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The Dutch Collections at the Library of Congress

Margrit B. Krewson
Former German/Dutch Area Specialist

First Acquisitions

The Library's Dutch collections began with the acquisition of Thomas Jefferson's personal library in 1815. Although Jefferson's European interest was primarily France, he collected works from other European countries, particularly as they pertained to America. Jefferson stated that he had standing orders during the whole time he was in Europe, visiting its principal book marts, particularly in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Madrid, and London, 'for such works relating to America as could not be found in Paris.' The following items in the Jefferson Library attest to his interest in the area of the United Provinces of the Netherlands and Belgium: Histoire de la Hollande 1609-1679 by Adrien Baillet, History of the United Provinces, Histoire de la guerre de Flandres by Famiano Strada, Vie de Michel de Ruiter by Adrien Richer, History of the United Netherlands by Lieuwe van Aitzema, De Witt's State of Holland, History of the Treaty of Utrecht, as well as Hugenii Cosmotheoros.

Biblia. Amsterdam 1702 -- Romeyn de HoogheThe Rare Book and Special Collections Division has wide and rich holdings of early books from the Low Countries. Included in an acquisition from Peter Force in 1867 were a small number of Dutch books. These collections increased over the years with special concentration on Dutch exploration. With the acquisition of the John B. Thatcher Collection in 1927 and the Otto Vollbehr Collection in 1930, the Division added many examples of the work of fifteenth-century presses in Holland and Belgium. The finest examples of the printing arts came to the Library with the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection. The collection is especially strong in early Dutch illustrated books and includes 170 books from the library of the dukes of Arenberg.

Systematic Exchanges Begin

Nevertheless, no systematic attempt to develop a Dutch-language collection was made by the Library until 1867, when the exchange of public documents with foreign governments was provided for by a joint resolution of Congress. The Netherlands was among the first countries to respond. The Librarian of Congress, Ainsworth Rand Spofford, recognized that the Library was 'greatly deficient' in foreign government publications and requested legislation to facilitate the exchange of public documents with foreign countries. Although international conferences on exchanges at Paris and Brussels in 1885 failed to bring agreement from key European governments, an agent for the Smithsonian Institution in Europe was able to secure large numbers of public documents for shipment to the Library of Congress. The official publications that the Dutch government contributed contain much valuable information on the history, legislation, and general condition of that country.

In 1891 an International Copyright Law made Belgium one of the first countries entitled to benefits of copyright in the United States. By 1910, President William Howard Taft signed a general copyright proclamation declaring reciprocal copyright relations with Belgium.

In 1874 Librarian Spofford remarked, echoing Jefferson, that "there is almost no work within the vast range of literature and science which may not at some time prove useful to the legislature of a great nation." With this in mind, Library officials in 1899 began to acquire a large body of Dutch-language literature rich in original historical and literary materials. By 1901, 952 volumes dealing with the Netherlands were reported by the Librarian.

Early 20th-Century Efforts

According to the Report for 1912, in this period the Library made its first systematic effort to fill gaps in its European history collection and made a number of noteworthy acquisitions. The American Historical Association's Check List was used to build the collections of source material relating to European history. The position of European representative to the Library was established in 1926 with an office in Paris. The European representative had responsibility for acquiring material from England, France, Holland and Spain. Want lists on various subjects, e.g., history, economics, and general literature were sent to Paris. The office established contacts with dealers, collectors, scholars, and learned institutions. On January 1, 1928, the international exchange service of the Netherlands was moved from Delft to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library) at The Hague and established as an official agency. The American minister to the Netherlands helped to impress officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at the Royal Library with the importance of having one copy of all the official publications of the Kingdom, including those of the Provinces deposited regularly at the Library of Congress. Dutch material acquired in 1929 included 'various volumes and bundles of the papers of the West India Company, of the Admiralty, of C.W.F. Dumas, of the Dutch factory at Desima (Deshima) at the time of Commodore Perry's visit to Japan, and especially correspondence of the Dutch ministers to the United States with the Secretary of the Dutch Republic and the Foreign Office of the Monarchy.' In that year there was also an ongoing project in Dutch and Belgian archives that secured facsimiles of source material relating to American history. The project, which was funded by John D. Rockefeller and the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, allowed material in manuscript form related to the early geographical history of North America to be taken to the Rijksarchief for photographing. The acquisition of Proces- verbaux des seances du Conseil provincial from the Belgian Provinces of East and West Flanders was an important addition to the Library's collections.

At The Hague, photocopying operations were nearly completed by April 1930. Among the collections included were the Algemeen Rijksarchief in The Hague, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Economisch Historisch Archief, and Departement van Buitenlandsche Zaken, as well as the Gemeentearchief at Rotterdam and the Gemeentearchief and Universiteitsbibliotheek at Amsterdam. Diplomatic papers were reproduced up to the year 1870 along with those of consular and official commercial agents and trading and colonizing companies, reports and records on emigration and ships' journals. All were materials of excellent quality.

The scholarly content of the Dutch collections was further enhanced in 1937, when the Bibliotheek de Technische Hoogeschool in Delft forwarded 246 academic publications, including all available theses presented at that institution, and also in 1938, when the University of Groningen agreed to supply copies of its dissertations and academic publications. That same year, the University of Utrecht began forwarding copies of its theses.

World War II and After

During World War II, acquisition of Dutch publications was hampered but not entirely discontinued. By 1947 Librarian Luther Evans could report that the Library was able to procure 9,344 items from Belgium and 18,284 items from the Netherlands.

For a brief period there was a formal program in Dutch studies at the Library of Congress. The Netherlands Studies Unit, established in 1942, dealt with a diversity of subjects relating to the Netherlands and Netherlands East Indies. The Unit's first major product was a 1945 bibliography of the Netherlands East Indies. A Guide to Dutch Bibliographies was published in 1951. The Netherlands Studies Unit was discontinued in 1947.

Special Collections


The Music Division has as good a collection as any American library of the early printed editions of the music of Netherlands composers Binchois, Ockeghem, des Pres, and Jacob Clement. Some of these collections were published in the Netherlands by Phalese in Louvain and by Susato in Antwerp; others were published in Italy and Germany. The Music Division owns copies of such renowned collections as Novum et Insigne Opus Musicum (Nurnberg, Berg & Neuber, 1558) and Il Primo Libro delli madrigali d'Orlando di Lassus... (Rome, Dorico, 1560), of which only one other complete copy is known.


The Prints and Photographs Division includes in its holdings a significant collection of approximately 500 posters and 200 fine prints published in the Netherlands. The prints date from the fifteenth-century to the present, and the posters date from the 1890s "golden age" of the poster to the present with the majority dating from the 1950s to the 1970s. The prints' topics range from religious images and genre scenes to landscapes, portraits, and even modern abstract works. The posters include cultural events such as exhibitions, films, and theater.


Preserved in the Library of Congress is the largest and most comprehensive collection in the Western hemisphere of maps and atlases published in the Netherlands since the sixteenth century. The collection contains examples of the work of all the great Dutch publishing houses of the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. Of special significance is the excellent collection of editions of the Theatrum Ortelius Terrarum first published in Antwerp in 1570 by Abraham Ortelius. Also of special significance is the Library's fine collection of atlases produced by the great Renaissance geographer of the sixteenth century, Gerardus Mercator. The highlight of this collection is a fine copy, bound in contemporary brown leather, of the first edition of his Atlas sive cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi et facricati figura published in Duisburg in 1595. The world atlas was the culminating achievement of Mercator's long and active career as a teacher, geographer, astronomer, engraver, and publisher. This magnificent volume was the first uniform collection of maps to bear the title Atlas. From that date, in honor of Mercator and his work, most volumes of maps used this term.

The greatest Dutch publishers of the seventeenth century were Willem Jansz Blaeu and his sons Cornelius and Joan. The Blaeu firm produced globes, sea charts, wall maps, and atlases, a significant number of which are represented in the collections of the Library of Congress. The Blaeu firm continued to increase the size of its magnificent atlases with new geographical information and maps. By 1662 its principle work, the Atlas Maior, was available with text in Latin (11 volumes), Dutch (9 volumes), German (9 volumes), French (12 volumes), and Spanish (10 volumes). All of these multi-volume sets, bound in contemporary vellum or velvet, are in the Library's collection.


Today the Dutch collections of the Library of Congress comprise more than 200,000 items, with an annual increment of approximately 3,000 titles. Acquisitions include purchases, exchanges, and gifts. Although a complete survey has never been made, comments from scholarly patrons indicate that the Library's collections of Dutch history and literature are among the most extensive in the United States. These collections support research on the postgraduate level in all areas of intellectual endeavor. Patrons are referred to the following Library of Congress publications:

The Library of Congress Dutch collections are easily accessible to researchers, who can gain information on the holdings by consulting the various printed and online catalogs. Reference questions may be directed to the European Reading Room (202) 707-5858/4515, which may refer those queries requiring in-depth response to the Division's German/Dutch area specialist. Inquiries dealing with the Library's special collections may be forwarded to the appropriate custodial division for response. Specific information on the Dutch holdings of the Library of Congress and their accessibility may be obtained by writing to the Chief, European Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540-4830.

Additional Dutch resources at the Library of Congress

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  February 23, 2017
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