The Plantin Press looking for staff
By Kristof Selleslach, archivist at the Museum Plantin Moretus
In June 1722 the Plantin Press hired no less than six printers and typesetters. Annotations about the job interviews allow us an exceptional insight into the job interviews. Having experience was crucial above anything, but the master of the Golden Compasses was also looking out for well-behaved candidates.
The information about the hiring was written down somewhere haphazardly in a ledger of the paper storeroom. This ledger contains notes about every kind of paper with regard to its delivery. At the back of the ledger Balthasar Moretus IV (1679–1730) wrote some annotations which didn’t concern paper in any way. Another note regards grounds in the polder villages of Wilmarsdonk and Oorderen.
The annotations presumably are a summary of what the nine candidates told about themselves during the interviews. As a rule, first of all the name of the candidate was noted, followed by his place of birth. Then the name of the previous employer of the candidate was written down together with the kind of job he had there. In general the notes conclude with the code of dismissal of the previous employer. On rare occasions, the notes also contain a short comment about the candidate’s behaviour. A typical annotation would read as follows:
Jacobus D’hollander, born in Antwerp, has worked for J.B. Verdussen as a printer, and left this job under decent terms in June (1722)
Six of the nine candidates were hired, including Jacobus D’hollander. In the margin Balthasar Moretus IV drew a stylized X in front of the names of those who had been lucky enough to be taken on.
It is quite remarkable that the six newly hired candidates had previously all been working for another printer in Antwerp. In the references the printer’s dynasty Verdussen is very well represented with no less than three printing offices: Martinus Verdussen in the ‘Vogelhuis’ (The Bird’s House), Joannes Baptista Verdussen II in the ‘Twee Ooievaars’ (The two storks) and Maria Cornelia Verhulst (widow of Hiëronymus Verdussen V ) in Sint-Augustinus (Saint-Augustine).
Other candidates had built up experience working for Joannes van Soest, Petrus Jouret and the widow of Petrus Jacobs. Among the three candidates who were not hired only Jacobus Loes could prove he had worked for Petrus Jouret. About the other two no experience is mentioned.
The expression ‘under decent terms’ means that the candidates themselves had handed in their resignation with their former employers. In other words, they had not been fired because of serious mistakes or incompetence. The average age of the hired candidates was 29. Jacobus D’hollander and Laurentius Mattens were 36 years old when they were hired. At the age of 22 typesetter Carolus van Heck was the youngest new employee.
Printer and typesetter
Noteworthy: two of the candidates were accomplished typesetters as well as printers. Small print shops probably expected their employees to be flexible, so that on one given day they would have been typesetting, and the next they would have been working at the printing press. The Plantin Press hired Philippus Lemmens as printer and Laurentius Mattens as typesetter, though they both were proficient in both areas. During the first few months Mattens helped out as collator and collated single sheets into a complete copy in sheets.
Balthasar Moretus IV found himself in the luxurious position of being able to only hire experienced people. The Officina Plantiniana was an attractive and stable employer with an impressive scale size. The constant market for liturgical books assured a relatively high job security. On top of that the Officina’s private sick fund insured the employees against loss of wage in case of illness.
On two occasions the notes contain a remark about the candidate’s behaviour. François van Lint had a ‘slechte minie’, whereas Hendrick Ophof on the contrary had a ‘goede minie’. The archaic word minie does no longer appear in the Dutch dictionary Van Dale. In a different spelling however, it can be found in Cornelis Kiliaan’s Etymologicvm Tevtonicæ lingvæ . According to this first etymologic dictionary of the Dutch language (1599) ‘mijne’ describes someone’s face and attitude . So it would seem that the note about the ‘minie’ concerned the first impression the two candidates had made during the job interview. Balthasar Moretus IV interpreted the face of François van Lint as representing a negative attitude, whereas the master possibly read a positive attitude in the face of Hendrick Ophof. On the basis of this first impression, Van Lint was immediately turned down, without any further questions about his experience.
The six newcomers settled in quite effortlessly at the Plantin Press. As a result of the election in 1724 all six of them were granted a term of office in the board of the labor union. Philippus Lemmens, being major treasurer, was entrusted with the supervision of the sick fund by his colleagues. The five other newcomers served as aldermen of the board.
On average the career of the six newcomers lasted 13 years. Type setter Laurentius Mattens handed in his notice after more than five years with the company. Philippus Lemmens on the other hand was dismissed by the Plantin press in 1731. Printer Jacobus D’hollander (1730) and typesetter Carolus van Heck (1733) stayed with the Plantin press until their death. Guilielmus Vinck (1744) and Hendrik Ophof (1745) fulfilled the longest careers. Unfortunately, the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748) took a heavy toll on trade in the Southern Netherlands. Lack of work forced the Officina Plantiniana to dismiss Vinck and Ophof. The sick fund reimbursed Vinck with all the contributions he had made over the years. Hendrik Ophof returned to his native city Cologne, where he died four years later. He had been working for the Officina Plantiniana for almost 23 years.