing skills. All copies were hand-numbered and ‘offered completely free of charge’ to friends and acquaintances. The name Marnix-Pers was used from the second edition on.
Once the publishers asked for a donation, but not for the printing shop. Included with the poem to celebrate the marriage of Reverend Venemans with Mie Kurpershoek (1935) was an insert asking for a donation of at least one guilder ‘for the church of Harkema-Opeinde’. The purely theological texts were in the minority, three out of the eighteen: Psalm 130, a Pentecostal Song and a medieval carol.
With a total of eight out of eighteen, the literary texts were in the majority and mostly poems by classical authors such as John Donne and Joost van den Vondel, and also contemporary poets: P.C. Boutens and Theun de Vries. De Marnix-Pers also published a comedy by C.J. Kelk and a story by Gabriël Smit. Seven publications consisted of occasional works: birth, engagement and wedding announcements and poems.
The print runs do not entirely confirm the image of an intimate circle of about 40 friends, because there are five editions without mention of the print run which were probably printed in 100 copies or more (e.g. an engagement announcement). The smallest print run was 25 copies and the largest, according to the colophon, was 50. Besides the small editions, loose errata or binding instructions occasionally appeared.
Despite the simplicity of most editions the publishers strove for a certain luxury in the early years with a special edition printed on expensive paper. From the fifth to the tenth edition, such special copies were produced on simili japon, Japanese paper and Holland paper. One of the first was a collection of 18 verses by P.C. Boutens with paintings by W.A. Konijnenburg(1933), of which 25 copies were published on Holland paper and 15 on Japanese.
Boutens and the painter Van Konijnenburg had originally attempted to have the poems printed by J.F. van Royen on his Kunera Pers. The question is whether the Venemans brothers knew of this. The owner of the paintings, G.F.H. van Kooten Kok, wrote to Van Royen five years earlier that Boutens had written the poems on his commission for a book with reproductions of his extensive collection of Konijnenburg. The poems were meant to accelerate the sales of this expensive illustrated book in 1929 and therefore Kok rejected a separate publication. Although the poet and painter were somewhat insistent towards Van Royen, it did not result in an edition from his press.
De Marnix-Pers received Boutens’ manuscript in August 1932 and printed 40 copies. The copy for Pieter Venemans was provided with a dedication on 24 April 1933. This edition arose through the mediation of Dop Bles, a man of letters to whom Boutens dedicated a copy on the same day. Bles was an attorney and colleague of Venemans at the Dijkhoffz bookshop. He and Boutens both wrote poems for the recently published ‘literary bridal bouquet’ of Theun de Vries.
Two special editions each comprised a unique copy on Japanese paper, one of the wedding poems for Theun de Vries (1932) and one of the comedy by C.J. Kelk (1933). Five of the 35 copies of Christofoor by Gabriël Smit were printed on Japanese paper. Smit (1910–1981), originally a Roman Catholic poet, moved in 1933 to Hilversum as a reporter for a local newspaper. De Marnix-Pers printed a novella, two translations of Donne and twice a poem for Smit. A collection of poems appeared in 1944 in a print run of 250 copies printed by G.A. Verweij of Schiedam, who from 1939 produced the publications of De Marnix-Pers. During the war, Smit played a role as chief correspondent for the Nederlandsche Kultuurkamer, while at the same time clandestine collections of his work were published.
In addition to using Verweij, in autumn 1944 the Venemans brothers once had an edition printed by J. Kleton, business partner of the printers Dekker and Co. in Noordwijk aan Zee. The later editions were not adventurous. Work was also contracted out to the bookbinders H. Loüst of Wassenaar and J.C. Spitzers of Utrecht, who worked on two editions. After Christofoor (1934), for the nine remaining editions the press engaged the artist Arnold Pijpers (1900–1951) of Bussum seven times. He became known for his theatre sets and murals and made drawings, vignettes, the printer’s mark and woodcuts, and sometimes hand-coloured illustrations for the press.
Marnix-Pers was the first pre-war private press in the Netherlands to be established without a major capital injection. Consequently, no private type was designed. One can only guess as to how the expenses were paid. Perhaps they were seen as the normal expenses of a hobby. The fact is that the publications were not intended for an international or national market and that they did not deliver a profit. With these small publications outside the trade, mostly occasional editions, De Marnix-Pers was a model for the post-war marginal printers and it is no coincidence that B.A. Venemans published his memories of the press during the heyday of Drukwerk in de Marge in 1978.(PvC)
Constantijn Huygens,Sondagh. Amsterdam, Marnix-Pers, undated proof. MM: pp ned Marnix-Pers z.j.001-002. (MM)
De Kunera Pers, 1922-1942
In 1922 J.F. van Royen thought that ‘press and publishers’ were clearly ‘united in one person’ and he felt the need for ‘a new symbol’. In March he wrote to Lucien Pissarro: ‘I should like to alter the name of my Press. The name of Zilverdistel has too much connection with the former period’. He changed the name to the Kunera Pers.
Pissarro made a new printer’s mark: first it was a rectangular sketch based on Van Royen’s information about Saint Kunera and the town of Rhenen, then in July and August 1922, he designed a circular version in which he incorporated Van Royen’s detailed criticism. Van Royen wished to immortalize a harmonious evening on a ferry near Rhenen in the spring of 1921. The ‘perfect harmony’ of colour, light, ‘the soft motion of the boat, the sounds of the evening and the inner emotions’ he compared to the harmony pursued in book art.
In the first prospectus, new poetry by J.H. Leopold was announced but this collection was slow to materialize. Van Royen worked alone (and when he had time) at the press and produced only five books over 20 years: J.H. Leopold, Oostersch (colophon 1922, published January 1924); François Villon, Oeuvres (colophon 1926, published December 1926); Arthur van Schendel, Maneschyn (colophon May 1927, published February 1928); Charles Péguy, La tapisserie de Notre Dame, 1913 (colophon 20 April 1929, prospectus June 1929); and P.C. Boutens, In den keerkring (colophon September 1941 to February 1942, published mid-1942). Four of these editions were composed in Distel type.
The old short story of Maneschyn was the only text in Zilver type. The book is austere, printed in black, with an ornate initial W; it was supplied in a red leather binding. The Kunera Pers was no longer the only Dutch private press when it appeared. The Heuvelpers had joined it and bibliophile editions published in series, such as Palladium and Halcyon, were included in the genre of private press books. Van Royen received help with Maneschyn but in the account entry, ‘wages’ remained unspecified.
Even though Van Royen was not at the press every day, his thoughts were. ’s-Gravesande saw Van Royen in the Royal Theatre during the performance of Mariken of Nieumeghen. This drama in verse also contained prose pieces and when asked about his opinion of the show, Van Royen replied: ‘Nice, but I constantly think about how I would print these verses and prose’.
The publisher was most active in the second half of the 1920s. Family members often recollected this active period: ‘When on a Sunday the whole house resounded with the rhythmic dull thump of the ink-roller on the ink-table, interrupted by the soft rumble of the rolling in of the type-table under the platen, the 2 heavy clicks when pulling the platen-arm and its return and finally turning out the type-table again and opening the paper frames, when my mother regularly refreshed us with glasses of hot milk and biscuit rusks; for my father, my mother and later my oldest sister and then again sometimes later for me and my younger sister, these were happy hours filled with excitement at each of the 125 sheets, each inspected piece by piece by my Father – sometimes with just a glance,’ related his son Sebald 40 years later.
‘The endless effort to control the temperature and humidity of the paper in order to always get the needles on which the paper was fixed exactly in the same hole. Winter evenings, entire Christmas days spent in countless hours carving initials in endgrain boxwood’. The children ‘breathlessly’ watched as he ‘got the print absolutely even – on strips of paper, thinner scraped paper, cigarette papers – adjusted the equipment – made all preparations necessary to start up the Sunday press turning. As a boy I once tried to photograph my father’. His father was bent over the type material, or shifting something on the tympan: ‘it is a picture of my father, happy with his press’.
Sebald justly mentioned his older sister Uus, who (at 19 years old) also worked independently in the composing room and printing shop. On 3 March 1926, she signed her own print, a letter to ‘Dear Jet’, which was not very professionally composed and printed: ‘I’ll show you how far my composition skill already extends’. She had previously composed texts, including a poem by Nikolaus Lenau, ‘Die drei Zigeuner’. ‘Father always checks the print and he always finds a whole lot of errors at once! It’s not easy to do it well!’ Uus wrote that she ‘fiddled about’ with the type on her own, because ‘the boss of the shop is terribly busy and has no time for the press’. Uus was appointed ‘secretary of the press’. She composed the letter in Zilver type.
Van Royen counted on the help of his family and set out special guidelines for them, such as the ‘Rules for the use of spacing before and after the punctuation marks in “P.C. Boutens,In den keerkring”.’ For certain punctuation marks (e.g. :, ; and -) one point had to be inserted and for others, more than one. Technical guidance focused on the spacing (‘always press down well’) and on an accurate selection from the typecase: ‘Note well the difference between ij or y’ and ‘Note extra well that a O is not upside down’. The printshop became a family business. (PvC)
Printer’s device for the Kunera Pers, first sketch by Lucien Pissarro, 1922. Private collection. (MM)
Printer’s device for the Kunera Pers, woodcut, first proof, dated 1922. Private collection. (MM)
Letter from J.F. van Royen to Lucien Pissarro, 2 August 1922, front. Private collection. (MM)
Letter from J.F. van Royen to Lucien Pissarro, 2 August 1922, back. Private collection. (MM)
J.H. Leopold, Oostersch. Verzen naar Perzische en Arabische dichters. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1924, p. 3. KB: 2296 E 26. (KB)
J.H. Leopold, Oostersch. Verzen naar Perzische en Arabische dichters. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1924, p. 6-7. KB: 2296 E 26. (KB)
Kunera Pers-publications, 1924-1942. MM: B 001 E 034; B001 E 037; B 002 E 040; KB: 166 B 23; 24 C 32. (KB: JU).
Design of the initial E for Arthur van Schendel, Maneschyn. Een verhaal. Private collection. (MM)
Design of the initial W for Arthur van Schendel, Maneschyn. Een verhaal. Private collection. (MM)
Arthur van Schendel, Maneschyn. Een verhaal. ‘s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1927, p. 4-5. KB: 166 B 24. (KB)
Letter composed and printed by Uus van Royen, 3 March 1926. MM: VR 95 A 17. (MM)
Uus van Royen in the composing room of the Kunera Pers, summer 1942. Photograph: Jan Stokvis. MM: VR 195 B 5. (KB)
The publications of the 1920s
During this period no more English texts, but poetry and prose in Dutch, and French poetry were printed on the press. The texts of Villon and Péguy were generally suitable for the French market, but that was apparently not the primary intention. Part of the edition went to the Vereeniging der Vijftig which had 41 members in 1928. It was typical that the colophon of the Villon edition was in Dutch. The Péguy colophon was in French. Both editions were printed in 110 copies and the foreign sales probably went largely through Dutch booksellers.
In the new editions the intertwined initials printed in two colours, designed and engraved in wood by Van Royen, were striking. Previous initials were designed by Van Eyck but mostly by De Roos, who provided Suster Bertken, Leopold’s Cheops, Shelley and Kloos with initials and titles. Some initials were cut by Enschedé following instructions from Van Royen (Lanseloet, Novalis). The later initials were designed by Van Royen and cut on boxwood blocks: ‘The wood surface was painted white, then the outline of the letter was drawn on it’, which could then be engraved.
Van Royen printed on half sheets and always on two half sheets at a time on a work and turn basis: eight pages with each stroke of the press. First, all sheets of a book were printed in black, then he printed where necessary – initials, titles, first lines, ornaments – red and finally blue. Van Royen hammered together a separate ink table for rolling out the colour inks. To obtain the desired effect, he consulted exhaustively about ink consistency and coverage with N. van Son’s ink and paint factories.
The initials were not merely decorative as they also symbolized the text. ‘Concerning their form, the initials also contained a characteristic hint – not immediately obvious, really only “for the connoisseur”’. With the publishing of Boutens’ edition, for example, these were the extended serifs decorated with floral motifs. Their direction was outward at the beginning of the book, inwards at the end, and with the poem about a blackbird, upwards just like its song.
Except for the printer’s mark and these initials, the editions were not illustrated. Van Royen discussed the only intended illustrated edition much later in 1941–1942 with Dirk van Gelder. Van Royen wrote to the young artist that he should do something ‘that has not yet been achieved in the Netherlands’. Then ‘many book artistic considerations’ arose and these had to be ‘jointly’ considered. Fifteen pages of the Karel ende Elegast edition were composed but it was not completed because of the premature death of Van Royen. (PvC)
Prospectus (May 1929) for Charles Péguy, La tapisserie de Notre Dame, 1913. La Haye, Kunera Pers, 1929. MM: B 006 G 005. (MM)
Charles Péguy, La tapisserie de Notre Dame 1913. La Haye, Kunera Pers, 1929, p. 32-33. KB: 49 E 25. (KB)
Charles Péguy, La tapisserie de Notre Dame 1913. La Haye, Kunera Pers, 1929, p. 38-39. KB: 49 E 25. (KB)
Charles Péguy, La tapisserie de Notre Dame 1913. La Haye, Kunera Pers, 1929, p. 66-67 (colophon). KB: 49 E 25. (KB)
Charles Péguy, La tapisserie de Notre Dame 1913. La Haye, Kunera Pers, 1929, p. 16 (detail). KB: 49 E 25. (KB)
François Villon, Œuvres. Le lais, le testament et ses ballades. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1926, p. 5. MM: B 002 E 041. (MM)
J.H. Leopold, Cheops. ’s-Gravenhage, De Zilverdistel, 1916, p. 6-7. KB: 165 D 14. (KB: JU)
J.H. Leopold, Oostersch. Verzen naar Perzische en Arabische dichters. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1924, p. 4-5. MM: B 002 E 038. (MM)
J.H. Leopold, Oostersch. Verzen naar Perzische en Arabische dichters. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1924, p. 6-7. MM: B 002 E 038. (MM)
J.H. Leopold, Oostersch. Verzen naar Perzische en Arabische dichters. 's-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1924, p. 12-13. MM: B 002 E 038. (MM)
J.F. van Royen at the press, Summer 1929, photograph by Sebald van Royen. Private collection. (MM)
J.F. van Royen at the press, Summer 1929, photograph by Sebald van Royen. Private collection. (MM)
François Villon, Œuvres. Le lais, le testament et ses ballades. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, 1926, p. 128-129. MM: B 002 E 041. (MM)
Design for two initials E for Karel ende Elegast. Private collection. (MM)
The last editions of the Kunera Pers
From the moment the press in the Van Boetzelaerlaan was set up, the poet P.C. Boutens regularly visited Van Royen, ‘because the press had a great fascination for him’. In those days of the First World War he occasionally supplied Gusta van Royen with scarce products such as eggs. He would have liked Van Royen to print a collection of his poems but the printer avoided ‘a direct answer’. After the productive 1920s, the press lay still and ‘the familiar smell of ink and benzine no longer hung in the top rooms of the house’. However, in the summer of 1941, when Van Royen was 62 years old, he resumed work on the press and printed Psalm 93 for an album of friends. Some proofs were kept but it was no official publication of the Kunera Pers.
Boutens, a celebrity who was approached by unknown admirers on the street, and Van Royen developed a ‘greater intimacy’ through the Second World War. Boutens read him his latest poems and Van Royen had some mimeographed (at the PTT) in an edition of 90 copies, but the poet insisted that Van Royen print them. Van Royen promised.
The book was printed for the Nederlandsche Vereeniging voor Druk- en Boekkunst. Van Royen created titles for the poems and the collection In den keerkring. The Japanese paper (now rust stained) was not Van Royen’s choice. By ‘late November’ 1941 the printing could begin and was finished by 1 March 1942. Van Royen did not accept ‘outside help’ for this work.
Gusta van Royen wrote: ‘When we were busy for hours at a time (I placed the sheets on the punctures and was permitted to make the first check) not only did he have the heavy rollers on the ink table, but also the various handles on the press to operate, and above all, each letter of a printed sheet to meticulously approve’.Because of his painful shoulder, a ‘trusted man’ was found to swing the heavy press lever.
For this project, ‘for a certain reason’, Van Royen had applied for a printing permit that expired on 15 February 1942. On 19 February the new ordinances for the press and theatre guild of the Kultuurkamer came into effect. Boutens came daily to inquire about progress. ‘In the 2nd half of January the black was printed. Next came red and finally blue; all went smoothly’. The book took a total of 17 print runs.
Boutens was not allowed in the printing shop until the last work day: on Sunday, 1 March 1942 he arrived ‘panting from climbing the stairs’ and examined the printed sheets: ‘Beautiful, very beautiful’. It was half past six in the evening when ‘the lever of the Kunera Pers was swung for the last time’. Boutens relaxed and recited a few poems off the top of his head. Four days later, Van Royen was arrested by the German Security Police, accused (wrongly) of being the instigator of a protest against the Kultuurkamer. (PvC)
P.C. Boutens, In den keerkring. Zeven gedichten. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, voor de Nederlandsche Vereeniging voor Druk- en Boekkunst, 1942, p.10-11. KB: 2299 G 13; MM: B 005 F 012. (KB)
P.C. Boutens, In den keerkring. Zeven gedichten. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, voor de Nederlandsche Vereeniging voor Druk- en Boekkunst, 1942, p.14-15. KB: 2299 G 13; MM: B 005 F 012. (KB)
The legacy of Van Royen
After a short stay in the Scheveningen prison, Van Royen found himself in the transit camp at Amersfoort (Leusden). He died there on 10 June 1942. The next day, Gusta van Royen was summoned to the The Hague Security Police, where she received notice of his death. He died on the day that he would have been ‘entlassen [released]’. The SS commented cynically, ‘Der Mensch hat eben Pech gehabt [He was unlucky]’. The funeral was not permitted to become a demonstration and was therefore escorted by the police and announcements and newspaper notices were censored.
In den keerkring was published by the Nederlandsche Vereeniging voor Druk- en Boekkunst, which had the book bound in half-vellum by H. de Koningh of The Hague. There was at least one copy bound in full vellum (number IX) with an additional quire of the same Japanese paper in the front and back.
The binding was identical to that of the standard edition and unusual for the Netherlands: the end paper was glued to the front board and the first free endpaper (front and rear) was stitched in separately. The binding thread was immediately visible when the book was opened. This method was copied from Cobden-Sanderson for more editions of De Zilverdistel and the Kunera Pers. The binding method was a silent witness of Van Royen’s desire to base the Dutch private press book on English models.
In November 1942, residents of the coastal suburbs of The Hague were forced to evacuate their homes. The Postal Museum took care of Van Royen’s press, including the composing room and printer’s shop which were transferred to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek after the war. Since 1963, the press and the entire archive have been housed in the Museum Meermanno. (PvC)
P.C. Boutens, In den keerkring. Zeven gedichten. ’s-Gravenhage, Kunera Pers, voor de Nederlandsche Vereeniging voor Druk- en Boekkunst, 1942, in vellum and half vellum. MM: B 005 F 012. (KB)
The printing room of the Kunera Pers, Summer 1942. Photograph: Jan Stokvis. MM: VR 195 B 4. (KB)
The printing room of the Kunera Pers, Summer 1942. Photograph: Jan Stokvis. MM: VR 195 B 2. (KB)