Aller au contenu

Actualités Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America Celebrates 75 Years

ILAB and the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, ABAA share a long history. ABAA's Executive Director Susan Benne writes about the beginnings of the association, much inspired by the founding of the League only a few years earlier.
First ny fair courtesy rusty mott

In 2024, the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) commemorates its 75th anniversary, reflecting on its rich history and the transformative changes that have shaped the trade.

Founded in the aftermath of World War II, the ABAA emerged as a beacon of international cooperation among booksellers, with its formation mirroring a broader spirit of collaboration in the post-war era.

The ABAA began with a visionary proposal by Dutch bookseller Menno Hertzberger in 1947 to establish an international organization linking national associations of antiquarian booksellers. This initiative culminated in founding the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) in Copenhagen in 1948, laying the groundwork for the ABAA's inception. The need for a national organization for antiquarian booksellers in the United States became apparent, leading to a pivotal meeting at the Grolier Club in New York in February 1949.

Here, the groundwork was laid for the establishment of the ABAA, with key booksellers such as Richard Wormser, Howard S. Mott., and Jack N. Bartfield spearheading the initiative. First president Laurence Gomme noted in AB Bookman’s Weekly, “it was my privilege to guide the destinies of the young organization through its formative years.”

The nascent years of the ABAA were marked by challenges to define membership criteria and establish ethical standards. Regional chapters were formed, and innovative programs such as book fairs and cooperative catalogues were launched to promote the interests of members and foster camaraderie. The inaugural book fairs debuted in the 1960s, and spanned several days, with the first New York Book Fair remaining open for an impressive 12 hours (!) each day.

Over the decades, the ABAA has continued to evolve, introducing initiatives such as membership directories, publications, Benevolent and Educational Funds, and programs to support gender equity and persons of color to grow and support both members and collectors in the trade. The association has not existed without controversies and disappointment, namely the John Jenkins affair, which involved allegations of fraud and forgery, and the conviction of former member John Schulman for selling material stolen by a librarian from the Carnegie Library.

As part of its 75th anniversary, the ABAA will offer a series of special events tied to its annual fairs throughout 2024. This milestone year marks a significant evolution of the organization, characterized by a shift in the diversity of its leadership and membership and the material it promotes. Notably, there has been an increase in women business owners within the ABAA ranks, reflecting the organization's ongoing commitment to fostering diversity and growth.

While much of the focus is still on the book in its myriad forms, the ABAA's adaption mirrors the dynamic expansion of collecting interests, with a growing focus on diverse forms of material, including handmade ephemera, games, photography, historic documents, letters, and even electronic media. Under its Diversity Initiative Committee, the ABAA provides resources for cataloguers on culturally sensitive material. Additionally, the ABAA has launched an internship program aimed at persons of color and those in the LGBTQ+ community, offering valuable opportunities to intern with ABAA members for ten weeks.

With offerings for a wide collector marketplace and items that start at under $100 to high spots priced in the millions, the ABAA and its various fairs cater to a wide audience of enthusiasts and seasoned collectors alike. Moreover, the organization hosts regular events, lectures, and seminars, both in person and online, open to the public.

As we enter our 75th year, we continue to adapt and innovate, embrace new forms of material, and expand our reach to serve an evolving community of collectors and enthusiasts. With a rich history and forward-looking approach, the ABAA remains at the forefront of the trade, poised to shape its future for generations to come.

Text by Susan Benne
All images courtesy of Rusty Mott