Casparus Commelin (1636-1693)

Between 1664 and 1669 printer, bookseller and publisher Casparus Commelin worked on the corner of Damrak and Onze Lieve Vrouwesteeg. His fame was largely thanks to his Beschryving van Amsterdam (‘Description of Amsterdam’), a historical and topographical description of the city. This book was based on the earlier description of the city by merchant Tobias van Domselaer, who in turn had used material from Commelin’s father Isaac who was also a book printer, with an exceptional interest in history. Casparus Commelin expanded Domselaer’s descriptions with a description of the city’s synagogues among other things, and updated them to 1691. For this he also made use of documents which he had access to as governor of the Oudezijds Huiszittenhuis – an institution that provided succour to the poor. Later city historians were less positive about his work because it was believed that he had not been accurate in his use of these archives. As well as a writer Commelin was a successful publisher. He produced Nicolaes Witsen’s bestselling book Aeloude en hedendaegsche scheeps-bouw en bestier (Historical and contemporary shipbuilding and management), for example. In 1686 he obtained exclusive dealing rights for newspaper printing. Commelin died in 1693, the same year in which his city history saw the light of day. Meanwhile his publishing company had moved from the bustle of Damrak to the peace and quiet of Herengracht.


Photo: City Archive Amsterdam.