PRINTING IN THE HAGUE at the Meermanno Museum

Thirty texts explain 500 years of printing presses, books, publishers and booksellers in The Hague. This exhibition is located on the ground floor of period home Museum Meermanno. Five hundred years ago, the first book was printed in The Hague.

The exhibition, mounted in about eight rooms, starts with manuscripts. Many of these originate from local convents. Manuscripts were precious and handed down within communities and families. Interesting to learn, both the Old Church and the counts’ court had extensive libraries.

Amsterdam, Leiden and Delft were already busy printing books, when The Hague finally got a book printed. Remember: this was a village. People who were rich enough to own books, ordered these at nearby Leiden or Delft.

The printer who decided to move his press from Amsterdam to The Hague, printed a kind of religious best-seller. He had already successfully printed it in Amsterdam. With its woodcuts, it looks a bit primitive and crude, compared to the nearby manuscripts.

He did not remain the only printer for long. The next room explains how the English civil war and other wars, as well as Louis XIV repealing the Edict of Nantes, caused refugees to relocate to the Dutch Republic.

Among them were not just printers and book-sellers; but also authors and translators. One exhibition case contains a book telling a story supposedly written by King Charles I. Fake news and alternative facts are no recent invention. Near this fake story is a first French translation of Gulliver’s Travels.

Some of the thirty stories contain surprises. The Ridderzaal once contained market stalls! Christiaan Huygens’ library was partly auctioned off! The same happened to a collection owned by one of the Stadhouders.

The exhibition continuous with the story of local publishing houses. Many have by now disappeared, though some thrived. Take SdU and Nijhoff.

The museum has a large collection of books published by private presses. Among them were local private presses. The exhibition shows beautiful examples of special books and covers. Too bad, the modern version of having one’s books printed at local bookshops is mentioned.

One of the last rooms tells the stories of public and Royal Library. Imagine needing the permission of one’s father or husband to join a public library! Small wonder a group of women decided to create their own library: the Ladies’ Library, which still exists. Other local libraries are not mentioned though.

Worth a visit? In order to prevent damage, lighting is kept minimal which makes some texts difficult to read. The layout was puzzling as well. At the entrance I read someone had translated texts into English, yet all texts were in Dutch.

On concluding my visit, I returned to the museum shop wanting to ask after English translations and a catalogue? Staff were too busy chatting with each other about visiting children’s groups. Maybe, one needs to ask at the till for English hand-outs.

Nevertheless, the garden and permanent display are interesting. The period library remains my favourite room. The museum also offers workshops for children and grown-ups; check its website to see if you can conclude your visit with a try at printing or caligraphy.   Kate Den   24th August 2018

Druk in Den Haag is at the Meermanno Museum until 23rd of September 2018.