De Zilverdistel differed sufficiently from earlier enterprises to be spoken of as the first private press. P.C. Boutens (the older generation) took a different approach as the publisher of his own work and translations: he acted alone and up to the year that De Zilverdistel began, printed his own work exclusively. After 1910 he also published the work of colleagues, probably in imitation of De Zilverdistel.
De Zilverdistel was the work of a group and mainly published the work of others. Only Van Eyck published his poetry at De Zilverdistel; Bloem and Greshoff did not. Moreover, they presented a programme of intended publications in advertisements. They wanted to serve the international market with French and German texts (Baudelaire and Andrian).
De Zilverdistel initially focused on contemporary literature in contrast with the German and English presses of the time. According to the newspaper for the book trade (December 1910) there were plans for a translation of Petronius’ Satyricon (not published) and poems by J.J. de Stoppelaar (published elsewhere). These titles were suggested by Greshoff, who tried to bend the policy to his will.
De Zilverdistel had no printer’s mark although Greshoff harboured a desire for it. All copies of the early De Zilverdistel publications were hand-numbered and signed by the authors. This was not the private press practice in England, although it was a bibliophile custom in Germany and also with de luxe special editions in the Netherlands. Other typical private press characteristics were that the books remained ‘totally outside the trade’, the texts were labelled as exclusive (‘new unpublished collection’, ‘a commercial edition will not appear’) and ‘profit’ was out of the question. But profit was certainly there.
From advertisements and messages it was apparent that the authors pursued an ideal of typographical perfection. Even more so, R.T.A. Mees (of the same generation) who knew everyone involved, claimed in 1917 that the founders of De Zilverdistel actually had wanted to set up a printing shop (there is no evidence of this), but the plan ‘to purchase a hand press and good type material’ turned out to be too costly and time consuming.
De Zilverdistel turned to not just any printer but the most renowned printer of the Netherlands which had earned its place in the bibliophile world due to its unique typefaces. While Enschedé’s editions for French publishers from before 1900 are not typographically exceptional, in the 1890s they printed a few milestones of Art Nouveau: Kunst en samenleving and Sonnetten en verzen in terzinen geschreven. Since Otto Julius Bierbaum in November 1909 and Hans von Weber (with Hundertdrucke) from May 1910 had granted commissions to Enschedé, some impressive editions were supplied to the German bibliophile market.
The choice of old Dutch typefaces underlined the ideal of a Dutch private press. The origin of the name De Zilverdistel is unknown, however the reference to native flora united seamlessly with the decorative style of Art Nouveau. Van Eyck declared in 1918 that he had thought of the name first. Greshoff later thought that this was correct. The business arrangements of Bloem, Van Eyck and Greshoff were simple. They all had a right to one copy and one third of the profits that was sometimes shared with the author, as in the case of Van Nijlen who bought up half of the edition. It was also agreed that Verwey was entitled to half the profits. The trio convened no meetings and did not confirm agreements in writing, which is why Bloem could ask: ‘What exactly are the plans of the thistle?’ —National Library of the Netherlands