A plastered printer

Alcohol abuse at the Plantin Press

By Kristof Selleslach, archivist at the Museum Plantin-Moretus

Alcohol on the workfloor was a source of problems at the Plantin Press too. Multiple and repeated complaints about drunkenness notwithstanding, Andries d’Hondt was allowed to keep on working as a printer for many years. On the basis of the complaint book this blogpost recreates his intoxicated career.

The new board of the Chapel, elected in 1721 (MPM Arch. 334, fol. 127 recto)

Chapel

The printers and compositors themselves maintained order and discipline on the shop floor. To this aim they were organised in the ‘Chapel’. Every year a board was elected among the members. At the head of the Chapel stood a captain. The task of the Chapel’s secretary was to register the established violations on discipline in the complaint book. The secretary also registered the complaints between the employees about one another. Every three months the board of the Chapel held court and sanctioned the complaints with a fine when deemed necessary. The complaint book offers a unique and colourful look at daily life on the shop floor.

Yelling

Andries d’Hondt profits from the big hiring wave of 1713 at the Plantin Press. The War of the Spanish Succession which had raged throughout Europe since the beginning of the century had finally come to an end. Printer Andries d’Hondt was the last in a row of twelve recruitments. Regrettably, the Plantin-Moretus Archives do not mention any details about his age or his background. When reading between the lines however, we learn that he was married and that he had children.

List of Chapel members, at the centre of the left page the data of recruitment and discharge of Andries d’Hondt. (MPM Arch. 334, fol. 51 verso-52 recto)

A year and a half after Andries has been recruited, the secretary notes the first complaint about drunkenness. According to the complaint book Andries d’Hondt had repeatedly gone out to buy beer, which was against the rules. Apparently he got himself into such a drunken state that he started yelling and swearing at the premises. He insulted the Chapel by claiming that it made no difference whether he had his complaints registered in the complaint book because nobody ever believed him. The captain gives d’Hondt a warning: he will be expelled from the shop floor next time he is drunk.

The very first complaint filed by the captain concerning the drunkenness of Andries d’Hondt, 13 April 1715 (MPM Arch. 264, Book of Complaint 1713–1769, fol. 8 recto-9 verso)

Drinking also happened outside the printing works. Half a year later, around eight o’clock in the morning, the captain has d’Hondt expelled from a brandy house where he had been drinking in the company of printers Maximiliaan Brasseur and Daniël Vaeremans. Later on that same day d’Hondt and Vaeremans attend the funeral of their colleague Jean François Trotin in a drunken state.

Shitting

Over the next few years, the captain complains about d’Hondt’s drunkenness on four other occasions. The complaints were all of the same nature. Andries d’Hondt picked a fight whenever he was drunk, and he was a nuisance to his colleagues. Every employee was a possible target, but he especially aimed at his regular press mate. Printers worked a printing press in teams of two, and usually they formed a steady tandem. The complaints clearly show that Andries d’Hondt often picked a fight with his press mate when he was drunk.

Ping-pong of complaints between Andries d’Hondt and his press mate Francis vande Velde, 27 October 1721 (MPM Arch. 264, Book of Complaint 1713–1769, fol. 32 verso-33 recto)

In 1721 Andries d’Hondt for instance reproached his press mate Francis vande Velde with not having a smooth face. Vande Velde replied that d’Hondt had been drinking brandy since eight o’clock in the morning. As a result the drunken d’Hondt hindered the printers in their work. d’Hondt admitted that he had drunk brandy, but he defended himself. According to d’Hondt he suffered from pain in his intestines, as he had been constipated for over three days, and his belly felt as hard as rock. Vande Velde replied wittily that d’Hondt’s disease was well-known to his fellow journeymen: in the morning pain in the arms, and in the afternoon pain in the intestines. The oneliner rhymes in Dutch: ‘armen/darmen’. This exchange of words corresponds closely to d’Hondt’s favourite insult: “I shit in you.”

Smelling

The captain complains. Andries d’Hondt has told him to ‘smell my ass to check whether I’ve been drinking brandy’ (‘rieckt aen mijn gat ofte ick brandewijn gedroncken heb’). 30 juni 1727 (MPM Arch. 264, Book of Complaint 1713–1769, fol. 48 verso-49 recto)

Between 1715 and 1721 the captain and other employees filed ten complaints against Andries d’Hondt for drunken behaviour on the shop floor. In the end they probably gave up because it was to no avail. Furthermore, d’Hondt became more and more assertive towards the complainers. Whoever had the audacity to say out loud in d’Hondts’ presence that he was drunk, was immediately put in the complaint book for slander by d’Hondt. Once when the captain enquired whether he had been drinking, d’Hondt invited him to smell his ass to check whether he had indeed been drinking brandy.

Besides an insult, a comment on drunkenness could also result in physical aggression. When printer Bartholomeus vanden Dorpe once remarked that d’Hondt was drunk, d’Hondt walked over to the press to molest vanden Dorpe. Even though after 1721 drunkenness was no longer the subject of the complaints, it often remained the cause. Apparently, Andries d’Hondt kept appearing on the shop floor in a drunken state.

Fired

On top of all of this, Andries d’Hondt had absolutely no desire to sit in the Board of the Chapel. Those who were elected, however, were obliged to assume their duties. Reluctant journeymen were allowed to buy an exemption. Apparently it was possible to pay in kind. Andries d’Hondt treated his fellow journeymen in the year 1730 with 16 jugs of beer. In return he obtained a life long exemption from all offices.

The new board of the Chapel, elected in 1729, in the bottom right corner the life long exemption of Andries d’Hondt in exchange for 16 jugs of beer, 1 April 1730 (MPM Arch. 334, fol. 135 recto)

He wasn’t able to enjoy this exemption for long, though. In September 1731 Andries d’Hondt was fired. The reason for the termination of his employment remains unknown. In the book of complaint no complaints against his person are registered around that time. But chances are that alcohol consumption was one of the reasons. Nevertheless, Andries d’Hondt worked for the Plantin press during an impressive 18 years, even while he clearly had problems with alcohol.

The Plantinian Archives are a treasure trove of information about the daily life at the Plantinian press. Join our Archivist for a visit behind the scenes.