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- Delft in Holland
west side of Marktplein behind the Stadhuis
Every Dutch city developed its own way of dealing with its right to tax imported goods, be it raw material like clay for pipes or items ready for retail consumption like beer. Each city had its own standards of weights and measures, its own regulations about what should be counted and how, and its own set of city officials to make it all work. In Delft, Leeuwenhoek was one of the most important of those officials for over twenty years.
He worked at the Waag, the weighing house. Built after the city fire of 1536, it was on a narrow section of the Nieuwe Delft gracht, called Wijnhaven, right behind the Stadhuis. As shown on the map and photograph of the Wijnhaven below, the Waag bridge is #17 on the map on the left and the first bridge in the photograph below with the Warmoesbrug beyond it. The bridge stopped boat traffic, but not water, from going any farther.
Backside of the Waag
Leeuwenhoek lived close to the Waag, but across the gracht. If he had come out of his house and tossed a pebble into the gracht, it would have splashed just behind the second of the three bridges in the photo above. He could cross either bridge, make a right, at be at the Waag within moments of leaving his house.
The Waag handled everything that came into Delft on a boat, which was probably everything except large living animals. The lower floor, which had the two arched gateways on the back side flush on the Wijnhaven gracht (see above), was all that was needed for unloading, weighing, measuring, and calculating taxes. Everything that was sold by weight and was heavier than around ten pounds (tien pond) had to be weighed under supervision of the city: cloth, beer, soap, meat, butter, oils, and cheese. At times, there must have been a line of boats waiting.
As shown in the plate below, the Waag is two buildings that have been connected by use since 1644. Art dealer Abraham de Coge bought the next-door basketmaker's shop for 2,957 guilders in 1642 and two years later sold it to the city for 5,800 guilders. By 1647, the building had been remodeled and a new scale was in place, three meters high and ten centimeters thick. According to F. ten Hengel in De Stad Delft, cultuur en maatschappij van 1572-1667 (p. 56), it was accurate to within two ounces.
Connected by a common facade since 1769, the upper floors have had a variety of uses but the front part was used by the gold- and silversmiths' guild in Leeuwenhoek's time. Until 1960 it still functioned as a weigh-house. Today it is a restaurant (right; click to enlarge) whose interior has retained some of the look and feel of the Dutch Golden Age.
What did Leeuwenhoek do at the Waag?
In 1679, Leeuwenhoek was appointed to the job of inspector of weights and measures for the city, an ijker, aka peilder or wijnroeier. The literal meanings are "gauger" and "wine rower," from the rod he stuck into the barrel. Read more.
Waag - 1730
1832 Kadaster number: