By Stanley Crowe
In 1977, the 24th ILAB Congress and 7th ILAB International Antiquarian Book Fair took place in Düsseldorf, Germany. On this occasion, Karl H. Pressler, the former editor of the German booksellers magazine “Aus dem Antiquariat”, published a special issue with articles about the League and its history written by representatives of the international rare book trade such as Menno Hertzberger, Helmuth Domizlaff, Percy H. Muir, Georges A. Deny, Dr. Lotte Roth-Wölfle and Stanley Crowe.
I think that older antiquarian booksellers may need no introduction and will be familiar with much I shall say, but at the same time new and younger faces appear in our trade who may not be so well informed. I think it is true to say that, directly or indirectly, most antiquarian booksellers the world over are influenced in a greater or lesser degree by the League. Those who trade internationally, or who attend Congresses and Book Fairs are especially so. Firstly then —
What It Is
To create the perspective, I will begin at the beginning. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers started, as do most things, as an idea. It was the brain-child of the well-known Dutch antiquarian bookseller, Mr. Menno Hertzberger. He was already a founder of the Nederlandsche Vereeniging van Antiquaren. It occured to him that the advantages which accrued by being bonded together in a national association could be extended by all the national associations of antiquarian booksellers uniting and working for the common good.
In 1948 the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers was founded; its Constitution was established; and a set of rules was agreed, to apply to all members of whatever nationality. Its purpose is clearly defined in Article 2 of the Constitution:
»The League has as its object the co-ordination of all efforts and projects having in view the development and the growth of the trade of antiquarian bookselling, thereby creating friendly relations between antiquarian booksellers throughout the World.«
A pattern of meetings developed at which the business of the League is conducted. Year by year, at either a Congress or a meeting of the National Presidents, an Annual General Meeting is held. The venue changes to a different country each year.
The Administration is in the hands of an Executive Committee of six, including the President, and no more than one member may be drawn from any one country.
Since its inception, the League has grown and at present [in the year 1977] antiquarian booksellers in sixteen countries [22 countries in 2012] are united within its compass. These are in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America.
A contribution to the League's finances is made by each national association. Its rules command a common respect. Its support is entirely derived from goodwill, and as an exercise in international co-operation it is unique. And now —
What It Does
The most important primary function of the League is undoubtedly the fact that it provides the means of co-operation, discussion and concerted action. First and foremost, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers is a trade association concerned to promote the commercial well-being and prosperity of its members. Various activities have developed and I shall touch on some of them.
The Congress in Düsseldorf [in 1977] will be the twenty-fourth. A most important aspect of all the Congresses is that they afford an opportunity for booksellers to meet and become acquainted. In an individualistic trade such as ours, this is of importance and facilitates business.
Antiquarian Book Fairs have become an established institution in certain countries. The League initiated the idea of an International Antiquarian Book Fair open to all members and the Book Fair in Düsseldorf is the seventh under its auspices. Antiquarian Book Fairs in Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Netherlands and the United States of America have followed suit and invited booksellers from outside to participate. These are all valuable opportunities for those who take advantage of them.
Another notable activity is the publication of the International Directory of Antiquarian Booksellers of which a New Edition has just been published. It is the most outstanding work of reference of its kind and circulates among dealers, collectors and librarians everywhere.
The League Committee meets twice annually and the location has been in places as far apart as London and Tokyo. It is charged by the Constitution with an important function, the power to arbitrate in disputes arising between antiquarian booksellers in different countries. This is a valuable provision and has been the means of settling disputes which otherwise would have continued unresolved.
Twice a year the League publishes a Newsletter which is distributed to all members. It is represented at the E.E.C. “Round Table” in Brussels. It has published a polyglot “Dictionary For The Antiquarian Bock Trade”.
Another facet of activity is the Bibliographical Prize. About seventeen years ago, recognizing the importance of Bibliography, the League established a Prize which currently amounts to $ 1,000,- to be awarded every three years to an outstanding work in bibliography. This is conducted by a small committee of experts under the chairmanship of Dr. Frieder Kocher-Benzing. The last award made in 1976 was to Dr. C. William Miller, professor of English at Temple University, for his monumental “Benjamin Franklin's Philadelphia Printing”.
What I have written so far mainly relates to the trade and commercial aspects of the League. There is another which is regarded as of special importance and it does not relate to buying and selling but is none the less a function of the League. It has been said the “man does not live by bread alone”. The social programme accompanying a Congress is designed so that those taking part shall associate together and enjoy themselves. In this way persons get to know one another, friendships ensue, and these are the things which enrich.
(Published in Aus dem Antiquariat 9, 1977. Presented here by permission of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels.)