Korenmetershuis, Amsterdam


Built in 1620 in Dutch Renais­sance style, the Koren­meters­huis (Grain Measurer’s House) on the Nieuwe­zijds Kolk 28 is one of only five guild houses left in Amsterdam and one of the very few detached buildings in the inner city. Before the Koren­meters­huis was built, the grain measurers were housed in a wooden building on the (now disappeared) Oude Brug (Old Bridge) across the Damrak. The building is a national monument.

Korenmetershuis on Nieuwezijds Kolk, Amsterdam, seen towards Kolksteeg and Nieuwendijk

Koren­meters­huis on Nieuwe­zijds Kolk, seen towards Kolk­steeg and Nieuwen­dijk (August 2021).

Since 1967 the building houses Erf­goed­vereni­ging Heem­schut (Heritage Organisation Heem­schut). Through the years the building has had many changes, gables were opened, windows were bricked, roof dormers were added. In 1898 much was carefully restored to the original state and the shutters were put back. The stained glass windows on the upper floor show the grain measurers tools and stylized grain.

Korenmetershuis on Nieuwezijds Kolk 28 in 1780, watercolor by Herman Schouten

Korenmeters­huis on Nieuwe­zijds Kolk 28 in 1780, water­color by Herman Schouten (1747-1822).

The guilds were disbanded in 1798, but the Koren­meters­huis kept the original function, it just wasn’t called Grain Measurer’s Guild anymore. The building is not open to the public, except maybe once a year on Open Monuments Day.

Front of the Korenmetershuis on Nieuwezijds Kolk, Amsterdam

Front of the Koren­meters­huis on Nieuwe­zijds Kolk, seen towards Kolk­steeg and Nieuwen­dijk (August 2021).

Grain Measurers Guild

At the time grain was one of the main markets for Amsterdam, called the “moeder­negotie” (mother of all trades). Grain bearers, grain putters and grain measurers were all employed by the city as sworn-in civil servants, to ensure that the grain trade was conducted in a fair and orderly manner. They checked for correct volume, kept track of the sales and of the delivery and calculated the amount of tax to be paid.

Statue of a grain measurer carrying a bushel and statue of a grain bearer carrying a sack of grain

On the left a grain measurer carrying a bushel. On the right a grain bearer carrying a sack of grain.

The grain putters kept the bushel level and fixed, the grain bearers put the grain in the bushel and the grain measurers leveled off the grain with a round wooden stick and measured it. All these worked together as brother-guilds, and from 1654 on they were united under one guild. The tools of their trade can still be seen on the relief above the door of the Koren­meters­huis.

Relief above the front door of the Korenmetershuis, Amsterdam

Relief above the front door of the Koren­meters­huis, depicting the tools used by the grain measurers (August 2021).

In Dutch there is an expression which stems from this grain trade, “aan de strijk­stok blijven hangen” (clung to the leveling stick, meaning rake-off, resellers illegal­ly or unfair­ly taking a share of the profits).

Front door of the Korenmetershuis on Nieuwezijds Kolk, Amsterdam

Front door of the Koren­meters­huis on Nieuwe­zijds Kolk (August 2021).

On the Brouwers­gracht 163, corner with the Palm­gracht, you can see a gable stone from 1729 with a grain measurer, using the strekel (leveling stick) to level off the grain in the bushel.

Old Content Units

Before the state regulation of measurement units, each city used their own different units. In Amsterdam a mud or mudde (from Latin modius, an ancient Roman unit for dry measures) was 111.5 liter (29.45 gallon) and equalled 4 bushels. A bushel (schepel) was 27.9 liter (7.37 gallon). 27 mud was a last (cargo), equal to 3,010 liter (795 gallon).

A grain measurer's bushel and an Amsterdam grain measurement cup from 1652

On the left a grain measurer’s bushel. On the right a grain measurement cup from 1652, 1/64th of a bushel.

Mistaken Identity

The Water­geuzen (Water Beggars) were a homeless group of Calvinists who had fled the repression by the Spanish Duke of Alva and had united with thieves and adventurers, living of piracy after they had lost all their belongings. They had been contacted by William of Orange in 1568 to support his cause. The Water­geuzen regularly disturbed the existing trade routes.

Front of the Korenmetershuis on Nieuwezijds Kolk, Amsterdam, seen in direction of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal

Front of the Koren­meters­huis on Nieuwe­zijds Kolk, seen in the direction of the Nieuwe­zijds Voor­burg­wal (August 2021).

On the 23rd of November 1577 the Water­geuzen tried to invade Amsterdam by stealth via the Haar­lemmer­poort (the 2nd Haar­lemmer­poort near the current Martelaars­gracht) with a small army of around 500, led by Herman Helling. He mistook the Koren­meters­huis to be the Amsterdam City Hall, which gave city guards time to regroup on Dam square and drive them out of the city. Amsterdam stayed under Spanish rule, for the time being. But after a siege, the city surrendered in February 1578 and signed a contract to join the Staatsen (a resistance group against the Spanish rule, led by the Staten-Generaal of the Nether­lands).

Top front of the Korenmetershuis, Amsterdam

Top front of the Koren­meters­huis (August 2021).

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