Kristof Selleslach, How to transfer the Officina Plantiniana to the next generation. The instructions of Balthasar Moretus II to his future heirs (1659–1673)

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How to transfer the Officina Plantiniana to the next generation. The instructions of Balthasar Moretus II to his future heirs (1659–1673)

Kristof Selleslach  in De Gulden Passer, vol. 98 (2020), nr. 2, pp. 205–297


The succession of the next generation is a crucial but vulnerable moment in the continuation of any family business. As a representative of the Officina Plantiniana’s fourth generation, Balthasar Moretus II (1615–1674) knew that a successful hand-over required good preparation. Between 1659 and 1673 he wrote three instructions to his future widow and heirs regarding the succession of the Officina. The instructions explain how Balthasar ran the Plantin Press and which strategic decisions he made. He also gave advice on the various, alternative succession arrangements available to his heirs.

These first-person texts relating to the intergenerational transfer of an early modern printing and publishing business are of a kind that is completely unique. The instructions have a broader book-historical relevance due to the numerous practicalities of the book trade with which they deal. In this essay, the author examines the main topics of the instructions. He then explains for each topic which actions the heirs of Balthasar Moretus II actually carried out after his death in 1674. The appendices to the essay contain the transcriptions and English translations of the instructions.

The treatment of the instructions starts with Balthasar’s reflections on the choice of a spouse in which he outlined her ideal qualities. The author then discusses the travel advice that Balthasar gave his sons, followed by his advice on the renewal of the Officina Plantiniana’s general privilege, which was vital for the survival of the family business. Balthasar Moretus clarified the reasons behind the Officina’s increasing specialization in liturgical books (libri rubro-nigri). He also expounded how his heirs could convert the large stock of non-liturgical books (libri nigri) instantly into money through a public auction. The author then discusses Balthasar’s introduction to the Officina’s accounting system and his advice on the operational management of the printing workshop. The discussion of these instructions concludes with Balthasar’s advice on the succession of his son Balthasar Moretus III (1646–1696) and details of the actual succession agreement.