The museum is located in the attractive former residence of the Baron Van Westreenen van Tiellandt (1783-1848) and is devoted to the hand-written and printed book of the past and present. The external aspects of the book and the development of book design are the main focus. The museum organizes three to four temporary exhibitions a year on themes related to both the old and modern book.
The museum maintains an extensive collection of books from all periods of Western book history, starting with medieval manuscripts that are entirely written and illuminated by hand. An overview of the development of writing, layout and decoration of manuscripts can be seen in the distinctive book room where a selection of these superb volumes can be seen.
The book room itself is a unique example of nineteenth-century museum design and its original style remains entirely intact. In addition to medieval manuscripts, there are also examples of the earliest form of the printed book, known as incunabula.
The name Meermanno-Westreenianum refers to two individuals who were associated with the museum from the very beginning. The most important is Baron W.H.J.van Westreenen van Tiellandt (1783-1848) who built up his vast collection in this house, which was his residence. His second cousin and important source of inspiration, Johan Meerman (1751-1815), also owned an impressive collection of books, a part of which was taken up into the collection of Van Westreenen. After the death of Van Westreenen, the house and his entire collection became the property of the state. In 1852, the house was opened to the public as a museum.
Van Westreenen was a typical nineteenth-century collector who was very interested in the history of ancient cultures. He not only collected books, but also antiquities from, among other places, Greece, Rome and Egypt. He was successful in obtaining some extraordinary objects. In addition, family portraits and souvenirs from his extensive travels can be seen in the museum.
As an extension of Van Westreenen’s collection, the museum actively collects books dating from 1850 to the present. The form and design of the book remain the criteria for selection. In the permanent installation, “From lead to LED,” the development of the modern book is presented, accompanied by a changing selection from the museum’s fine modern collection. In addition, the museum has a permanent display devoted to unusual book forms. An important part of this is the Bibliotheca Thurkowiana Minor, a miniature library with 1515 tiny books. Ex libris, printed bookplates identifying the owner of the book, are regularly shown in small changing displays. The museum has one of the largest collection of ex libris in the Netherlands.