A few weeks ago, I told you about all the literary places to visit in my birth town, The Hague. One of the places I highlighted was Museum Meermanno, the national House of the Book. This museum is so amazing I wanted to tell you a bit more about the museum itself, it’s history and it’s collection.
The story of this museum starts with Gerard Meerman. He started a collection of books, with a focus on judicial works, classic texts and history. Gerard had some great international connections, which at one time even allowed him to buy a whole library! This was the library of Francisco Pascual Chiva. After the books were sent to The Hague, Gerard selected the ones he liked and sold the rest at an auction. Another chance to buy a complete library came in 1764, when in France the colleges of the Jesuits were being closed down. Gerard bought the whole library of the Collège de Clermont, but the collection got held back during transport by the French authorities, because it contained some important historical documents. Gerard and the French government compromised: France got to keep some of the manuscripts, and Gerard got knighted!
When Gerard passed away, his son Johan inherited the collection. As he had a preference for books on medieval history, he mostly added books on this subject to the collection. Johan and his wife did not have any children and they wanted the books to become part of the Dutch Royal library after their death. Unfortunately, the Royal library decided against this, because they feared it would be too expensive to take care of all these books. This meant the books were going to be auctioned.
The auction of the Meerman library in 1824 was one of the biggest bookish events of the 19th century. It took three auction houses three years to prepare the 1208 page catalogue. Collectors from all kinds of places in Europe came to The Hague to participate in the auction. One of the biggest buyers was Sir Thomas Phillips, a rather eccentric man with too much money. But the absolute winner of the auction was baron Van Westreenen, a nephew of Meerman, who spent f 11.419. This might not sound like much, but today it would be worth 125.000 euros.
Van Westreenen wanted the collection to stay as complete as possible. After his death, his library became Museum Meermanno – Westreenianum, so the library and the collection would be available to the public. The Dutch government and the museum have been able to buy some of the books that once belonged to the Meermans when another library closed down.
Nowadays, the museum still shows the old library and the old books, but it also regularly features more modern collections as well. For example, at the moment I’m writing this there’s an exhibition about books on sports! They are also really friendly if you want to do some research on old books: you can make an appointment and they will show you everything you request!