The Dutch East and West India Companies from Gert Jan Bestebreurtje
By Michael Stillman
The latest catalogue from Holland bookseller Gert Jan Bestereurtje Rare Books is entitled The Dutch East - and West - India Company. These trading companies effectively ran Dutch exploration and colonization for several centuries, making their nation a world power, and their shareholders wealthy at the same time. No other nation turned quite so much of its international relations over to private enterprise. The VOC (East India Company) was the larger, and more successful, ruling Dutch trade and possessions in Asia from 1602-1800. The WIC (West India Company) struggled to make a profit and became a participant in the slave trade. It did develop smaller colonies, but was no match for the British and Spanish in the New World, particularly after the fall of New Amsterdam in 1664.
While the two Dutch India companies are the focus of most items in this catalogue, there are many works about the territories in which they operated, and the settlers that followed them to new lands. There is certainly no shortage of material on Dutch activities in the world from the 17th through 19th centuries here. This catalogue includes 1,160 items. Here are a very few of them.
For those interested in early Dutch voyages, Nederlandsche Reisen is a most thorough collection. Published in 14 volumes from 1784-1787, it includes three volumes on pre-VOC voyages and ten on post-VOC expeditions. The last volume describes voyages to the West Indies. Item 71. Priced at €3,500 (Euros, or approximate US equivalent of $4,660).
From a description of many voyages we move to the very specific - recollections of one sailor, Johann von der Behr, a German who signed on to a voyage to the Dutch colony at Batavia (today's Jakarta, Indonesia). Von der Behr would go on to serve in Java, travel to Persia, and spend six years working for the Dutch East India Company in Ceylon. In 1649, eight years after he left, von der Behr returned to Germany, where he became a public notary, living until 1692. In 1668, his diary, Diarium, oder Tage-Buch, was published, a faithful account of his years overseas. It is very rare today. Item 113. €9,500 (US $12,650).
Isaac Titsingh was a former surgeon who worked for the VOC in the late 1700s. From 1779-1784, he headed a Dutch factory (really a trading post) on Dejima, an island in Nagasaki Bay. Dejima was actually an artificial island rather than a true part of Japan, which provided an excuse for allowing the Dutch to trade from this location even as Japan was officially sealed off from the West. Titsingh provides a look at Japanese culture at a time when it was closed off from the world in Illustrations of Japan, consisting of private memoirs and anecdotes of the reigning dynasty of the djogouns, or sovereigns of Japan. Item 666 (no, this is not the work of the Devil) is the first English edition, published in 1822. €9,500 (US $12,650).