Thursday, March 3, 2016

Two 'Vinkenbaan' manuscripts

The delightful past time of catching small birds

There are those dishes that everybody knows, but no one ever had. Perhaps the most famous one is the French delicacy of ortolan, a small bird that has to be eaten completely at once, including the head. It is also famous because eating the dish in the correct way requires wearing a blindfold. The consumption of this cute bird was forbidden by the EU in 1999. The ortolan is a small bird that resembles a finch and was difficult to catch, mostly with nets, which must have been a hectic endeavor. 
               In Holland the catching of small birds with nets was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, but nowadays it has completely disappeared, little known about and would be very much frowned upon. It was a must for every owner of a larger country house with some land, a ‘buiten’, to have a range where these small birds could be caught. These were called finch-ranges, ‘vinkenbanen’. There were especially many ranges in the dunes area, because this was a natural reserve without any buildings and therefore used by birds to travel along the coast. Because finching was almost exclusively possible in areas that were owned by a landowner, it was the perfect activity for the upper class. Therefore any records of attendees to a finch-range would make excellent cultural-historical information about the upper-class networks of Holland.

               This is exactly what is on offer at Antiquariaat Van der Steur: two very rare books in which the catchings and catchers at a number of finch-ranges are meticulously noted by hand by the owners of the ranges.

               The first book is a large register, bound in vellum, with about 200 written pages. In this Mr. Paulus Cornelis Hoynck van Papendrecht (Dordrecht 1793 - Rotterdam 1877) noted the amount of catches on his finch range at the Weilust estate (probably near Rotterdam), over the years 1840-1858. The manuscript starts with recordings of the number of caught finches per day (3000 to 6000 finches a year). But Hoynck also gives an account of the weather, wind, other caught birds, visitors, etc. Then follow notes on the contruction of the range. The celebrated architect Zocher had designed the Weilust estate, but when Hoynck asked him to do the finch range in 1839, Zocher recommended the expert Manus Lokerman to do the job, who was a fincher himself and his father too.

In the winter of 1839/40 Lokerman made a single 'druip' (open field) finch range, but this was not to the liking of Hoynck, who preferred to have a double range, by example of the famous double range of Jan Bondt (1766-1845) at the Jachtduin estate in Bloemendaal. Lokerman followed the wishes of his client.
The manuscript ends with lists of friends and acquaintances, who were given 25 to 50 finches per year as a gift, to take home as a pet or for consumption.
               The other book is a 19th century copy of a part of the manuscript of Cornelis van Lennep’s Fasti fringillares, a two volume manuscript book on the finching practice, also with numbers of caught birds (Van Lennep family archive 104-105). However, this copy has additional information up to 1850 with catch numbers of the ranges Jagtduin, Spaarnberg, Elswout, Watervliet, Huis te Bloemendaal, Manpad, Saksenburg, Roos en Beek, Duinlust, Boekenrode en Weilust.

               Together these books contain valuable information about the practice of finching, an activity that had a firm role in daily life and is completely faded away from memory. Moreover, it shows us who visited who and what amount of finches they were given by the host. There is really no comparison to this in our current times.

by Hugo Rijpma


Source: Matthey, Ignaz. Vincken moeten vincken locken, Vijf eeuwen vangst van zangvogels en kwartels in Holland. Hollandse Studiƫn 39. Verloren, Hilversum, 2002.