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SWILDENS, J[ohan] H[endrik]
Vaderlandsch A-B Boek voor de Nederlandsche Jeugd
Amsterdam: Willem Holtrop, 1781.

Proof edition of the plates, premilinary to first octavo edition. Oblong portfolio (25.3 x 34.3 cm overall; the loose plates 25.0 x 32.3 cm). Unbound, as issued, in early plain green paper-covered pasteboard portfolio with undecorated vellum spine and corners. Engraved throughout, a complete suite of copper-engraved proofs. Collates 33 ll.: 1 l. (preliminary title: "Kunstplaaten van het Vaderlandsch A-B Boek. Proefdruk"; 16 x 22 cm, laid down on heavy laid paper), 1 l. (title, platemark 22.6 x 12.8 cm, the size of the octavo edition), 1 l. (alphabets); 1 l. (double plate: numbers and graphics), 1 l. (pictorial vowels and consonants), 1 l. (the solar system), 27 ll. plates (platemarks 92 x 103 mm) illustrating the complete alphabet (including two letters "G," with Day and Night), each captioned with two lines of verse starting with the appropriate letter. Bericht (prospectus) (8 pp. + 2 ll. self-wrappers, 16.1 x 10.3 cm, with loose additional leaf explicating the book’s philosophy and plates) set in pocket on inside front cover. Letterpress Verslag (proposal) (6 ll. sewn with silk ribbon = [2] + 9 + [1] pp., 32.7 x 21.3 cm), dated Amsterdam 26 September 1781, signed in ink by Swildens, laid in loose. Contained in a clamshell box by Nello Nanni, gilt-lettered quarter green morocco over Egyptian tow flax Cave paper. Condition: portfolio vellum crinkled, yellowed, worn at foot of spine, cover paper abraded, waterstained at margins (discolored red on lower front cover) and worn at edges, shallow triangular areas of light damp-staining in the lower right margins of most of the leaves (extending from points on the lower edges to about 5 cm up the right edges, well away from the engravings), occasional marginal creasing, remnants of paper hinges on versos, the paper generally strong and clean, the engravings themselves very deep, bright and crisp.

Johan Hendrik Swildens (1746-1809) has been widely recognized as a “public educator” “… committed to the goal of popular enlightenment and the dissemination of the patriotic virtues in the United Provinces.” Even as a child’s learning-book the A-B Boek “… manifested an undisguised formulation by Swildens of the vaderlandsche kundighaden en wetenschappen (patriotic skills and knowledge)” and enshrined his argument that “Constitutionalism, bravery in war, love of the Fatherland, patriotic diligence, these are the foundations of all States and above all our own.” Hake, supra, pp. 25, 33 [fn. omitted]. As Swildens says in the engraved medallion of the title page, “Wat zou de Verbetering der Wetenschappen baten onder een Volk; indien het Volk zelf daar door niet verbeterd wierde? [What avail the betterment of the sciences under a people; if the people itself be not thereby bettered?]”

Swildens participated actively with Pieter Wagenaar den Jongen (1747-1808) in designing the engravings, which were executed by L. Brasser, N. van der Meer, C. Bogerts, C. Brouwer, B. de Bakker, J. Condet and H. Numan. The 27 vignettes for the alphabet illustrate family life, learning, youthful pastimes, industry and husbandry, civic activity and architecture, the wonders of nature and natural religion.

We are aware of only two copies of this proof edition of the plates in institutional collections worldwide (Bibliotheek, Universiteit van Amsterdam, and Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, University of Florida Smathers Library), with no indication that either of these other two copies shares the Beritch and the signed and dated Verslag here present.


Buijnsters, P.J., and Buijnsters-Smets, Leontine, Lust en Leering: geschiedenis van het Nederlandsche kinderboek in de negentiende eeuw, Zwolle: Waanders, 2001, pp. 13-4, 114.

Hake, Barry J., “Between Patriotism and Nationalism: Johan Hendrik Swildens and the “Pedagogy of Patriotic Virtues” in the United Dutch Provinces during the 1780’s and 1790’s,” History of Education, vol. 33, no. 1 (January 2004), pp. 11-38.

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