Vandenhoeck, Anna (1709–1787)

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Vandenhoeck, Anna (1709–1787)

Head of the most active academic publishing house in Germany, which prospered during the Enlightenment period under her guidance. Name variations: Anna Van den hoek; Anna van Hoeck. Pronunciation: fahnden'hœk (German); fahn-den-hook (Dutch). Born Anna Parry on May 24, 1709, in London, England; died on March 5, 1787, in Göttingen, Germany; married Abraham Vandenhoeck, in 1720s; no children.

Moved with husband, Dutch bookseller and printer, to Hanover, Germany (1732); succeeded husband as head of the publishing house at the time of his death (1750); continued the book company for 37 years. Selection of books published while Anna Vandenhoeck was head of the publishing house (1750–87):


Johann Stephan Pütter:

Institutiones iuris publici Germanici, 1770. Der Büchernachdruck nach ächten Grundsätzen des Rechts geprüft, 1774.

Johann Jacob Schmauss:

Historisches Jus Publicum des Teutschen Reichs, oder Auszug der vornehmsten Materialien der Reichs-Historie, welche zur Erkenntnis der Staatsverfassung unsers teutschen Reichs, von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die heutige, dienen, 1752.

Johann Heinrich Christian Selchow:

Elementa iuris Germanici privati hodierni ex ipsis fontibus deducta (7 imprints, 1757, 1762, 1766, 1771, 1775, 1779, 1787).


Johann Christoph Gatterer:

Einleitung in die synchronistische Universalhistorie zur Erläuterung seiner synchronistischen Tabellen, 1771. Weltgeschichte in ihrem ganzen Umfange, Vol. 1 (Adam-Cyrus), 1785.

August Ludwig Schlözer:

Stats-Anzeigen, 19 vols., vols. 1–10, 1782–1787. Briefwechsel meist historischen und politischen Inhalts, 10 vols., 1776–1782.


Gottfried Less:

Christliche Religions-Theorie fürs gemeine Leben, oder Versuch einer praktischen Dogmatik, 2nd imprint 1780 (a "bestseller" with a run of 1,500 copies).

Johann David Michaelis:

Deutsche Übersetzung des Alten Testamentes mit Anmerkungen für Ungelehrte, 13 vols., 1769–1783, original imprints of vols. 1, 2, and 5 published by competitor Dieterich. Einleitung in die göttlichen Schriften des Neuen Bundes, vol. 1, 1750, vol. 2, 1777.

Ludwig Timotheus Spittler:

Grundriss der Geschichte der christlichen Kirche, 1782, reprinted 1785.


Samuel Christian Hollmann:

Philosophiae naturalis primae liniae, 1753.


Johann Beckmann:

Physikalisch-ökonomische Bibliothek worinn von den neuesten Büchern, welche die Naturgeschichte, Naturlehre und die Landund Stadtwirtschaft betreffen, zuverlässige und vollständige Nachrichten ertheilet werden, 11 vols., 1770–1781.

Albrecht von Haller, ed.:

Disputationum anatomaricum selectarum. 8 vols. 1743–1751. Ed. "Göttingische Gelehrte Anzeigen," published continuously since 1739.

Carl von Linné:

Systema naturae ex editione duodecima in epitomen redactum et praelectionibus academicis accomodatum … (ed. J. Beckmann), Tomus I: Regnum animale, Tomus II: Regnum vegetabile, 2 vols., 1772.

Johann Georg Roederer:

Icones uteri humani observationibus illustratae, 1759. Elementa Artis obstetricae in suum praelectionum academicarum, 3 imprints 1753, 1759, 1766.


Philip Pepin:

The Man of Fortune's faithful Monitor: translated from the French original, entitled La véritable Politique des personnes des qualité [by Caillere]. Published for the use of foreigners abroad who begin to study the English language, 1775.

William Shakespeare:

Julius Cesar. A tragedy, selected from Dr. Johnson's and Mr. Steeven's commentaries, 1777.

A common practice among immigrants, understandable if frustrating for the biographer, is their predilection for breaking ties to the past in order to focus more fully on the present in their chosen country. In the case of Anna and Abraham Vandenhoeck, it means that the information pertaining to their backgrounds before their immigration to Hamburg, Germany, in 1732, has to be reconstructed from scattered hints. When Anna Vandenhoeck died without children in 1787, she bequeathed certain personal objects—jewelry, silver, furniture—to various friends and confidants, but whatever clues to her that existed among memorabilia, personal correspondence or private papers have long since been lost. What we are therefore left to turn to, in the case of the 18th-century Englishwoman who took the helm of a failing business enterprise and turned it into one of Germany's most outstanding and longlived publishing houses, is a gleaning of the smallest details from the record of her business papers. A careful reading yields a personality of such generous proportions that it is possible to imagine that she appeared to her contemporaries as somewhat larger than life.

A glimmer of the early working style of Anna Vandenhoeck emerges in a letter of complaint, written by the royal deputy Gerlach Adolf Freiherr von Münchhausen, in 1753.

We hear from various sources that Vandenhoeck's widow not only sells all books at a higher price than elsewhere but that she also rejects any publications offered to her, or at least knows to subjoin those which she accepts with the most difficult conditions.

The issue was business practices at "Abraham Vandenhoeck's Publishing House," being carried out under its new head, who had been put in charge following the death of her husband in 1750. The enterprise was affiliated with the university at Göttingen, and the complaint was provocative enough to elicit an investigation. But the response eventually received by Münchhausen suggests that the university found its interests allied with the publisher more than with the royal deputy, and was therefore willing to put up with some delays:

Vandenhoeck's widow had gone away to the countryside. Further, when said person showed herself back here again, she time and again excused herself as indisposed, and finally declined personal appearance altogether. Thus, we found ourselves in the position of having to reveal those certain points to her store clerk, about which his principal, V., will have to explain herself.

A lady of the society on an overland journey, a lady excusing herself as indisposed—or a business professional choosing to disregard the usual complaints about books being too expensive and publishers too picky in their choice of manuscripts for publication? What the incident may show is that Anna Vandenhoeck, coming into her own as the first female entrepreneur in the university town, knew how to combine the advantages of both roles. In a later letter, when she rejected the same accusations in detail, her response was well received.

About the earlier life of the woman born Anna Parry, we know that she was born in London in 1709, but little else about her family background; her education was probably that of a woman expected to move in upper-class society. Although she may not have personally composed or dictated every letter sent out under her signature, correspondence signed by her in the archives of the publishing house she inherited suggest that she was competent in English, French, and German.

A contract dating from 1720 introduces the Dutch-born Abraham Vandenhoeck, then 20 years old, as a resident "of the parish of St. Mary London Strand and County bookseller." The Dutch led the world in the business of printing and publishing books, and Abraham had a brother, Isaac, in the same profession in the Netherlands. The change reflected in the spelling of Abraham's last name, from the Dutch form of van den Hoeck to a single word, was probably meant to facilitate doing business abroad. Sometime during the 1720s, a marriage took place between the Dutch bookseller and Anna Parry, who was nine years his junior (their marriage license has not been preserved); since the marriage remained childless, Anna Vandenhoeck may have assisted her husband in business matters from early on.

In 1732, possibly earlier, Abraham Vandenhoeck left his London business contracted out to a representative and emigrated with his wife to Hamburg, Germany, then an independent town in the Hanseatic League. It was there, probably, that Anna Vandenhoeck took advantage of Germany's greater religious freedom to change her church affiliation from the Anglican Church of England in which she had been baptized, raised and married, to join her husband in the Reformed Church, where she was to remain a faithful member until her death. The move was to have important implications for business.

As one historian of the firm has written about the period when the Vandenhoecks reached Hamburg, "All foreign things enjoyed appreciation in Germany, and everything British enjoyed particular appreciation in Göttingen and the Kingdom of Hanovar." In particular, the Dutch reputation for printing could open business doors, and the new Vandenhoeck firm quickly became recognized for producing books of distinguished quality. Two of its earliest works were an edition of the Bible using Martin Luther's translation "with useful summaries" and, in the Renaissance spirit of the times, a three-volume edition of the works of the pre-Christian Roman playwright Terence.

By 1734, when plans were under way to establish a new university at Göttingen, in the Kingdom of Hanover, the renown of the Vandenhoeck firm led the royal deputy Gerlach Adolf Freiherr von Münchhausen to inquire about "the Dutch printer in Hamburg." Along with the university, a publishing house was to be set up, as an independent enterprise but enjoying certain privileges and monetary grants from the government. The population of Göttingen was mostly Lutheran, and the theological faculty of the new university was to be the same, but a document of Münchhausen's dated 1733 stipulated that "freedom of conscience and tolerance" was to exist among the school's theologians.

A contract of February 13, 1735, verifies that Abraham Vandenhoeck had been chosen as the printer, publisher, and bookseller to be affiliated with the new university by this date; the school was set to open the following year. The first catalogue issued by the firm in Göttingen listed the Luther Bible and the Terence translation among its available books.

Support by the Hanoverian government did not keep the Vandenhoeck company from having to compete with other local printers, booksellers and publishers. Its heavy printing equipment also had to be brought from Hamburg to Göttingen, and to finance the move Anna Vandenhoeck's name was required along with her husband's on a surety-bond against advance payments. Meanwhile, she established a lasting friendship with the family of a Swiss university professor, Albrecht von Haller, who attended the local Reformed Church. Anna and Mrs. von Haller grew close, and Albrecht von Haller became one of the most productive authors of the publishing house. He was also the founding editor of Göttingische Gelehrte Anzeigen, now the oldest scholarly periodical in Germany, published continuously since 1739.

In August 1750, at a time when his company was in poor financial straits, Abraham Vandenhoeck died. It was a period of many difficulties for his widow. A letter of the time from her brother-in-law Isaac in the Netherlands begins with condolences to Anna, then conveys the news of her father's death, which he had learned about during a recent visit in London, before inquiring about payment for a box of books mailed earlier to Abraham. In reply, Vandenhoeck writes back that even though she is her husband's heiress, the authorities need Isaac's permission—presumably because he is the closest male relative—to probate her husband's will and testament, but acknowledges that the company is cash-strapped and she cannot cover his travel expenses to Göttingen. In a later letter, discussing terms of payment for the book shipment, an inquiry about any provisions in her favor in the will of a deceased cousin who had promised to consider her, suggests the depths of her financial need.

In the letters concerning the fate of the business, however, a reader senses the trust felt within the royal government and the university about her experience and competence, confirmed when the loans and privileges necessary for the business to continue were extended to Anna Vandenhoeck. Nevertheless, a long and laborious business road lay ahead. A few months after her husband's death, she sold the printing plant, to concentrate her efforts on

publishing and book selling, and perhaps to raise necessary cash.

The real "capital" of any publishing house, of course, is its authors, and Vandenhoeck slowly increased her list of publications by building on her established contacts with the local professors and authors. She personally signed most contracts and kept in close touch with several writers and their families. In 1752, she took out a lease (the oldest existing document bearing her signature as head of the company) on a large storage room in Leipzig, then on its way to becoming the center of the book trade in Germany and the country's most important book fair. Booksellers and publishers from all over Germany and Europe came to those storage cellars to order and exchange bales of printed sheets, which were commonly bound by the final customer. (A trademark used in later years by the company shows two cherubs hurling such a bale, with Anna Vandenhoeck's tombstone in the background.)

The German book trade was hampered by an unwieldy system of commissions, cash payments and exchange. The business also suffered from the lack of universally accepted rules of copyright or legal means for collecting royalties from companies selling unauthorized reprints. In one outstanding example, Vandenhoeck's company issued a translation done by the theologian and linguist Johann David Michaelis of the highly popular early English novel by Samuel Richardson, Clarissa Harlowe, or The History of a Young Lady, published in seven volumes between 1748 and 1751. When a pirated edition was produced in Frankfurt, however, the company reaped no profits from its sale.

Currently, all four local printing plants are busy with my work. Thus, they depend almost entirely on me for their livelihood…. Hardly any other book company in Germany achieves suchlike in six months.

—Anna Vandenhoeck

Book sales were also limited by the Seven Years' War, which involved most of Europe from 1756 to 1763. The company known under one of its imprints as "Abraham Vandenhoeck's Widow—Publishing House" was never forced to close its doors, partly because of its relationship with the university, although its sales suffered. In the town of Göttingen, however, Vandenhoeck's book store provided a welcome distraction from the security measures imposed by war, with its selection of foreign titles, mostly from France, England, Italy, and the Netherlands. In his autobiography, the Göttingen law professor Johann Stephan Pütter wrote of his walks confined to the town limits, so that he frequently "took the way to Vandenhoeck's book store where one occasionally had the pleasure of meeting other friends at the same time for the same reason, and to have an agreeable conversation."

By the end of the war, the university at Göttingen was one of the most noted institutions teaching in the spirit of the period of critical Enlightenment, and its professors were providing a steady stream of new titles to Vandenhoeck's publishing house. Two of its outstanding Lutheran theological authors were Johan David Michaelis and Gottfried Less. In 1772, it brought out the two-volume work by the Swedish botanist Carl von Linné, or Linnaeus, that established the system of botanical classification still followed today.

In guiding the growth of the company, Vandenhoeck had help. Soon after the death of her husband, a store clerk named Schieck showed such competence that he came close to gaining the royal privilege of continuing the bookstore. At that time, Carl Friedrich Ruprecht was in his third year of apprenticeship, and Vandenhoeck soon bestowed on him the authority to represent the firm at book fairs; part of the reason may have been that travel at the time offered significant dangers to women. Ruprecht eventually rose to become manager of the publishing house, and letters between him and the owner when he was reporting to her from Leipzig, testify to a cordial relationship. While Ruprecht was still very young, Vandenhoeck had his portrait painted, possibly at the same time as hers.

In 1770, Anna Vandenhoeck shared in winning the lottery in Hanover with one other person, enjoying a substantial sum. By this time, her entrepreneurial sense had turned her company into one of the most flourishing and active publishing houses of the country. In a letter dated 1781, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote of her as "the rich Madam Vandenhoeck."

At the time of her death, in 1787, Ruprecht wrote of his loss in a letter to Philip Erasmus Reich, co-owner of a bookstore in Leipzig and one of the most powerful people in the book business.

Most Noble Sir! With sincere and heartfelt sadness, I have to report the great loss which the Most Highest hath laid upon me: in his wise counsel and will, it pleased him to summon my foster mother and benefactress Mrs. Anna Vandenhoeck, after protracted weakening, on the 6th of this month out of this earthly life.

The last will and testament of Anna Vandenhoeck was typical in its display of charity, generosity and concern about the continuity of the business that had engaged much of her life. Dated 1778, it is in the handwriting of her pastor, friend and counselor, Lüder Kulenkamp. It allots generous sums of cash to domestic servants, store clerks, godchildren, two women close to her and a mentally retarded man in an institution. Personal items went to friends and her pastor, and Ruprecht, her manager, was named to carry on the publishing house, with part of the income allotted to a fund for widows of university professors, several of whom Vandenhoeck had counted among her friends. The will also provided a portion of the company income to the Reformed congregation. Though Ruprecht got a legal settlement which turned the continued payments into a single disbursement, the sum received by the church was enough to pay off the mortgage for the congregation's new building.

No other woman of the time or for many years to come, and few men, have achieved more in the book trade than Anna Vandenhoeck. More than 200 years later, the company is still one of Germany's academic publishing houses. To commemorate the bicentennial of her death, current owners and staff members of the publishing house gathered at her grave on a chilly spring day in 1987 and heard this author's grandfather, Günter Ruprecht, deliver a brief address in her honor. Then a yew tree, symbol of eternity, was planted on her grave.

When the streets for a new office and industrial park in the Göttingen suburb of Grone were being planned, District Mayor Birgit Sterr found no women on the list of proffered street names. Within a week of further research, enough information had been discovered about Göttingen's earliest woman entrepreneur to lead to the recommendation that she be honored, and in June 1993, the Göttingen town council voted unanimously to name the main circular road in the new district the "Anna-Vandenhoeck-Ring."


Lösel, Barbara. Die Frau als Persönlichkeit im Buchwesen: Dargestellt am Beispiel der Göttinger Verlegerin Anna Vandenhoeck (1709–1787). Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1991.

Ruprecht, Wilhelm. Väter und Söhne. Zwei Jahrhunderte Buchhändler in einer deutschen Universitätsstadt. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1935.

Sparn, Walter. "Vernünftiges Christentum. Über die geschichtliche Aufgabe der theologischen Aufklärung im 18. Jhd. in Deutschland," in ed. Rudolf Vierhaus. Wissenschaften im Zeitalter der Aufklärung. Aus Anlass des 250 jähringe Bestehens des Verlages Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &Ruprecht, 1985.

suggested reading:

Goldfriedrich, Johann. Geschichte des deutschen Buchhandels. Volume 3: Vom Beginn der klassischen Litteraturperiode bis zum Beginn der Fremdherrschaft (1740–1804). Leipzig: 1909.

Henze, Eberhard. Kleine Geschichte des deutschen Buchwesens. Düsseldorf: Verlag Buchhändler heute, 1983.

Wittmann, Reinhard. Geschichte des deutschen Buchhandels. München: C.H. Beck, 1991.


Correspondence, catalogues, some books, various papers, and two portraits located in the publishing house (now Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht) in Göttingen, Germany.

Most of the remaining original books and catalogues located in the library of the University of Göttingen.

Reinhilde Ruprecht , freelance writer, Federal Republic of Germany

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Vandenhoeck, Anna (1709–1787)

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