Accijnshuis, Amsterdam


On the Oude­brugsteeg 7, corner with the Damrak, lies the Accijns­huis (Excise House) from 1638. It once stood on the open water of the Damrak, which was the oldest port of Amsterdam. This is where ships came to pay municipal taxes on grain, beer, wine, tobacco, peat, coal and spices. On the Oude­brug­steeg there are two stone­work gates (which are not used anymore) with lions and Amsterdam shields on top. The Accijns­huis originally had two layers, an additional layer was added on top in the 19th century. The building is a national monument.

Partial view on the Accijnshuis with a corner of Berlage's Exchange, Amsterdam

Partial view of the Accijns­huis (Excise House) from 1638 on Oude­brug­steeg (August 2021). On the right a corner of Berlage’s Exchange, constructed between 1896 and 1903, with sculpture of Hugo de Groot from 1903 by Lambertus Zijl.

In 1845 and 1883 the southern part of the Damrak was filled in (between Bijen­korf and Oude­brug­steeg). Since then the Accijns­huis has been situated on the remaining wet part of the Damrak, right next to the Beurs van Berlage (Berlage’s Exchange) and the Bureau voor Handels­inlichtingen (Trade Information Office), now The Grasshopper. Five accijns­meesters (excise masters) collected the taxes from ships here. They were the only city college which was not situated in the City Hall (now Royal Palace) on Dam square.

Accijnshuis, Amsterdam, in 1768, seen from Oudebrugsteeg towards Damrak

Accijns­huis in 1768, seen from Oude­brug­steeg towards Damrak, with the Oude Brug (Old Bridge). On the other side of the bridge the Koren­beurs (Grain Exchange) from 1617, demolished in 1884. Water­colour by Reinier Vinkeles (Amsterdam City Archives).

Original Damrak Bridges

The Oude Brug (Old Bridge), a wooden bridge from the beginning of the 14th century, was the oldest bridge across the Damrak, at the current Oude­brug­steeg (Old Bridge Alley), from Damrak to Warmoes­straat. This bridge also served to defend the Damrak, then the medieval port of Amsterdam. It was demolished in 1883 when the Damrak was filled in between the Papen­brug­steeg and the Oude Brug.

The second wooden bridge, the Nieuwe Brug (New Bridge), was built after 1342, near the IJ mouth. Below it was a lock to grant ships access to the Damrak. In those days there was a direct connection from Damrak to IJ through what is now called the Open Haven­front (Open Harbour Front). The island on which the Central Station sits was created much later — between 1870 and 1880 — and closed the city center off from a direct view of the water of the IJ. These days the renewed and widened bridge is part of the busy Prins Hendrik­kade, hard to recognise as a bridge.

The third bridge was the Papenbrug (Papist Bridge), first mentioned in 1475, closer to Dam square at the current Papen­brug­steeg (between Beurs­plein and Warmoes­straat). This bridge was demolished in 1884 when the Damrak was partially filled in.

Engraving of the Korenbeurs (Grain Exchange) from 1617, Amsterdam

Engraving from between 1751 and 1766 of the Koren­beurs (Grain Exchange) from 1617, seen from the Damrak side.
On the left the Oude Brug (Old Bridge), in the distance the spire of the Oude Kerk (Old Church).

Trade Buildings Near the Oude Brug

In the Dutch Golden Century (Gouden Eeuw, 1588 to 1672), a number of buildings were constructed near the Oude Brug, thanks to the flourishing trade in grain and other bulk goods. In 1617 the Koren­beurs (Grain Exchange) was built on the New Side, demolished in 1884. Next to the bridge there was also a wooden building for the Koren­meters (Grain Measurers Guild), who got their new head­quarters on Nieuwe­zijds Kolk in 1620.

On the Old Side the old Stads-Exijns-Huis (City Excise House) was replaced by a new building across the alley, the current Accijns­huis from 1638. Today the quay along the north side of the Beurs van Berlage (Berlage’s Exchange) is the only thing remaining of the original Oude Brug (Old Bridge), which the Accijns­huis was located next to.

Lions and Amsterdam seals above entrances of the Accijnshuis, Amsterdam

The lions and Amsterdam seals above the (unused) entrances of the Accijns­huis on Oude­brug­steeg. Above it “Je maintiendrai” (“I will maintain”), the motto of the Netherlands, from the coat of arms of the family of Orange-Nassau (June 2020).

Bureau voor Handels­inlichtingen

Across from the Accijns­huis, at Oude­brug­steeg 16, the building from the end of the 18th century housing The Grasshopper. Once a famous coffeeshop, now just a restaurant and bar, no more cannabis is sold there. This was previously the Bureau voor Handels­inlichtingen (Commercial Information Office). Before that the spot was the previous City Excise House, on stilts in the water of the Damrak.

Oudebrugstreeg, view along the quay on the North side of Berlage's Exchange, Amsterdam

Oude­brug­steeg, view along the quay on the North side of Berlage’s Exchange, the only remnant of the Oude Brug (Old Bridge). On the left the Grasshopper restaurant, formerly the Bureau voor Handels­inlichtingen (June 2020).

When the Excise House moved to number 7 on the other side of the alley, that first building was demolished. After filling in a part of the water, a police post was constructed there in 1830. The Bureau voor Handels­inlichtingen rented the building from the city later in 1903.

  • On the front the text: De Cost Gaet Voor De Baet Uyt (Cost Precedes Gain)
  • On the Oude­brug­steeg side: Omnibus Idem (The Same To All)
  • On the other (North) side: Ick Waec (I Guard)

Excise & Taxes

From the 16th to the 18th century taxes were mostly regional and local levy. At the time of the Eighty Years War (1568–1648), a hated national tax was introduced by the Spanish, the so-called Tenth Coin. This was a type of VAT, 10% on all sales of moveable goods (food, drinks, clothing, etcetera). I wonder how the people from those days would have reacted to the current VAT in the Netherlands being at 21%…

Engraving showing how the Spanish Tenth Coin squeezes the Netherlands

Engraving showing how the Spanish Tenth Coin squeezes the Netherlands. Margaret of Parma, on the left, was Governor of the Netherlands from 1559 to 1567 and from 1578 to 1582. The Duke of Alba on the right.

During the French period (from 1795 to 1813) Napeoleon Bonaparte introduced a national tax system and the Accijns­huis lost its function. It became a café, called Het Wapen van Amsterdam (The Amsterdam Coat of Arms) from 1924 on, popular with barge skippers. When their exchange moved to the Hout­haven (Wood Harbour), the café lost many loyal customers and was forced to close. After years of neglect it was restored and has housed Café Heffer since 1997.

Accijnshuis, now Café Heffer, at Oudebrugsteeg corner Beursstraat, Amsterdam

Accijns­huis, now Café Heffer, at Oude­brug­steeg corner Beurs­straat (August 2021).

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