Ms Wieduwilt, Mr Steinbach and Mr Bichsel, three countries organising a fair - is that possible and why at all?
Peter Bichsel: It works very well. At the association level, we have known each other personally for many years and maintain a collegial, almost friendship-like relationship. In addition, the necessary technical infrastructure was already in place on the part of the German association.
Sibylle Wieduwilt: Especially thanks to the internet and the therefore shrinking or non-existent distances for the visitors of this purely digital trade fair, this works very well. The physical fairs are never purely national events. And this format allows us to use the marketing possibilities of all three countries for one fair.
Michael Steinbach: Although antiquarian booksellers have been using the internet as a sales platform for many years, the pandemic has now intensified this and a joint appearance of the three associations is an excellent way to present themselves.
Are only German-speaking collectors addressed?
Sibylle Wieduwilt: No, by no means. The offer is not limited to German-language titles. We have numerous exhibiting firms from other European countries, Israel and America. The platform for visitors/collectors is programmed bilingually in German and English, so that the collecting areas or search functions can also be entered in English. The world of antiquarian books is and has historically always been polyglot. We all have customers all over the world and our physical antiquarian book fairs are always visited by many international customers.
Antiquarian books and the internet? Still a contradiction or even the end of the classic fairs?
Peter Bichsel: What sounds like a contradiction is not one at all. Surprisingly, it was precisely the antiquarian book trade that made a name for itself with online platforms even before the turn of the millennium. Thanks to this experience of over twenty years, we were not caught on the wrong foot by the pandemic. The classic book fairs have been competing with the permanent offer on the internet for quite some time now, that's true. However, I can imagine that they will become more attractive again after the pandemic, as booksellers and customers feel the need to catch up on personal contacts. The internet and book fair offerings have differentiated themselves in the meantime and will both retain their specific significance in the future.
Last year and this year saw a massive upheaval in the world and also in the antiquarian book trade, the like of which has seldom been seen before. If you could look into a crystal ball, how do you imagine the time after the Corona crisis?
Michael Steinbach: No one can predict how long we will have to live with the pandemic in one form or another, but it will certainly be possible to hold real fairs again, with restrictions. I believe that people will perhaps become more aware of the possibilities and appreciate a real fair again.
After a long lockdown, what are you looking forward to and what favourite places have you missed most as bookseller and simply booklover?
Peter Bichsel: I'm looking forward to seeing more foreign tourists strolling through Zurich again and a few of them discovering my antiquarian bookshop.
Sibylle Wieduwilt: Finally being able to go to museums or concerts again, for instance the Goethehaus here in Frankfurt offers wonderful events and the German Romantic Museum is due to open this year. There are so many smaller and larger museums that have sorely missed their visitors in recent months.
Michael Steinbach: What I missed most were the personal encounters and conversations at the book fairs, be it with colleagues and customers at BUCH WIEN, or the rare book fairs in Stuttgart and Zurich, and I look forward to when these meetings are possible again. Until then, we have the wonderful opportunity and alternative of the upcoming digital antiquarian book fair.
Antiquarian bookshops and galleries from Austria, Switzerland and Germany, together with numerous international colleagues, will offer treasures of book art, autographs, illustrated works and graphic art on the virtual fair platform.
Date: 10 - 12 June 2021
Start of the fair on 10 June at 2 p.m. German time
Main image on top of article:
Honorat Bovet, Arbre des batailles. Exhibited by Les Enluminures, France / US
Interview by Angelika Elstner