MUSEUM MEERMANNO // Ruth Bardenstein

15 May 2016 12:00 AM | Deleted user

A visit to the Netherlands gave me the chance to see the Museum Meermanno in The Hague, said to be the oldest book museum in the world. The original Museum of the Book, founded as a bequest of the Baron van Westreenen in 1852, contains over 20,000 items including a significant collection of medieval manuscripts and incunabula. In 1960, it became part of the Museum Meermanno, which brought together other significant collections of fine bindings, Dutch book design, calligraphy, Czech avant-garde books, Ex Libris (book plates), archives of designers and typographers, and other collections relating to the art and design of the book. The museum continues to collect artist’s books (Ode to a grand staircase by Julie Chen and Barb Tetenbaum is one that is showcased in the catalog) and presents exhibits which reveal different parts of the collection.

Besides being in a charming building which was the grand home of the Baron, the museum contains many surprises (a notable collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman objects) and too many highlights to cover in this post. The current exhibit, The Book Inside, provides a veritable history of the book in six large rooms, from clay tablet and papyrus through modern printing and digital media. All items are selections from their extensive collections and the displays provide an opportunity for close inspection of binding models, stunning illuminated manuscripts, early bindings, and fine printings and modern artist’s books.

Models made by Janos Szirmai, on display as part of The Book Inside exhibit.

Bindings from the 12th and 15th century on display as part of The Book Inside exhibit.

Love is Enough, written and designed by William Morris, printed by the Kelmscott Press on display as part of The Book Inside exhibit.

The Book Room is a dream 18th century library with wall and floor cabinets filled with van Westreenan’s extensive book collection. This includes a custom cabinet of the complete set Kelmscott Press books (53 publications in 66 volumes, all in the original vellum or half-cloth bindings). There are showcases containing many very large format books which include the Blaeu atlases and art books and portfolios. There are some gems displayed in this room, but one may contact Erik Geleigns, the Conservator Oude Collectie, about viewing other items in the collection that are in the Book Room cabinets or in storage.

The Book Room in Museum Meermanno.

The miniature book displays were an absolute highlight: the Meermanno has a collection of over 600 miniature books, including more than 50 from the 17th and 18th centuries. A sampling from this collection along with printed sheets and materials for making some of these books were on display (see image below) along with the stunning miniature library “Biblioteca Thurkowiana Minor.” Given to the Meermanno in 2012 by Guus and Luce Thurkow, it contains beautifully crafted globes, desks and chairs, a book staircase and miniature wood cabinets housing and over 1500 miniature books. These books were purchased or handmade by The Catharijne Press (owned and run by the Thurkows) and there is a video showing the making of some of the books and background on this marvel. (See for more information.)

Miniature book display at the Meermanno museum.

The Bibliotheca Thurkowiana Minor miniature library at the Meermanno museum.

Pages of The Young Stork’s Baedeker, a miniature printed by The Catharijne Press.

(All photos by the author, courtesy of Museum Meermanno, The Hague, NL)

The current exhibition The Book Inside runs until May 29, 2016. Further information on exhibits, events, and museum collections can be found on their website: This is a must-see museum for anyone involved with the art of the book, and I would strongly recommend contacting the museum before visiting so that special holdings can be viewed!


Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software