The History of the Lithographie Royale, 1818-25

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Abstract

From 1816 lithographic businesses began to develop in Western Europe. Use was made of a printing technique, lithography - based on the repellent working of water and fat - which was catching on especially in Germany and France. The Low Countries remained behind: early in 1818 only small lithographic printing offices were to be found in Brussels, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. At about that time the Frenchman MJ.V. Duval de Mercourt, calling himself an architect, presented himself in the Netherlands. Stimulated by the Dutch envoy at the court of Paris, Baron Fagel, he requested King William I to be permitted to found lithographical offices in The Hague and Brussels and to call himself Royal Lithographer. This was permitted by Royal Decree of 16 July 1818. Added to it was, highly unusually, that the establishment of Duval was greeted with approval, and that the hope was expressed that he might succeed in his attempts. The background of all this was the industrialisation policy that was pursued more in particular by the king himself. Indeed, Duval set about his business with great expectations and fervour. Probably he officially opened a - for Dutch standards - large lithographic printing office which consisted of at least two presses, which he called the Lithographie Royale'. He focused in particular on government commissions and especially on making autographs of written documents which up to that time had to be copied by hand. This technique, where writing was done with fat ink on prepared paper, after which the text was transferred to the stone and printed, seemed a godsend indeed. This autographic technique also had the king's interest: for, would it not be possible to introduce it and subsequently discharge clerks at the ministries? The future seemed to favour Duval, but alas, reality was different. It appeared that government as well as private institutions would provide him with hardly any work, possibly because of his high prices. It is also remarkable that some ministries did not want to have anything to do with this new printing method. After half a year he was already threatened with financial downfall, also through a loss he had personally suffered and the downward turn of the Dutch economy. The king then intervened with a number of measures in favour of Duval, of which the most important was that he was allowed to work for the Ministry of Water Management. An attempt was also made to accommodate him at the Algemeene Landsdrukkerij in The Hague, a government printing office with a monopoly on all government printed matter. The directors, however, confirmed letterpress printers, did not believe in this new printing technique which, according to them, could have no future because it would always be more expensive than their own beautiful printing. Because the locations of the ministries were changing between The Hague and Brussels about every half year, Duval was forced to follow the Ministry of Water Management to Brussels and to found a lithographic printing office there as well. Although he was supplied with more work there, he appeared to be at the end of his tether half way through 1819 due to a lack of financial resources. His financial situation was such that he was even refused a government advance because it was feared that he would not be able to reimburse it. Thereafter he was forced to make a disadvantageous contract with a private person, after which he left for The Hague, a destitute man. Although work from the Ministry of Water Management was also given to him there, things continued to go downhill for him. He now also lost his premises in The Hague so that he could no longer accept commissions. True, some time later a new place was found, but he had to agree that his co-worker, D. Abrahams, was to be appointed as his partner. Halfway through 1820 there arrived at last a reply to the many petitons and pleas he had sent to the king. This was, however, negative, because it was feared that a financial contribution from the government might slow down the downfall of his enterprise, but would not prevent it. Even damages were not granted because he was supposed to have given a false impression of things. He then left first to go to Brussels and later on to France, leaving his lithographic printing office in The Hague to Abrahams. The latter succeeded in getting the enterprise off to a good start within a few years, notably by making lithographs and trading in lithographs and sheet music, the main aim of the business. From about 1823 the number of commissions for lithographs increased, with a marked improvement in the quality of his work. This resulted in an honourable mention in the second industry exhibition held in the Netherlands in the summer of 1825. During this exhibition he was appointed first lithographer at the Algemeene Landsdrukkerij! This was because the king had intervened anew in the field of lithography and persevered against the advice of his minister in having an autographic printing office there, an office that was to be closed in 1832 due to lack of work and with great losses. The Lithographic Royale subsequently stopped its activities after Abrahams had received a compensation in his salary for it. Finally, the lithographic activities in The Hague were continued by his brother, A.M. Abrahams, on a modest scale.

Quaerendo

A Journal Devoted to Manuscripts and Printed Books

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