Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7



The Amsterdam Exchange, by Hermanus Petrus Schouten, 1783 337[unavailable]

“The exchange is a large Square surrounded with piazza,” Abigail Adams wrote to Mary Smith Cranch after she was taken by a friend xvito see the financial center of Amsterdam. “Here from 12 till two oclock, all and every person who has buisness of any kind to transact meet here, sure of finding the person he wants, and it is not unusal to see ten thousand persons collected at once. I was in a Chamber above the exchange, the Buz from below was like the Swarming of Bees” (12 Sept. 1786, below).

When Abigail visited the Exchange, or Bourse, in August 1786 it was almost two centuries old and a hub of the commerce of the city, region, and continent. Amsterdam commissioned architect Hendrick de Keyser to construct the building in 1608, sending him first to London to study the design of the stock exchange there. De Keyser built an open-air courtyard surrounded by a Mannerist Flemish colonnade and accented with a clock tower that chimed the opening and closing of trading. Shops filled the second level. The Amstel River flowed beneath the building through five stone arches high enough to permit the passage of boats.

By 1835 the crowding that Abigail described had overwhelmed the De Keyser building, and it was replaced with a structure designed by Jan David Zocher. That too proved inadequate and was replaced in 1903 by the present exchange of Hendrik Petrus Berlage. The Berlage building, now a concert hall, featured brick, iron, stained glass, and ornamental scuplture and exerted a strong influence on architectural design in Amsterdam in the early twentieth century (Knopf Guides, Amsterdam, N.Y., 1993, p. 132–133; Geert Mak, Amsterdam, translated by Philipp Blom, Cambridge, Mass., 2000, p. 102).

Hermanus Petrus Schouten (1747–1822) sketched the De Keyser exchange three years before Abigail's visit. Schouten, a Dutch draftsman of German ancestry, was a leading producer of topographical drawings of Amsterdam during the 1780s and 1790s. His detailed and precise drawings of the city's buildings and streets reflected his esteem for the seventeenth-century painter Jan van der Heyden (Ton Geerts, “Hermanus Petrus Schouten,” The Dictionary of Art, ed. Jane Turner, N.Y., 1996, 28:166–167).

Courtesy of the Municipal Archives of Amsterdam, Netherlands.