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Museum Meermanno

A Place like Heaven for Bibliophiles

A good design makes a good book even better. (It doesn’t make a bad book good, but a bad design does make a good book bad.) It usually not only improves a book’s readability, but often adds to its collectability. There is no harm in collecting books, but at some point you die & what happens to your collection then? In the case of the 19th-century bibliophile Willem Baron van Westreenen van Tiellandt his estate in The Hague became a museum, named after his great-uncle Johan Meerman whose books formed the basis for his collection: Museum Meermanno. Originally the museum went by the name of Meermanno-Westreenianum, but that’s too long & too complicated in this day & age, and I believe they’re now trying to turn its subtitle ‘House of the Book’ into its official designation; I hope that this soulless name won’t last long. The Baron collected antiquities as well, so it’s inaccurate anyway.

Museum Meermanno
The 19th-century book room at Museum Meermanno

The highlight of the museum is the book room upstairs, which has hardly changed during the last 168 years, but we’re dealing with a museum here, so you are not allowed to touch anything, let alone browse the stacks. The antiquities in the adjacent room are hardly of interest to us bibliophiles, but the permanent exhibition ‘From lead to LED’, which shows the development of the book from 1850 to the present, is enthralling, and so were many of the temporary exhibitions hosted by the museum over the last years, all related to book design & illustration, and the history of the book. On weekends from 12 noon to 4½ p.m. there are special activities for children; on Saturdays they can learn to write with a quill pen at the scriptorium, and on Sundays it’s possible to print bookmarks on an old hand press in the workshop. (According to my children the scriptorium is more fun than the workshop.)

Reader comments

My youngest daughter

What I like best at this museum is the Bibliotheca Thurkowiana Minor, which looks like a doll’s house. It’s a two-storey miniature library with 1,515 tiny books of no more than three inches each, and it has a secret bookcase for naughty books.


Willem van Westreenen adored not only books, but dogs as well. When they died, his dogs were buried in a small cemetery in what is now the museum’s garden, where their gravestones can still be seen. The Latin epitaphs are full of spelling mistakes because the mason was unable to read the Baron’s handwriting properly. According to A.M. Maas Geesteranus in Brieven uit de hofstad (Arnhemsche Courant, 22 July 1878, p. 1–2), the eccentric Baron mourned more over dead dogs than when his wife left him for another man: ‘Wanneer een zijner viervoetige huisgenooten het tijdelijke met het eeuwige verwisselde, was er meer getreur en geween in ’s mans woning dan toen de barones zelve met haren beminnelijken sergeant de echtelijke woning ontvlood.’


Johan Meerman’s book collection, of which Van Westreenen purchased large parts at auction in 1824, was started by his father Gerard Meerman, the author of Origines typographicae, who had an interest in law & typography. Both Gerard & Johan were buried in St Peter’s Church in Leiden, where now two impressive sepulchral monuments honour their memory.