The German antiquarian booksellers’ association, VDA, recently launched an interview series amongst its board and members. Highly interesting bibliophilic stories and backgrounds, an insight into the German trade and "the love of books" - "amor librorum" represent a common theme.
Dr Markus Brandis, President of the VDA, was interviewed earlier this year by his colleagues Sibylle Wieduwilt and Dr Barbara van Benthem. Mr Brandis looks at the new German online platform, the “Schaufenster” (the “VDA Shopwindow”), ongoing legal challenges for the rare book trade, the move of the RARE BOOK FAIR STUTTGART to the city of Ludwigsburg in June 2023 and convinces the reader why being a rare bookseller and auctioneer is one of the most fascinating professions and why books will accompany a true bibliophile throughout his entire life.
The interview was first published in German language in August 2022 on the website of the Verband Deutscher Antiquare; the original article can be read HERE
Markus, what is the board working on right now?
On a great new project, the "SCHAUFENSTER”! This online platform allows the members of our association, VDA, to present and advertise several selected objects with images and a description, which can then be ordered directly from the bookseller. The platform is completely free of charge to our members and after each sale a new item can be added. So we recommend buyers to come back regularly to the website of the German antiquarian booksellers’ association and search for NEW ENTRIES.
In addition to that, I am currently occupied with numerous legal issues in which the VDA board represents its members to third parties.
What are the most important tasks of the association?
To me, one of the most important tasks of the Association of German Antiquarian Booksellers is this: Since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, since the union of the European states, more and more laws regulate our coexistence and the trade within our country, in Europe and worldwide. Customs formalities, shipping requirements, taxation, obligations for provenance research, restrictions through cultural property protection and material bans (such as ivory) impose more and more measures on the dealer before he can sell a single item. At the same time, the balancing act of being able to act in accordance with the law is becoming increasingly difficult, and the risk of unknowingly making mistakes is growing. Here it is necessary to inform and support our members with guidelines and explanations - and at the same time to lobby with the legislator in order to prevent legislative proposals from contradicting each other or to make it fundamentally impossible to comply with the law. The members of the association benefit from this work in a very practical way, as do all antiquarian booksellers in Germany.
The most important organisational task of the association is, of course, the organisation of a successful fair, the RARE BOOK FAIR STUTTGART, which will take place for the first time in two years in June 2023 and it will be the 60th anniversary fair. But the association also has the important task of leading the antiquarian book trade further into the 21st century. On that end, the promotion of young talent is of great importance. I know many dealers of my parents' generation who would like to mentor a successor but can't find anyone interested. I see it as one of the most important tasks of my presidency to convey that the work of the antiquarian bookseller is seen as a meaningful and profitable, professional prospect, that the expertise of a specialist for rare books remains in demand and that the daily handling of rare books and material is fulfilling beyond measure. To pass on one's own enthusiasm for the profession to an increasing number of interested young people - this is something that all members of the association should be involved in.
Why are you involved with the VDA?
Because I am a passionate bookseller and I am convinced that our profession also needs a representative who fights for its continuity. Together with my colleagues on the board, Meinhard Knigge, Christian Strobel, Elvira Tasbach and Dieter Zipprich, we form a particularly dynamic, highly effective team that tackles the future of the antiquarian book trade with verve and fun. In addition, we are indebted to our office manager Norbert Munsch, who supports everything just as creatively and has excellent organisational skills. I can only recommend to all my colleagues in the association to also get involved - and all honourable antiquarian booksellers to apply for the association. Only together can we shape the future.
What are the positive and negative aspects of volunteering for the association?
Of course, working for the association takes time, sometimes a lot of it. And that's not always easy, because our own business has to keep on going. But the success of having achieved something for our wonderful profession, of having got something off the ground together, of having finally achieved something in the face of an ever tighter network of laws and restrictions, compensates for the trouble. And what could be better than a successful fair organised for all members, which not only generates sales, but also shows that there is a profession that combines expertise with passion like no other.
After a forced break of more than 2 years, the book fair will run again in June next year. How do you picture the new beginnings?
Spectacular, what else?! I am convinced that all members of our association will work together in order to have a wonderful, interesting and successful RARE BOOK FAIR STUTTGART in the summer of 2023. With the elegant "Forum am Schlosspark" in Stuttgart's neighbouring city Ludwigsburg, we have found a suitable location where the booksellers can present their products and services in close vicinity to our usual location. With 88% of the members' votes, there was such a clear, enthusiastic vote for a new beginning that we can certainly all rejoice. But don't worry, the 60th Rare Book Fair Stuttgart will not break with tradition. We have - after a seemingly endless dry spell - "post coronam" certainly all want to see each other again, exchange ideas, trade, get to know new things and drink one or two coffees, or one or two good glasses of wine together.
Are there differences between antiquarian booksellers and auctioneers?
Of course, the work differs in some ways. The auctioneer acts as a consignee, the bookseller mainly operates at his own risk. While the latter can divide his time, the auctioneer has to follow fixed auction dates in a limited time: After the auction is before the auction! However, an auctioneer who is able to remain an antiquarian bookseller in his daily business is certainly the happiest. Despite all my old and new commitments, I have always reserved myself the right to handle many of the books, prints, manuscripts and autographs entrusted to me for each of our bi-annual auctions. It is the essence of my work, the essence of my existence - and I would not want to miss it, even if it costs me many hours in the evening, at night or on weekends. Perhaps there are auctioneers who see their job primarily in the administration of the items. I will never be able to do that: I am and will remain an antiquarian bookseller first of all!
Which book should an antiquarian bookseller definitely read or have read?
Every book he offers in his store, especially the Latin and Greek ones - and especially the Portuguese titles, of course. No, jokes aside, he will never manage that! Still, a good antiquarian bookseller should know a little bit about all the books he has in his store - and those he describes for the catalogues and online platforms a little bit better. This is the greatest challenge, but also the most fulfilling thing about the profession: the antiquarian bookseller owns every book he deals with for a certain amount of time. He has the chance to enjoy it, work on it, promote it, and ultimately convince his customer of its value. The more enthusiasm he brings to it himself, the more he will be able to captivate the potential buyer. This can happen in a conversation in the store, but also in a catalogue description. The customer will always honour this love and "buy into it"!
What do you do when there is no book around?
Has that ever happened in my life? I really can't remember. Even on my Interrail tours across Europe, half of my backpack (and certainly 2/3 of its weight!) was reserved for books. In my apartment there is no place without a book, in the office certainly not. But if I should ever find myself on a lonely island in Robinson-style, and there really isn't one single book - then I will write one!
Dr Markus Brandis started his training in the antiquarian book trade in 1987 with Konrad Meuschel in Bonn, followed by work for Jürgen Voerster (Stuttgart), Hartung & Hartung (Munich), H. P. Kraus (New York) and studies of art history at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Munich) and Università La Sapienza and Bibliotheca Hertziana (Rome), graduating with a doctorate.
Afterwards active in the Galerie Française in Munich and for the auction house Zisska & Kistner, he founded the antiquarian bookshop Abaton in Munich, publishing over 20 catalogues.
Since 2006, he heads the Book Department at the Berlin-based auction house Bassenge, later became a partner and in 2022 sworn-in auctioneer.
A member of the Verband Deutscher Antiquare since 2011, he was elected onto the board in 2020 and acts as President since 2022.
More information about the Rare Book Fair Stuttgart and its launch in Ludwigsburg in June 2023, can be found HERE