Introduction to the source

by J. Thomas Lindblad

The following offers information on the publisher, the publication itself and the early history of processing the statistical data.

The publisher

The publishing firm was originally founded in 1868 as a bookstore in the provincial town of Veenendaal in the eastern part of the Netherlands. From 1880 onwards, the firm was known by the name of its founder, J.H. de Bussy. After a few years the firm moved to Amsterdam, from 1883 maintaining headquarters at Rokin in the city center and printing facilities at the corner of Rustenburgerstraat and Kuiperstraat in the southern part of the city. The label Firma J.H. de Bussy was in use from 1890 and in 1920 the firm was incorporated as a limited liability company under the name N.V. Drukkerij en Uitgeverij J.H. de Bussy (‘Printing and Publishing Company J.H. de Bussy, Ltd.’. In 1968 the firm merged with the publisher Ellermans Harms and ceased to operate as an independent entity after a full century. Final liquidation followed in 2004.[1]

The firm was founded and throughout decades run by Jacob Herman Le Cosquino de Bussy, known under his pet name ‘Koos’ and aged twenty at the time of the firm’s establishment. He was born in Utrecht in 1848 as one of seven sons of Louis Philibert Le Cosquino de Bussy (1812-1892), a board member of the Utrecht Trading Society (‘Handels Sociëteit’), and his wife Constantia Elisabeth Wenink (1815-1910). He married twice, in 1882 with Elize Anne Theodora (Anny) van der Goot (1856-1904), and in 1905 with Lientje (Lien) Kruijsse (1858-1937). From his first marriage he had five children, of whom one son and two daughters reached adulthood. In 1907 he was succeeded as the firm’s director by his son Constant (1883-1954). He passed away, aged sixty-nine, in 1917. In 1954, his grandson Jacob Herman Le Cosquino de Bussy (1923-1984) represented the third generation of the De Bussy family at the helm of the company.

Family relations played an important role in the firm’s operations, on occasion adding an international dimension. The founder’s daughter Wies (1885-1913), for instance, married a German printer, Jacob Rittershaus (1876-1963), who as her widower served as a member of the board. The founder’s son Constant married Anna Maria van der Lelie (1888-1954), who had previously been married in Pretoria, where the firm’s affiliate H.A.U.M. (‘Hollandsch-Afrikaansche Uitgever-Maatschaapij’ ) was located. The founder’s younger brother Louis Le Cosquino de Bussy died at the age of twenty-nine in Loemadjang in Java. One of his several nephews, Louis Teengs, died, aged twenty-four, in Klerksdorp, not far from Pretoria. Another nephew, Louis Philibert Le Cosquino de Bussy (1879-1943), who himself was the son of a Mennonite clergyman, devoted himself to agricultural science. He got his PhD at the age of twenty-five at the University of Amsterdam, worked first as a director of the Deli Proefstation in Medan in North Sumatra (Deli Institute for experimental research), then as a department head at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam (Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, KIT). In 1925 he was appointed extraordinary professor in tropical economy, in particular tropical cultivations, at the University of Utrecht.

The publication

The first issue of the Handboek appeared in 1888. The publisher’s introduction is worth quoting at some length:[2]

‘With this issue we bring into public a volume, that only at great effort and cost could be realized, of which we hope that those concerned will acknowledge it as useful and reliable. Only with subscription and co-operation by many will we be able to continually bring out new, improved and appended issues that we imagine will prove to be of great utility for all who in one way or another are engaged in trading and cultivation firms in the Indies. We politely commit ourselves to do this. Our intention is, if possible, to offer a new issue every year, which is also a directory of addresses for all those, who occupy an important position in trading and cultivations in the Indies; whilst we envisage at a later stage a separate publication with telegraphic codes to be used in mutual contacts between those concerned in the Indies as well as between the Indies and the Netherlands and foreign countries.’

‘A large number of banks and merchant houses, firms and traders have with the greatest obligingness supplied us with information and advice. Only in one single case did we encounter the reservation that publication of the desired information was not considered advisable. All others testified to their appreciation of this undertaking and offered the most pleasant co-operation. We also received much information from the Indies.’

‘We very well realize that much is missing in this issue and that various gaps and mistakes will be discovered. It could not otherwise have been possible at a first issue of a series like this one. Please do not blame us too severely for this. We are confident that users also will acknowledge that we have done what we could.’

‘It goes without saying that, with the cheap price of this book in order to promote wide purchase and distribution, only a favourable progression of various issues will be able to compensate for the costs we have incurred.’

The publisher’s intention was clearly to supply the community of Dutchmen doing business in the Netherlands Indies with a comprehensive guide, an instrument that would further investment by private Dutch enterprises in the colony. Access was gained through a system of subscriptions and content was supplied by information sent in by subscribers. It was a commercial setup in which costs of production initially exceeding revenue. The very fact that the Handboek saw a total of fifty-two issues testifies to the long-run commercial viability of the venture.

In addition, the publisher admits that no information is given about the Dutch West Indies in this first issue, which will be remedied in the next issue. He further urges subscribers to use the attached standardized form to provide information for the next issue. These forms are due no later than by 15 October. He also offers a vote of thanks to H.Ph.Th. Witkamp, who spent much of his furlough in the Netherlands collecting and ordering the raw data for the publication. In the event, Witkamp was unable to do the final editing because of his departure to take up a position in the Moluccas.[3]

The attached standardized form was at this stage still very rudimentary. The form distinguishes between two categories: agricultural estates and private firms. The requested information on firms was of four types: (i) names of directors; (2) nature and aim of firm operations; (3) equity capital; and (4) ‘all that in a Handboek like this, for the benefit of those concerned, singularly would lend itself for inclusion’, a strikingly vague formulation.[4]

Subsequent prefaces without fail reiterated the publisher’s gratitude for the loyal co-operation by subscribers in supplying information about their companies. This was done on a strictly voluntary basis in overt or implicit appreciation that all stood to gain from as complete a coverage as possible. By providing the requested information, subscribers ensured the quality of the product they were paying for. At the same time, the voluntary nature of data collection also implied that firms would only supply the kind of information they wanted to share with the public. Profit rates, for instance, are never cited, but can only be inferred, with due caveats, from dividend rates that were publicly known anyway, nor is any information given about numbers of employees or scale of operations. Statistics on production are only given in the separate chapter on agricultural estates. This information can only with some effort be linked to individual companies.

Prefaces in subsequent issues are characteristically brief, invariably thanking loyal subscribers for their co-operation and requesting them to submit corrected or updated information, using the familiar standardized form. Readers’ attention may be drawn to typographical improvements, for instance by highlighting the page number in the index where firm descriptions are found. Comments on content are hardly ever given, except an occasional mention of the number of new entries, for instance in 1910: about 50 new agricultural estates and 150 new firms.[5] This also applies to comments on the economic situation and the world at large. In 1920, the preface signals ‘energetic efforts of returning to previous avenues to developing the entire colony’, the results of which show in the current issue.[6] In 1940, fears are expressed that the ‘disturbed and extended interruption of contacts with our overseas possessions’ would preclude publication, which to the publisher’s relief did not happen.[7]   Prior to 1920, prefaces are always signed by ‘J.H. de Bussy’, after the firm’s reconstitution as a limited liability company with the full, official name.

In the course of the years, the directory was increasingly elaborated. Supplementary information deemed to be of interest to subscribers included lists of weights and measures, personnel at the colonial Department for Agriculture, Manufacturing and Trade (‘Departement van Landbouw, Nijverheid en Handel’) at Buitenzorg (now Bogor), personnel at institutions for agricultural and ‘technical-colonial’ education, Chambers of Commerce in the Netherlands Indies and the Netherlands, office addresses of firms (arranged by location in the Netherlands Indies), and the foremost representative offices of trading firms outside the colony. The number of advertisements increased over time. With an enlarged readership, the directory could serve as a convenient platform for paid publicity by private firms. Revenues from the Handboek project were thus twofold, from subscriptions as well as advertisements.

The main body of each annual issue contains two parts, one comprising all agricultural estates with information on location, administrators and production, the other devoted to incorporated private business enterprises. The firms in the latter chapter are arranged according to five broad categories: (A) Agriculture, (B) Trading (including transport), (C) Insurance, (D) Mining, and (E) Various enterprises. The data base is confined to information in the latter chapter. Each annual issue covers about one thousand pages.

The Handboek is intended for limited liability companies, both joint-stock (Naamloze Vennootschap, N.V.) and private (Besloten Vennootschap, B.V.). This has important consequences for use of this source in the business history of colonial Indonesia as only firms in the modern sector of the economy sought such incorporation and ended up being listed in the Handboek. The directory contains only a small number of the several thousands of business enterprises owned or managed by indigenous Indonesian entrepreneurs. They did not seek the protection under Dutch law that incorporation offered. By contrast, businessmen of Chinese descent living in the colony increasingly came to appreciate the advantages of formal incorporation, possibly also of benefits in terms of networking from being included in a listing of all incorporated firms. As a result, the Handboek offers a nearly exhaustive coverage of foreign and Chinese business, yet an incomplete picture of the economy of the colony as a whole.

Incorporation of private enterprises took place under auspices of two Dutch laws of incorporation that were promulgated in 1837 (Wetboek van koophandel) and 1846 (Wet van koophandel in Nederlandsch-Indië) respectively. Subsequent protection under Dutch law implied, amongst others, that owners’ liability was limited in the event of bankruptcy. It was also easier for an incorporated firm to get credit from banks. In addition, the owners could mobilize funds by issuing shares that were publicly traded.

Inclusion among all the other incorporated companies operating in the Netherlands Indies made a firm more widely known in the colony and may presumably have contributed to its reputation. The format of entries by firm was standardized by use of forms distributed by the publisher among subscribers. Contents are discussed in the introduction to the data base.

The publication of the Handboek was met with unmistakable enthusiasm. It is instructive to quote in some detail from the only known review of the source itself appearing in a scientific journal:[8]

‘With satisfaction we greet the publication of the second issue of this indispensable Handboek, for which we thank the enterprising publisher mister De Bussy at Amsterdam. We have repeatedly found that this book often fully meets continuous emerging demands for consultation when information is required about companies in the Indies as well as with respect to individuals affiliated with these companies. Only very recently it happened that we got a request from abroad concerning three individuals in the Indies with whom contact had been lost and of whom obviously only their names were known. Thanks to the Handboek of De Bussy, in minutes we had the pleasure to discover that one of the three was in Paris, whereas of the other two, one was running a trading firm, the other an agricultural enterprise, in Java so that we could convey their addresses instantly. Saving time, difficulties, worries and inconveniences for everybody who in any way maintains connections with the Indies – these are the advantages offered by the Handboek.’

The review cites the hope expressed in the publisher’s preface that his efforts will ‘contribute to encouraging capitalists [in the Netherlands] not to refrain from investing their capital in the Indies’. The review concludes with a recommendation to the publisher, motivated by inclusion of the West Indies, to ‘seek to get information about all Dutch enterprises and trading firms in the whole world. Our enterprises on the east, south and west coasts of Africa, and branch offices of Dutchmen in Japan, America and elsewhere could then be included. Little by little, the Handboek would thus give a vivid and permanent impression of national enterprises in foreign countries. Possibly would then become apparent that the time-honoured Dutch enterprising spirit overseas is not as extinguished as sometimes claimed, but merely needs to be stimulated in order to stand up amidst the all to powerful attempts by surrounding nations to enlarge their share of world trade.’ These ambitious challenges were not taken up by J.H. de Bussy.

Early processing

The rich potential of the Handboek as a primary source in Indonesian economic history was first appreciated in the early 1980s by J.N.F.M. à Campo, a lecturer in history at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, at the time preparing his PhD dissertation on the leading interisland shipping concern KPM (Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij, Royal Packet Company) during the first quarter of a century of its existence, 1888-1914.[9] A Campo mentioned the great potential of this source to his PhD supervisor, Professor Cees Fasseur at Leiden University, who in turn alerted me. Independently of one another, A Campo and I began constructing data sets with the aid of diligent students of history at respectively Rotterdam and Leiden. Our approaches differed. A Campo chose to cover all issues within a restricted period during the first twenty-five years of the Handboek’s existence, whereas I confined myself to a small number of selected years during the period 1914-1940. In retrospect, our endeavours would probably have gained from co-operation.

A Campo’s data set contains information on 3801 companies listed in the Handboek between 1893 and 1913, an average of 190 per year, a far cry from the large numbers in later years. The statistical analysis embraces annual numbers of firms, also ranked by age, volumes of investment as inferred from reported equity, profitability as inferred from reported dividend payments, and stock market valuation as given in a small number of entries. Numbers, volumes of investment, stock market valuation and profit rates are differentiated by economic sector, location in the Netherlands Indies, and nationality. Most of the analysis required interpretation and further processing of the raw data. A Campo signals two simultaneous trends in terms of corporate structure: an increasing internalization at Dutch firms in the colonial setting as well as an increasing internationalization. He concludes that ‘Dutch enterprise, incorporated and otherwise, by its sheer size, structure, cohesion and impact created something which may be labeled a Netherlands-Indies economy’.[10]

My own first explorations in the late 1980s generated a data set based on five issues of the Handboek, those brought out in 1920, 1925, 1930, 1937 and 1940, comprising in total 14,006 entries, or an average of 2800 per year. The analysis was extended to cover economic structure, regional distribution, profitability and dependence on business cycles. Yet, outcomes were at best highly tentative due to the familiar bottlenecks in the determination of nationality and location as well as the lack of precision in financial information. Nevertheless, the analysis does demonstrate how the modern part of the colonial economy gained maturity during the interwar period, whilst also remaining susceptible to external influences from the world economy as illustrated by boisterous optimism in the early 1920s and the onslaught of the worldwide depression in the 1930s.[11]

A second attempt to tackle this rich but difficult to handle source followed in the early 1990s. My intention was to achieve accuracy in data entry, interpretation and analysis, albeit with a reduced size of the total population of firms involved. Three key years were selected, 1914, 1930 and 1940. In total 7,743 entries of individual firms were processed, an average of 2581 per year with largest numbers noted for 1930 and smallest numbers for 1940. Key variables in the analysis were nationality, regional orientation, location of headquarters, main location of operations, equity and average dividend payments, both of the latter differentiated by industry in the colonial economy. Strong Dutch predominance in capital mobilization and management was reaffirmed as was the joint leading position of Batavia (now Jakarta) and Surabaya in the Netherlands Indies. Some in-depth examination was done with respect to 1930, in particular concerning equity and profitability, an exercise that highlighted the high stakes in the oil, sugar and rubber branches. It is instructive to quote the summary of findings in full:[12]

‘The liberal and ethically inspired colonial state in Indonesia offered a climate conducive for massive commitments by foreign capital investors eager to seize the opportunities in foreign export markets. The accumulation of FDI gave birth to a corporate network of an overwhelmingly Dutch flavor that spread out through the entire archipelago from its base in Java. The network combined a small number of large foreign-controlled firms with a large number of small enterprises with a high degree of local entrenchment. By virtue of its size and elaboration, the corporate network itself became the most lasting impact of FDI on the economic development of Indonesia. Its strong local orientation and high profitability held promises for future economic development of the host country economy but the two were not sufficiently linked. The network remained orange.’

The final word on what the Handboek had to say on corporate business in late colonial Indonesia still remained to be said. The issue of nationality had still not been satisfactorily resolved. Uncertainties still plagued the classification by economic branches. Inferred profit rates were in need of reinterpretation. The narrow base of only three moments of observation impaired possibilities for analysis by linking up with business cycle trends. Finally, the potentials of including also alphanumerical data such as personal names had not yet been exploited. For all the reasons, the data base ‘Colonial Business Indonesia’ had to be constructed with a wider coverage in terms of numbers of years and variables.  



[1] Information on the firm’s history from: Stadsarchief [Municipal Archive] Amsterdam: No. 1005. Archief de Bussy Ellerman Harms.

[2] Handboek voor Cultuur- en Handelsondernemingen in Nederlands-Indië 1 (1888) vi-vii.

[3] Herman Philip Theodoor Witkamp (1853-1933) was a cartographer and an expert on codes. The second issue of the Handboek (1889) includes two maps of Bantam (now Banten) drawn by Witkamp, who later published a scientific article on the Banda islands.

[4] Separate piece of paper inserted in Handboek 1 (1888). The requested information on agricultural estates was slightly more detailed, but is not of consequence here since the data base only covers the firms.

[5] Handboek 23 (1910), Voorwoord, iii-iv.

[6] Handboek 33 (1920), Voorwoord, vi-vii.

[7] Handboek 53 (1940), Voorwoord [unnumbered page].

[8] ‘Boekaankondiging – Handboek voor Cultuur- en Handelsondernemingen in Neerlandsch Indië. Tweede jaargang’, Tijdschrift voor Neerland’s Indies [Fourth series], 18: 2 (1889) 151-153.

[9] J.N.F.M. à Campo, Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij: Stoomvaart en staatsvorming in de Indonesische archipel 1888-1914. Hilversum: Verloren (1992). English translation as Engines of Empire: Steamshipping and State Formation in Colonial Indonesia. Hilversum: Verloren (2002).

[10] J.N.F.M. à Campo, ‘Strength, survival and success: A statistical profile of corporate enterprise in colonial Indonesia, 1883-1913’ [read 1893-1913], Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 36: 1 (1995) 45-74; ‘The rise of corporate enterprise in colonial Indonesia, 1893-1913’, in: J. Thomas Lindblad (ed.), Historical Foundations of a National Economy in Indonesia, 1890s-1990s. Amsterdam: North-Holland (1996) 71-94 [quotation on p. 91]. It is not clear whether A Campo’s data set is still available.

[11] J. Thomas Lindblad, ‘Het bedrijfsleven in Nederlands-Indië in het Interbellum’, Economisch- en Sociaal-Historisch Jaarboek, 43 (1991) 183-211; ‘Foreign investment in late-colonial and post-colonial Indonesia’, Economic and Social History of the Netherlands, 3 (1991) 183-208; ‘Ondernemen in Nederlands-Indië, c. 1900-1940’, Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden, 108 (1993) 699-710.The data set used for these articles is no longer available. It is superseded by the data base ‘Colonial Business Indonesia’.

[12] J. Thomas Lindblad, Foreign Investment in Southeast Asia in the Twentieth Century. Basingstoke: Macmillan (1998) 68-83 [quotation on p. 83]; `Foreign investment in Southeast Asia in historical perspective’, Asian Economic Journal, 11 (1997) 61-89. The data set used for these publications is no longer available. It is superseded by the data base ‘Colonial Business Indonesia’.