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Senate House Library

Elzevier Collection

About 1,150 books printed by members of the Elzevier family and by other 17th-century Dutch presses.

The Collection 

Subject: Classics; Publishing history 

Over 700 books printed by members of the Elzevier family, 1598-1706, and approximately 450 books produced by other seventeenth-century Dutch presses. The material covers the full range of Elzevier publications: alongside many editions of the Classics are contemporary works on theology, philosophy, politics, science, and other subjects. The ‘Little Republics’ series of books about various countries is well represented. For rarity, pirated editions of popular French literary works (Corneille, Molière, Scarron and others), booksellers’ catalogues, and early-eighteenth-century dissertations from Leiden University stand out.  

All formats are present, as is the gamut of languages in which the Elzevirs published: above all Latin, but also French, Dutch, Semitic languages, and Italian. Most books are bound in contemporary Dutch vellum. Some calf bindings indicate early travel. The collection includes books from Leiden and Amsterdam, shows the various publishing devices used by the family, and includes works with false imprints, featuring such typical names as Jean Sambix (Leiden), Jacques Le Jeune (Amsterdam), and Pierre Du Marteau (Cologne). 

For provenance, the pride of the collection is a copy of the Poemata & effigies trium fratrum Belgarum Nicolai Grudii (1612), given by its editor, Bonaventura Vulcanius, to Hugo Grotius. Several books have seventeenth- or eighteenth-century inscriptions from various countries in Europe, including England. 

Printers of non-Elzevirian books include Jacob von Meurs, the Officina Hackiana, Johannes Janssonius van Waesborge, Elizaeus Weyerstraten, Jan Jansson, Daniel Gaasbeeck, Johann Ravestein and Franciscus Moyaerd. This section of the collection also contains work about the Elzeviers. 

The collection was sold to the City of London by an unidentified H.A. Beaumont in 1900. The Guildhall Library, City of London, gave it to the University of London in 1950, when the Guildhall was seeking to focus more narrowly on London history and Senate House wanted to fill its tower.


Elzevier in central London


In 1580 Lowys (Louis) Elzevier (Elsevir, Elzevir, Elsevier), a former apprentice of Christopher Plantin in Antwerp, moved from the Southern Netherlands to the Northern university town of Leiden where he set up his own book shop. Six years later, after working mainly as a bookbinder and bookseller, he was appointed beadle of the Academy.

The first Elzevier to run a printing office was Louis’ son Isaac (Leiden 1617), who also became university printer. Subsequently, the large family of Elzeviers ran major offices in Leiden (Abraham [I] and Bonaventura, later: Johannes and Daniel) and Amsterdam (Lodewijk [III] and Daniel), whilst the houses in Utrecht and The Hague (Lodewijk [II]) were of less importance.

Members of the Elzevier dynasty were known for their shrewd commercialism in the book business. They were among the foremost European publishers of their time for the number and variety of their publications (over 2,000 titles, excluding academic dissertations and disputations) at cheap prices. Subsequent collectors valued the books published for their perceived physical quality (type, ornament, paper).

Louis published his first book, Eutropius’ Historiae Romanae, in 1592 and, according to Alphonse Willems (the outstanding biographer/bibliographer of the Elzeviers), the last publication was printed in Leiden in 1702 (Willems bibliography, nr. 947) by Abraham Elzevier. After that year, until his death in 1712, Abraham only produced a number of dissertations. However, the most productive years of Elzevier printing must be located between 1620 and 1680.