Almost a month after the conflict between Joost Ritman, Friesland Bank and the Dutch government became public knowledge, it now seems that things have not turned out well for the famous and unique collection of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam. The case has been discussed in the Dutch parliament and national media during the last two weeks. Despite the petition which has gathered the support of academics world wide, and despite the pressure put on Halbe Zijlstra, the Secretary of State for Education, Culture and Science, the Dutch Government has already made the first move towards a dissolution of the collection which may indeed become permanent.
In the Tweede Kamer of the Dutch parliament on Monday 13 December, Zijlstra made clear the intentions to integrate their part of the collection, amounting to 40 % , with the Royal Library in the Hague. Books and manuscripts had already been taken out of the library by the state before the weekend. After Zijlstra’s comment this week , the plan was confirmed by the Royal Library itself, who state that the core collection will be made available to the public by the middle of January. Statements that cataloging will be carried out in 2011 seem to suggest that a full integration with the Royal Library is being planned.
This means that the core collection of the library will probably be available for research again, but in the Hague, rather than in Amsterdam – and, significantly, without the highly knowledgeable and specialized staff which assisted visitors in the BPH. The core collection consists of 25 medieval books of hours, 359 medieval manuscripts, 44 incunables, and 3961 books printed before 1800. In other words, less than 6000 of the approximately 20.000 items held by the BPH.
Even though these particular items will be made available again, it is truly regrettable that the government seems to be satisfied with splitting it from the rest of the collection. The works own by the state may be among the most valuable ones from a cultural heritage perspective; but for research purposes, one of the things that made the BPH unique was that so much material was available at the same spot. This unique quality will now be lost. Additionally, by moving the items to the Hague, it has also been disjointed from the expertise in Amsterdam – first and foremost the staff of the BPH, but also the study and research milieu surrounding the chair for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam. A great loss for this milieu now appears to be a fact.