How prosperous was Leeuwenhoek?

Leeuwenhoek came from a family of basketmakers who lived on the poorer (east) side of town. When he returned to Delft in 1654 after his apprenticeship in Amsterdam, he settled among the rich burgers on the older and more prosperous (west) side of town.

Over the next decades, he shared in the general prosperity of the Dutch Republic.

In his mid-20's, Leeuwenhoek could afford the house/shop on the Hippolytusbuurt that cost 5,000 guilders. It was in the prosperous part of town between the two first-dug grachts and, it turned out, just across the Nieuwe Delft gracht from the city jobs he began in 1660. This house was sufficient for the rest of his life -- and his daughter's.

The interior on the left by Pieter de Hooch (Mother's Duty AKA Interior with a Mother delousing her Child, ~1660; click to enlarge) shows the floor above the ground floor of a house that could have been like Leeuwenhoek's house. The house on the Hippolutusbuurt was already half a century old when Leeuwenhoek bought it, and Hooch seems to be giving this one a similar mature look. Looking at Maria's inventory, the rooms on the second floor included a front room (voorkamer) and office/study (comptoirtje). The front room may well have included a bed

For six decades, even after Leeuwenhoek reached the mandatory retirement age, his salary as camerbewaarder was 400 guilders, a raise from his 260 guilders in starting salary. Was 260 guilders enough to let him close his shop? If not, was it enough to let him start investing in the bonds that ended up in his daughter's portfolio? Did the 260 guilders buy him the time to learn how to grind and polish lenses and satisfy his curiosity?

After 1679, Leeuwenhoek received an additional 500 guilders per year for his duties as city inspector of wine. This money apparently began to accumulate, and Leeuwenhoek and his daughter Maria put it to use.

After Maria died in 1745, her heirs found over 11,000 guilders in cash stashed in bags in her bedroom. In addition, Maria had 70 financial instruments paying her over 3,500 guilders per year. From that and the inventory of her possessions, some of them belonging to her father, we can begin to piece together the nature of their lifestyle. The pages linked to the menu on the top right of this page give the details of that inventory.

It is safe to say that the Leeuwenhoek family lived a comfortable life. By the time he was in his fifties, the most famous person in Delft, he lived what we might now call upper middle-class lifestyle.


Maria's Contemporaries

Maria's inventory was included in the 300 estate inventories analyzed in the indispensible book Achter de Gevels van Delft. Using Wijsenbeek-Olthuis's data as benchmarks, we can get a sense of the prosperity of the Leeuwenhoek family.

Wijsenbeek-Olthuis evenly divided the 300 into three 25-year time periods based on year of death:

  • 1706 to 1730
  • 1738 to 1762
  • 1770 to 1794

Each of the hundred was further divided by wealth based on the amount of burial tax their estate was charged.

  • A - buried Pro Deo, assets under 300 guilders
  • B - assessed 3 guilders for burial, assets between 300 and 2,000 guilders
  • C - assessed 6 guilders, assets between 2,001 and 6,000 guilders
  • D - assessed 15 guilders, assets between 6,001 and 12,000 guilders
  • E - assessed 30 guilders, assets over 12,000 guilders

Maria was in Wijsenbeek-Olthuis's middle time period and tax bracket E, the wealthiest. The full list of her peers (Gevels 489):

name death notary inventory:folio
Anna Cartharina de Roo x Diderick Durven ^ 1741 Francois Boogert 2636:1545
Adrianus van IJperen x Cornelia de Graeij 1744 Willem van der Lely 2772:92
Paulus de Haas x Magdalena Christina Smits 1752 Cornelis de Man 2693:36
Salomon van Groenewegen ^ x Maria van der Lelij ^ 1757 Willem van der Lely 2758:44
Anthonij ten Kate x Cornelia Drost 1757 Hendrick Halder 2842:2032
Neeltje van Oosten x Andries Voorstadt + ^ 1742 Cornelis de Man 2668:64
Barbara van der Lugt x Simon van Oosten 1748 Abraham Brouwenaar 2863:56
Arij Jacobsz. van der Kooij x unknown + 1753 Abraham Brouwenaar  2869:57
Cornelia van der Willigen x Jacob van der Kool + 1757 Joris Geesteranus  2804:17
Cornelia Gael x Adriaen van der Goes + * 1761 Abraham Brouwenaar  2847:2636
Gerard Boogaard 1740 Philippus Barmeyer  2780:1
Maria van Leeuwenhoek 1745 Joris Geesteranus  2791:30
Gijsbert van Oosterwijk 1750 Joris Geesteranus 2796:80
Maarten van Bleiswijk * 1751 Francois Boogert  2643:2344
Sophia Knops 1761 Canzius Onderdewijngaart  3028:11
Willem Hoppesteijn ^ x unknown 1742 Cornelis de Man  2682:11
Cornelia van Trigt x Johannes van Bijsterveld 1744 Francois de Bas  2773:78
Paulus de Loose x unknown + 1752 Johan Boogert  3000:42
Willem van Berkel * x unknown + 1760 Johan Boogert  3003II:375
Roeloff Baart x Hermina Hijting + 1760 Johan Boogert  3003I:365

x = married

+ = deceased

* = Veertigraad: Adriaen van der Goes, Maarten van Bleiswijk, Willem van Berkel

^ = regent family: Diderick Durven, Salomon van Groenewegen, Maria van der Lelij, Andries Voorstadt, Willem Hoppesteijn

Willem van der Lely (1698-1772) was one of the executors of Maria's estate. His sister, Maria Apolonia van der Lely (-1769), married Gerard van Assendelt in 1723.

In 1746, Salomon van Groenewegen (-1757) married Maria Magdalena van der Lely, the daughter of Jacob van der Lely and Maria Magdalena van Assendelft (m 1720). In 1758, Maria Magdalena married Baron Nicolaus Albertus de Pouilly De Ginsvrij.

Andries Voorstadt (-1730) printed some of Leeuwenhoek's letters.

Diderick Durven (1676-1740) was the son of Paul Durven, a lawyer and notary who was a friend of Leeuwenhoek. He was Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 1729 to 1732. The portrait of him on the right (click to enlarge) was painted by Hendrik van den Bosch in 1736. When his widow Anna Cartharina de Roo died in 1741, Francois Boogert made the inventory of her estate.

Maarten van Bleijswijk (1679-1751), magistrate and mayor, was the receiver (ontvanger) of the excise taxes in the early 1720's. It was out of his office that Leeuwenhoek was paid his 500 guilder annual pension for his services as wine gauger in the final years of his life.

He and Leeuwenhoek were distantly related. Van Bleijswijk's mother Anna Maartens Hogenhouck and Leeuwenhoek shared a great-grandmother: Neeltje Jans Hogenhouck.