Eighteenth-century female book ownership and the unsuspected perks of a bookseller’s deceit

Research into female book ownership can be a complicated and unrewarding task. Sources are scarce and furthermore, married women often disappear from view, their husbands being the ones who deal with booksellers and such in lieu of the women themselves. Even with the help of a comprehensive bibliography of (privately owned) book collections brought to sale, results are meager. The bibliography in question is Brill’s Books Sales Catalogues Online, and although this repository contains over 3500 book sales catalogues, only around 30 catalogues refer to a woman as being the previous owner of a sold book collection. Sometimes however, evidence of the shady practices of an early modern bookseller can help uncover hitherto unknown female book owners.

A book sales catalogue published in 1794 by The Hague-based booksellers Scheurleer & van Cleef is such an unexpected find. This sales catalogue incorporates 4 different book lists, two of which are anonymous. The other two collections of books are advertised as having belonged to a Mr. Van der Hoop on the one hand (“Catalogue d’une magnifique collection de livres, [..] Delaissée par feu Messire François Van Der Hoop [..]), and a Mr. D. Bouwens on the other (“Tweede catalogus van Boeken, waar in verscheide fraaije werken [..] nagelaaten door wylen den wel ed. gestrenge heere en Mr. D. Bouwens [..]”). Thus, these lists seemingly represent the book collection of a single owner, but as it turns out, that is not the whole story. [i]

It would have remained unclear to this day that not all the books on offer here did belong to either Van der Hoop or Bouwens if one of the booksellers had not interleaved a copy with his own notes. These notes do not solely mention auction results and buyer’s names (as is the case quite regularly), but also tell us the names of the individuals selling their books. Let one of these people be a woman, namely a Miss De Longeau.

Miss De Longeau brought 4 items to auction: two lots with music sheets, one lot comprising of an unspecified number of French plays, and one folio (Views of the Swiss Mountains) with numerous engravings. With just a last name and a few books brought to auction we know too little of this miss De Longeau to be able to positively identify her. A The Hague-based opera singer however went by the same name; she might have been the one whose books were auctioned here. Perhaps she sold old ‘professional literature’ she no longer had any use for? It is a tempting thought.

Identified or not, these inserted notes have helped us find proof of yet another female book owner. All in all, around ten female book owners would have remained completely unknown had it not been for the handwritten bookseller’s notes in sales catalogues attributed to (an) other named individual(s).



[i] Catalogue D’Une Magnifique Collection De Livres, En Tout Genre De Littérature, Facultés Et Langues, La Plus Grande Partie Très Proprement Reliée, Delaissée Par Feu Messire François Van Der Hoop, Dans son vivant Conseiller & Thrésorier-Général des Sept Provinces-Unies, &c. &c. […]. The Hague, I. van Cleef & B. Scheurleer, [1794]. In the online repository Book Sales Catalogues Online, Scanned copy: The Hague, HA: Hgst 1871. URL: http://primarysources.brillonline.com/browse/book-sales-catalogues-online/catalogue-dune-magnifique-collection-de-livres-van-der-hoop-was-a-chief-treasurer-of-the-states-general-bouwens-was-a-bailiff-and-president-of-the-polder-board-of-het-land-van-putten-the-1st-appendix-contains-books-of-fp-dubois-the-hague-isaac-van-cleef-bernardus-scheurleer-1794;bscobsc00117).De Longeau’s lots are found in Bouwens and the second (anonymous) appendix.

Image: Rijksmuseum (Rijksstudio), Oude vrouw en vrouw met kind lezen avondgebed bij kaarslicht, Ignatius Joseph van den Berghe, after Godfried Schalcken, 1800 engraving, h 399mm × w 317mm. http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.collect.79064

Joanna Rozendaal Written by: