Every year, the presidents of all 22 national antiquarian bookseller’s associations that form the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), meet at the President’s Meeting or an ILAB Congress. For 2017, the Danish Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association ABF has invited the international rare book trade to Copenhagen. This will be a week of formal meetings with reports and updates from each country, but it is also a week of exchanging ideas with colleagues, networking and a programme to visit some of Copenhagen’s cultural and bibliophile treasures!
Denmark is one of Europe’s smallest countries, with a population of 5,5 million (about the size of South London). It is renowned for its design, an excellent social welfare system, good education, open minded culture and international cities boasting a vibrant cultural life. To bibliophiles it is well known for its long and rich history in printing, publishing and bookselling. (And its pastries, of course.)
Copenhagen is also a symbolic place for the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. Sixty-nine years ago in Copenhagen, in 1948, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers was officially founded at the Conference from 1st to 5th September. Plans were made, decisions were taken by the presidents of the ten national associations who became ILABs founding fathers. The first ILAB Committee was elected: William S. Kundig, Percy H. Muir, Einar Gronholt Pedersen, Menno Hertzberger and André Poursin. As early as 3rd September their work began with the first ever ILAB Committee Meeting.
"This is an historic moment, we are beginning to work for the International League. We start with nothing: everything is to be done. We shall have to raise money and we shall have to work. First we shall need stationery. I will have it printed in Geneva and it will be sent to all officers. The name of the League will be printed in English and French: on the left will be the names of the Associations and on the right the names and addresses of the officers." (William S. Kundig at the first ILAB Committee meeting in Copenhagen, September 1948)
Denmark is the country of Hans Christian Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard, Karen Blixen, and a long established monarchy with a keen interest in art and literature throughout the ages.
The country’s history is closely linked to Sweden and Norway. This reflects also in the history of books, printed works and the country’s collections.
The book trade in the Nordic countries goes back to the medieval age. However very few fragments survived the combined impact of the Reformation and huge fires in the 18th century. The first Scandinavian university opened in Lund (Sweden) in 1425 and later in Copenhagen in 1479, which fueled the local book trade. The first books were printed in Denmark in 1482 by the German Johann Snell. Other famous printers settled in Copenhagen such as Lorentz Benedicht who in 1565 was granted exclusive rights, by the crown, to all printing in Denmark.
Famous booksellers established in Copenhagen such as Joachim Moltke and Daniel Paulli in the 17th century as well as a number of Dutch booksellers. They were there to satisfy the demand of a growing and more literate population during that time.
The Bibliotheca Danica, one of the most important bibliographies of Danish book production, records virtually all Danish publications from 1482 to 1840. From the mid-17th century, the royal libraries of Sweden and Denmark made a concerted effort to build their collections and the legal deposit was introduced in Denmark in 1697. As in its neighboring European countries, the book trade grew significantly in the 19th century, and famous publishers such as Gyldendal and Reitzel built important publishing firms.
Denmark is internationally known for its pioneering role in design which also impacted on typography and book cover design, from the early 20th century until today.
A vibrant book trade resulted in the early formation of guilds and trade associations in its various fields. The Danish Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association or Den Danske Antikvarboghandlerforening (ABF) was founded in 1920 with 27 members in its first year. It is the oldest league of antiquarian booksellers in Scandinavia as well as one of the oldest of its kind in the world, only preceded by the English ABA, founded in 1906, and the French SLAM, established in 1914.
As Maria Girsel, current president of the Danish Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association notes: “Unfortunately Copenhagen has suffered the same fate as so many other cities – the streets that used to be full of booksellers are now full of coffee shops, clothing shops etc.” However, it has not discouraged Maria, who runs Herman Lynge, one of Denmark’s leading antiquarian firms, to proactively promote the rare book trade and organize the 2017 President’s Meeting.
ILAB Congresses have been held in Copenhagen in 1969 and 2002. President’s Meetings were held in Copenhagen in 1979 and 1991.
In keeping with tradition, the Danish association has put together a programme with highlights such as a visit to the Queen’s Private Library, which contains the personal collections of the Kings and Queens throughout centuries, the Royal Library and Rosenburg Castle, followed by the opening of the Scandinavian Antiquarian Book Fair in the evening of the 28th September.
Colleagues and friends; booksellers from around the world are looking forward to a fruitful week of dialogue, discoveries and business.
Amor librorum nos unit.
>> For more information about the Danish Antiquarian Booksellers Association ABF, please follow this link
The above article uses information from:
The Oxford Companion to the Book. Edited by Michael F. Suarez, S.J. and H. R. Woudhuysen. ; Oxford University Press. 1,408 pp., numerous engravings photographs, drawings, and typographical features
The Year of Living Danishly - Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country. by Helen Russell. Icon Books UK. ISBN: 978-178578-023-3
(Editor's note: A wonderful, entertaining but also considered account of everyday life in Denmark by a young London journalist. Recommended to anyone travelling to Denmark or Scandinavia soon)