The Account Book

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Daneel Bouden

Have any of you ever heard of Symon Reyerszoon or Reyer Dircszoon? I haven’t, and I’m Dutch, born and bred in Amsterdam. I did fine up to now, not knowing anything about these men and yet what they did for the city long ago was not without
Koopmannen op wegsignificance.

And yet, how this ended up in the Canon of Amsterdam is anyone’s guess, and it’s not the only subject in my “humble” opinion that could be replaced by something more important.

The society of Amstelodamum is a foundation created to increase the knowledge and interest in the city of Amsterdam. More awareness should lead to more adequate and more accepted administrative policies.

The society publishes, since 1902, a monthly magazine. All of them can be accessed as they have been published online.

In January 1954, in the 40th year of the existence of the society of Amstelodamum, one of the articles in the magazine is about The trade of Amsterdam with the East.

By Mr N. W. Posthumus, published by publishing house E. J. Brill, at Leiden, 1953 The book’s discussion is about ‘The oldest surviving account book of an Amsterdam company concerning its trade on the Baltic Sea, 1485-1490’.
The article is by Mr H. van Riel.

Mr. H. of RielMr. N.W. Posthumus
Harm van Riel on the left, Posthumus on the right

Harm van Riel
van Riel lived from 1907 until 1980 and was a politician for the VVD (conservatives, although they call themselves liberal). He gained national notoriety for his extreme views on abortion.
Van Riel studied classical languages and law; he was well-read and an excellent debater. He was also extremely influential behind the scenes in his party. He had a seat in the 1st chamber, our equivalent of the House of Lords or the Senate. He retired from politics in 1976.

Van Riels’ primary hobby was history; he was also fascinated by the defence and the army. He could not serve in the military due to some defect but would have loved to have been minister of defence. Internal party conflicts kept him from ever achieving that goal.
Van Riel published extensively and did many book reviews about Dutch history. He also wrote for the magazine from the society of Amstelodamum.

The account book, was it important or not?
The society of Amstelodamum, by the mouth of Harm van Riel, points out in 1954, on account of the publishing of the book by Posthumus: “The publication of a part of the administration of the Amsterdam merchants Symon Reyersz and Reyer Dircsz is really not more than a visitation; it is old and peculiar.
It is also too primitive but serves to further our knowledge of the trade and the city of Amsterdam during this period, even though it has been provided with some fine lettered commentary by our colleagues. It is really nothing more than a simple list of notes that have to do with the things these men experienced during their trading. There is a little to be learned about the nature of the products the people of Amsterdam sold and bought to and from the people of Dantzig, a little about the prizes of things, a little about trading techniques, and this only by way of deduction.

In fact, Posthumus says that there is little to deduct from how Amsterdam became such an important city. But where did Posthumus get his information from? Primarily from Germany, the Germans documented far more during those early ages and in far greater detail, with greater accuracy. Even flowery in comparison with this “Dutch oldest account book.”
Without Posthumus it the book would be impossible to comprehend; the society in 1954 suggests that after the dissertation of the book by Posthumus, that it is:
“Useful as a publication, and important to the specialist. It also the only specialist who would benefit and comprehend.

Harm van Riel says that the old accounts book is little more than a few scribbles translated by Posthumus and that not everyone shares his views. It can also be concluded that Poshumus relied extensively on German literature about 15th-century historic trade practices.

Mr H. van Riel declares after he reviews Posthumus book that the state of Amsterdam during this period is still not entirely clear but that we now have some inside and something to hold on to that others could continue with.
He concludes with, “This is a significant occurrence in the history of Amsterdam. Historiography made history.”

The ‘oldest account book’ would, without the research, translation and clarification by Posthumus in 1954, remain incomprehensible.
The ‘oldest account book’ consists mainly out of scribbles and a few transactions.
The references to the ‘oldest account book ‘ are a small part of what Posthumus published about Amsterdam in 1954 about the city’s history from 1450 until 1490.
The book of Posthumus is a starting point for further research on this period and certainly not a complete overview.
The Canon of Amsterdam fails to mention both Posthumus and van Riel.

The Canon of Amsterdam calls it the ‘oldest account book’, but that’s only possible because of Posthumus profound research, and he is the one who should get the credit in window number 6 on the Canon.The Amsterdam Historical Museum
It’s only by way of his explanatory notes that the book by Reyerszoon and Dircszoon becomes remotely comprehensible, and we get some insight into the wheeling and dealing of Amsterdam during the 15th century. I want to encourage everyone to visit the Amsterdam Historical Museum to gain a broader perspective of the history of this city.

I base my conclusions on the article of Mr H. van Riel in:
Monthly to promote further insight into the city of Amsterdam
Published by the society of Amstelodamum 4 1 st J A N U A R I 1 9 5 4

The Amsterdam Historical Museum
The purpose of the AHM is to keep the history of Amsterdam as accessible and alive as possible by appealing to the public most greatly. The museum is located on the Kalverstraat 92
phone 020 52 31 822

The oldest account book is window number 6 of the Canon of Amsterdam.