Laurens, congratulations on your recent election as president of the Dutch Antiquarian Booksellers Association, NVvA! First of all, could you tell us about your background, how you entered the world of rare books and describe your business?
I grew up with a bookseller father, and as a young kid I never paid much attention to his business, as any kid would do to his father's works, I suppose. School wasn't for me, so at the age of 17 I went to Australia and became a jackaroo, as they call it, and spent 2 years on a cattle station with 42,000 head of cattle, horses, bicycles and helicopters, almost half the size of the Netherlands. I liked it in Australia and after my two year work visa I went back to the Netherlands, got a student visa and went to Longreach Pastoral College and ended up as a certified station manager. My father's and my good friend Derek McDonnell from Hordern House got me the job and told me that I had received the best training to become a rare bookseller because I learnt how to bounder my fences and crush a snake!
After returning from Australia I did all kinds of jobs and ended up at the head office of Bruna, a company that owns a lot of modern bookshops around the country, where I got involved in the newest hottest thing, e-commerce, and we set up the first e-commerce shop in the Netherlands selling books. After a couple of years I did not like it any longer and in 2000 I sent my father a job application via email and to everyone's surprise he hired me. In 2008 I took over the family business and from there we acquired Asher Rare Books in 2010 and here we are, still holding up the family fort and buying and selling books all over the world, which for me is a very exciting thing to do, free as a bird, meeting new people and different books all the time.
You are busy organising the next ILAB Congress, which will take place in Amsterdam from 14 to 17 October 2024, as well as a number of other initiatives for the association. Given the demands and responsibilities of running an association, what motivates and inspires you to dedicate your time to the wider bookselling community?
Organising the ILAB Congress is a very exciting event. It is not an easy task, as the bar has been set high by the organisers of the Oxford Congress, so we have to work hard to achieve exciting visits, good food and beautiful venues for the booksellers from all over the world. What we are trying to achieve as the Dutch Antiquarian Booksellers Association is to bring some excitement back into the world of rare books. We just had a very nice Amsterdam Antiquarian Book Fair and our book fair team, really did an amazing job by taking us to a new venue, had live music, tours and we handed out a Young Collectors prize, a 1000 euro cheque that had to be spent at the fair. We also like to reach out to universities where they teach book studies or Boekwetenschappen in Dutch!
Why should ILAB booksellers attend the congress in Amsterdam? What is on offer?
Why, why is not the why, after the congress, if you haven't been to the Amsterdam Congress 2024, you will be the one asked why, why, why you haven't been there, YOU have missed out!
Who wouldn't want to spend a week in Amsterdam, being treated like a VIP by all the institutes that open their doors to us, ILAB members from all over the world. To see the treasures that are normally kept behind closed doors, in safes, in vaults, and hardly ever see the light of day. This is why you come to Amsterdam, to be one of the lucky few who have been allowed to see these special items, and on top of that, Amsterdam is the city of fun, there is something to be found in Amsterdam for everyone's taste, preference or hobby. We will all be taken around Amsterdam by canal boat, lunch at the Rijksmuseum, dinner at the Scheepvaart Musum (Maritime Museum), too much to mention and all I can say is SIGN UP for this event. Meet your colleagues from all over the world and have a great time!
And last but not least, if you are a bookseller and want to mix pleasure with business! Then join us at the Amsterdam Book Fair, which will take place immediately after the congress in the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam.
You have recently launched a young collectors' prize, a wonderful project in which you work not only with collectors but also with libraries. Could you tell us a little more about some of your ideas for encouraging the next generation of booksellers and collectors?
Yes, as I said, it was an excellent event. In cooperation with the librarian of the Rijksmuseum and the president of the Friends of the Museum of the Book. We will organise it again next year. We have learnt from our first experience and what we also want to do is to keep this group of young collectors together and have an event with them every three months, visiting a library or a bookseller or a museum.
You exhibit at many international fairs and work across borders; how would you say the trade has evolved in recent years, especially since the pandemic? Where do you see opportunities and challenges?
I think life will continue as before the pandemic, the human brain works in mysterious ways. For me, the pandemic seems to have been a long time ago, I don't think about it and we carry on as before the pandemic. I say this very lightly, but we have to remember that many of our ILAB dealers were affected by the pandemic and some of our members even lost family members.
Having said that, I think we just have to carry on doing what you do best and keep looking for those books and customers and enjoy life!
Laurens, thank you very much for your support and we look forward to meeting you and your colleagues from the NVvA in Amsterdam in October!
To contact Forum Rare Books and Laurens Hesselink, go HERE
Sign up for the 45th ILAB Congress HERE - not to be missed!