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The Collation

Steady sellers

Recently, Jan van de Kamp, a scholar from the Netherlands, contacted me with the question of whether I knew a method to extract all religious steady sellers from the Short Title Catalogue, Netherlands (STCN). He would like to use that information to prepare a contribution to the Brill Companion to Dutch Protestant Piety, 1480–1820, in which Jan will discuss the production of edifying literature published in the Netherlands in the period 1570–1820. 1

When I hear the term “steady seller,” I immediately think of the work De imitatione Christi by late 14th-century Augustinian monk Thomas à Kempis, which by all means was the steady seller of all times. De imitatione Christi has been printed over and again, and the work is still available today—including as an edition for smart phones. 2 And indeed, there are over 140 editions of this work listed in the STCN, the online bibliography of pre-1801 hand-press books published in Dutch or in the Netherlands. Of that list, 79 editions were produced in the north (the present-day Netherlands) and 57 in the south (present-day Flanders). In addition, six editions bear a so-called fictitious Flemish address, but were in fact produced in the protestant north. 3 This is exactly the kind of work Jan is interested in: religious or devotional books with a long publishing history.

  1. For more information about this project, please contact Jan van de Kamp.
  2. In 2011, a collective bibliography of the editions and copies of De imitatione Christi in Paris libraries was published under the direction of Martine Delaveau and Yann Sordet: Édition et diffusion de l’Imitation de Jésus-Christ (1470-1800), Paris 2011. The next year, they received the Bibliography Prize 2012 of the Syndicat National de la Librairie Ancienne et Moderne (SLAM) for this work.
  3. The majority of the Flemish titles in the STCN were derived from the STCV. At present—28 April 2014—the STCN contains 8,156 editions labelled with the country code for Belgium, “be.”
  4. Some titles combine two or more of these categories, so one cannot simply add up the numbers mentioned here.


[…] But as Proot explores in a post for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s The Collation, “Steady Sellers,” such a search raises more questions than it answers, starting from the fact that edition […]

Carnivalesque 103 | Wynken de Worde — June 8, 2014


As for: “… the STCN does not allow for browsing or searching edition statements” – I was going to suggest why you did not get the original database and use regular expressions to get to where you want only to see at the bottom you eventually did more or less just that. Your later statement “Bibliographic records are highly structured, …” This “brings some tears to my eyes” as whenever I think of the gigantic digitization effort Google has undertaken with Google books – only what they have not understood is how bibliographical work is undertaken. Could Google not have hired at least one librarian to coordinate this? I have a hard time making heads and tales of Google’s “bibliographical” garbage.

Darragh McCurragh — July 1, 2014


Dear Mr McCurragh,

Thank you very much for your comment.

As far as I know, Google works closely together with librarians when digitizing books — at least, that is the case at Ghent University Library. However, that does not imply that they listen to them: Google’s turnover is so immense, that they really can not pay attention to the finer points of bibliography. Ultimately, I believe that Google is not really interested in bibliography: they are on the stock market, and that explains a lot.

At this point, Google maintains a “quick and dirty” approach. In their philosophy, it is up to the user to figure out things, which is, on a screen, particularly difficult, not only because you see single pages in stead of spreads or openings, you never know whether a leave is missing or an image, and rulers are not included.

Because of the “managerial turn” in libraries, including academic libraries, a lot of expertise was lost. There are signs that this may come back, but in the meantime damage is done. Digitization has been a fetish for which much has been sacrificed. In my opinion, the care for our (handpress) heritage and the creation of digital surrogates should go hand in hand and reinforce each other.

Best wishes,


Goran Proot — July 2, 2014


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