The name Amsterdam appears for the first time in this document, drawn up in Leiden on October 27, 1275, in which Count Floris V of Holland grants a toll privilege to ‘people living near the dam in the River Amstel’ [homines manentes apud Amestelledamme]. Those granted a toll privilege were exempt from paying toll or customs duty. The ‘privilege’ could also mean the right to levy toll at a certain place.
In 1275, Amsterdam was no more than a new settlement belonging to the territory of the Bishop of Utrecht. Their exemption from toll in the County of Holland gave Amsterdammers an advantage in foreign trade and enabled Amsterdam to grow into an important centre of commerce, providing the basis for its later wealth and power.
The exemption from the count’s toll was still in force when Amsterdam was granted its charter as a municipality and came under the jurisdiction of the Count of Holland. In the 16th century, during the time of the Dutch revolt against Spain, the count’s right to exact toll was transferred to the States of Holland, which continued to exact toll until 1795. The Amsterdammers’ exemption, however, remained in force.
The parchment document with the count’s seal was kept by the government as official proof of payment. Later it was filed in a drawer in the charter cabinet kept by the city government. Officials could refer to a copy of the statement recorded in the ‘Privilege Book’.
How did the captain of a ship prove that, as an Amsterdammer, he was exempt from paying toll or customs duty? He was given a ‘toll letter’: an official copy of the ‘toll privilege’. After showing this letter at the county toll office, he could sail on, toll-free, without further ado.
The people of Amsterdam had to wait till 1306 before they received city-rights from the Bishop of Utrecht.