How prosperous was Leeuwenhoek's family?

They lived comfortable lives in a prosperous country. They did not live in a post-Industrial Revolution consumer society, so comparisons to today's Dutch society are deceiving.

In Achter de Gevels van Delft, Wijsenbeek-Olthuis separates three hundred 18th century Delft estate inventories, including Maria van Leeuwenhoek's, into five tax brackets. Those sixty in the highest, including Maria, owned about 82% of the total wealth (p. 380) represented by all the inventories. Those in the next highest bracket owned about 13%, leaving just 5% of the wealth for the 75% of the population in the three poorest brackets.

Another helpful method is comparison of value within their time and place. The approach taken by Van Roon in Macht en Gewoonte, based on De Vries and Van der Woude's First Modern Economy, separates Delftenaars of Leeuwenhoek's time into six groups:

guilders per year   percentage of population
< 200

Subsistence level: street vendors, resellers, day laborers, vagrants, beggars, unemployed who fall in and out of the next group.


None of his relatives, at least in the 1600's and 1700's, seemed to fall into this group.

included in 10 - 20% below



< 300

Service personnel inside and outside the house or building, soldiers, seamen, and the large group of unskilled laborers.


On his father's side, his grandfather or perhaps his great-grandfather was the generation that learned basket making, which would have taken them out of this group. On his mother's side, we would have to go beyond the extant documents into the 1400's or even 1300's to find this generation.

10 - 20%



350 - 500

Skilled laborers, often self-employed, storekeepers, minor public servants such as toll collectors at bridges.


His paternal grandfather, a basket maker, was probably in this group. His father and uncle at some point, became prosperous enough to move into the next group. When Leeuwenhoek opened his draper's shop in 1655, he no doubt began in this group. By the time his camerbewaarder salary reached 400 guilders in the mid-1660's, he was in this group.




500 - 600

Skilled laborer, usually a guild member, prosperous storekeepers, more educated public employees such as bookkeepers, schoolteachers, managers, and inspectors.


If not his grandfather, then his father may have been in this group given the size of their home and workshop on the Oosteinde. Given the extent of their real estate holdings, Leeuwenhoek's uncle Huijch and Huijch's son Lambrecht, master baskermaker, may have been at this level, too.




> 600

Successful craftsmen and retailers, such as booksellers and grocers, lower ranks of military officers and city officials, such as clerks and messengers.


His salaries for his camerbewaarder and city inspector jobs combined moved Leeuwenhoek into this group by his 50's. His cousin Maerten, also uncle Huijch's son, may have made this much during the years he was a tax farmer for the City. On Leeuwenhoek's mother's side, the van den Berch's who were cloth sellers and brewers were in this group and the next one up, too.

12 - 14%



> 1,000

Regents, high city officials, prosperous merchants and entrepreneurs, the most successful doctors, notaries, and attorneys.


His van den Berch and Hogenhouck relatives were among the most prosperous regent families in Delft. By the end of his life, the annual interest on Leeuwenhoek's bonds and annuities far exceeded this threshold. Even in retirement, his income from the City continued. While Leeuwenhoek never reached the level of Delft's most prosperous regents and he didn't seem to have invested heavily in real estate, he was among the wealthiest of Delft's citizens when he died, as was his daughter when she died twenty years later. Perhaps if Leeuwenhoek had had a son or son-in-law, he would have benefited from Antony's success and been accepted among the regents.

6 - 8%


regent family members sergeant Willem Claesz. van Assendelft and flag bearer Pieter Harmensz. van Ruyven of the Witte Vendel (white banner) civic guards

Top image: unknown; bottom image: Jacob Willemsz. Delff II; others: Jan Luyken