By W. R. Fletcher
“Dear Colleagues, We have the honour to give you herewith full details about the First International Antiquarian Bookfair. We cordially invite all members of national associations affiliated with the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers to take part in this manifestation.“ With these words Nico Israel and Bob de Graaf, Chairman and Secretary of the Dutch Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (NVvA) announced the first ILAB International Antiquarian Book Fair. At the Ravenna Congress 1964 the Dutch proposal to organize a fair under the auspices of the League was unanimously carried. A year later, from October 5 to 9, 1965, ILAB dealers met at the Arti et Amicitiae in the centre of Amsterdam for their first joint fair in the history of the League. W. R. Fletcher was among the exhibitors.
Anyone who attended the Congress held at Scheveningen a few years ago will be well aware that the First International Book Fair held at Amsterdam from October 5 to 9, would be just as successful, since it was produced and stage-managed by the same National Association.
Held in the spacious gallery of Arti & Amicitiae, N° 112 Rokin, in two fine, large rooms connected by two smaller rooms, each exhibitor had at his disposal a bookcase measuring approximately 6 ft. 6 in. by 6 ft. which included glassed-in shelves 6 ft. 6 in. long by 2 ft. 6 in. high. These were arranged in bays around the rooms, for three or four exhibitors, who shared two trestle tables, as many chairs as required, and ample space to walk round tables and chairs to look at the books.
Some exhibitors who required wall space to show engravings, maps, drawings, etc. were supplied with movable “walls” of ample dimensions. These did restrict movement somewhat in corners, but as the maps and engraving dealers had been grouped together as much as possible, they all seemed quite happy with the arrangements and no serious congestion occurred although throughout the days the rooms were thronged with people, both onlookers and buyers.
I cannot attempt to describe the merchandise that was offered for sale, every dealer seemed determined to have the best show and consequently there were very fine items on every stand, ranging from incunabula to modern press books, manuscripts from the 9th to the 20th century, bindings from boards to morocco, and the morocco from the 16th to the 20th century. Atlases were very popular, and I counted four sets of Blaeu, each of which was sold at least once during the week.
Our Dutch friends did everything in their power to make everyone welcome and successful. I arrived in Amsterdam a few days before the opening day and saw the gallery in chaos; plans and shelves, papers and glass, hammers and screwdrivers, and jacketless men in every direction; indescribable confusion. But all the jacketless men, the same men that we usually see so smartly dressed in office, shop and saleroom, knew exactly what they wanted to do and everything was completed, even to the cloths on the tables before the delivery of the books.
I think that the Fair was unofficially opened with a cocktail party given by Mr. Menno Hertzberger and Mr. Van Gendt at the shop in Keizersgracht, on Sunday evening (Mr. Van Gendt managed to get his jacket on just in time for this event), at which every exhibitor and many other friends thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
On Monday night it was officially opened by the President of the International League, Mr. Deny, after a short speech by the Vice-President of the Dutch Association, Mr. Van Gendt, taking the place of the President, Mr. Jongbloed who, unfortunately, was in hospital. Mr. Deny was handed the key to open the gallery and was followed first by the exhibitors and then by the visitors.
If the crowd, the noise and smiles are any guide, the sales and purchases in the following two hours must have been pretty high. I know that there was a lot of re-arranging of books on shelves the following morning.
As at all Fairs, the first day open is always the busiest and probably the most profitable, but my impression was that a good percentage was achieved on each day with an upsurge on the last afternoon, perhaps then a few prices were cut.
With typical hospitality, the Dutch Association arranged a farewell dinner to which every exhibitor was invited, and after the Fair was closed they arranged that private cars would collect everybody, to be driven to a 13th century castle, Muiderslot, about 12 miles outside Amsterdam.
This castle had been completely and faithfully restored, with moat and drawbridge complete; no electric lights. It was a wonderful sight as we alighted from the cars in brilliant moonlight. The ante-room, lit by candles, was the scene for the aperitif, and when dinner was served, Mr. Nico Israel stood at the entrance to the main hall and called each lady and her partner for the evening, who were then escorted to their seats at the tables, an arrangement that completely eliminated any congestion and confusion, and one that provided a pleasant surprise to the men when they found who their table partner was to be.
Food and wine, brought from Amsterdam (the castle kitchens were not built for modern banquets), were excellent. Towards the end of the meal, Mr. Nico Israel, the chairman for the evening, made a very short speech in Dutch which, I gather, was to inform the members of the Dutch Association, “to hell with the expense, bring on the champagne”, and amid applause from the Dutch Association, the champagne was brought on, to be followed by coffee and liqueurs.
We all enjoyed the singing of the folksongs to the accompaniment of a lute, in all languages, and explained so lucidly in Dutch, French and English. I was sitting near the Japanese exhibitors who joined in heartily when a Japanese song was sung.
The party finally broke up just after midnight, after a memorable dinner, in very memorable surroundings, bringing the week of the First International Book Fair to a close.
It is possible that some criticisms could be made, and since the Dutch have shown themselves such perfectionists I am sure that they will be made by themselves. My impression is that every foreign exhibitor will only by able to praise their work and thank them for it and their unbounded hospitality.
Extract from the ABA Miscellany N° 5 - 1966
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