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Have you ever wondered what ILAB is all about - other than a logo that appears against some dealers' trading names? 
Published on 15 March 2017

In 2014, ILAB Past President, Norbert Donhofer asked “Why ILAB?” and summarized the work and the history of the League. 

I had been asked this question frequently by customers and booksellers, but to give a proper answer we have firstly to look back in history. In 1947, representatives from five countries, Denmark, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden, met in Amsterdam to discuss the formation of an International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), with the aim of establishing new hope for international peace through open markets, to foster friendship and understanding, and to counteract the animosity and suspicion engendered by World War II. The ILAB was formally incorporated in Copenhagen in September 1948, with associations from ten countries.

Today, ILAB has, as its members, twenty two national associations representing thirty-seven countries and around 2000 individual affiliates. It strives to uphold and improve professional standards in the trade, to promote honorable conduct in business, and to contribute in various ways to a broader appreciation of the history and art of the book.

With the advent of the Internet anyone with a computer and a few books can set up as a rare bookseller, and it's occasionally difficult to tell who is an expert, who is a casual hobbyist, and who is an Internet scammer but there are a few simple reasons how you can detect the quality of an ILAB bookseller.

High Standards – Individual bookseller members are admitted to their national organizations and to ILAB through a process of sponsorship, investigation, and the vote of their peers, after they have demonstrated expertise, excellence, and experience as rare booksellers.

Ethic and Consumer Protection – Have you ever bought something online and were not satisfied? ILAB, and its member nations maintain a detailed Code of Usages and Customs, and individual booksellers are required to adhere to these.

Authenticity Guaranteed – The Code of Usages and Customs requires that books and related material are accurately and professionally described. The authenticity and genuineness of all books, manuscripts, autographs, maps, and related material must be guaranteed.

Book Fairs – ILAB and its member nations sponsor and produce the world’s greatest book fairs and exhibitions of rare books for sale, currently in sixteen great cities such as Paris, London, New York, Milan, Tokyo or Boston. A visit of an ILAB book fair is education in the world of rare books, and the equivalent of visiting a museum, with the difference that you can purchase the exhibits.

International Collegiality and Cooperation – Afraid to buy rare books from overseas dealers because you think you will have no recourse if you are unsatisfied? ILAB dealers are responsible to a world organization, and ILAB can help to foster communications and help to facilitate communications with overseas dealers. Everywhere in the world, you can buy the best books from ILAB booksellers with confidence.

Education – ILAB sponsors the ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography that awards scholars for excellence in furthering the knowledge of rare books and their makers. Many members also lecture, teach, and participate in other educational programs that help to increase the resources for scholars and the general understanding of rare books.

Appraisals and Consultation – Many ILAB dealers actively provide appraisals and consultation to private collectors and institutions alike, and have the expertise and experience to help you to organize, insure, and otherwise provide professional advice.

Rare Books for Sale Online – The ILAB website book search ( is the only worldwide database that is limited exclusively to professional, peer-evaluated rare booksellers. You can buy with confidence from a world of expert and ethical rare booksellers.

You can call all benefits described above as our ‘philosophy’. We stick to our rules which have been clearly defined in the Code of Usages and Customs, and we follow them, and that’s what distinguishes us from the amateurs!

We adhere, without any compromise, to the high standards which the founders of ILAB have defined to show our customers that they are dealing with serious experts and to protect the most beautiful occupation you can have in this world.

I therefore extend an invitation to any established and experienced dealer of antiquarian books to join their national association and in so doing, become an affiliated ILAB member.

Norbert Donhofer, ILAB Immediate Past President
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