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International League Conference - London 1956

Once more "dear old London" proved to be the best place to buy books. The delegates from the United States, Austria, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland and Italy followed an invitation of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association in September 1956. During the 9th Congress held in the history of the League they were overwhelmed by British hospitality, the "inconceivably rich stocks" of British rare book dealers like Quaritch, Edwards, Joseph or Maggs, a reception at Sotheby's, an evening at the opera house and a gala dinner worth to remember with acrobatic dancers and cabaret singers. A look into the archives of the ABA and ILAB.
Publié le 19 Avril 2011

Translated by Mr. Martin Hamlyn from the official News Sheet of the Austrian Antiquarian Association

This Year the English Association (ABA for short) issued an invitation to London. The Association was holding its fifty year Jubilee, which coincided with the ten year jubilee of the ILAB. There was a record attendance at the Conference with over 160 foreign visitors so that (with a great number of ABA members and their wives and friends), all official functions were well attended, and at the Farewell Dinner there were over 350 present!

Dear old London presented herself as of old. With here lovely parks, where, unexpectedly for us, deck chairs for everyone stood ready on the lawns, with her streets, mirabile dictu, full of considerate drivers, a refreshing lack of monster cars (though with plenty of imposing Rolls-Royces), everywhere friendly and modest, helpful people, staff not always greedy for tips, countless typically English businesses, looking back on a long tradition, with handsome galleries and libraries, and in them a profusion of the finest things, shown in a modern and practical fashion.

As for the book trade with their inconceivably rich stocks, one has only to stroll through one of the big houses, Maggs, Quaritch, Edwards, Joseph and the rest, to understand what the English book trade means. To which it must be added that there are few pleasanter places in which to do business than the English book trade. If the antiquarian book trade as a whole complains of a lack of wares, the English trade even today is in the pleasant position of being able to count on quick replacement, since London is the place where the greatest supply is to be found. So every foreign visitor found a richly laid table ready, and, as we heard, some astonishingly large reductions were made on the occasion of the Conference. Further proof of the importance of these yearly Conferences for all concerned.

The Conference and the functions were magnificently organised. The proceedings opened with a cocktail party in a house hired for the occasion, n° 45 Park Lane. After an address by the English President, Mr. Peter Murray Hill, Mr. Stanley Sawyer, President of the ILAB, spoke. He was followed by the guest of honour, Sir Louis Sterling, a bibliophile of American origin who has made his home in England, and who shortly before had presented his notable library of first editions to the University of London.

The next day the world-famous auction house, Messrs. Sotheby & Co., gave a reception with cocktails in their rooms. As in Park Lane, so here: a warm and cordial atmosphere prevailed and people soon became known to each other. Messrs. Sotheby’s had also made a selection of their rooms available for an exhibition of selections from the stocks of provincial members of the ABA, an example which might well be followed. They also displaced in cases and on their walls, chosen examples of books and pictures shortly to be auctioned at their sales.

On Tuesday evening the ABA invited us to a performance of the Sadlers Wells Ballet at Covent Garden Opera House. We saw a balletically and musically outstanding performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”. After the performance there was a supper with cold buffet in the famous crush-bar which, to say the least of it, matched in all respects the quality of the Ballet itself. Here guests and hosts stayed together in a most lively mood until nearly midnight.

Wednesday was given over to a trip on a Thames steamer to Greenwich. Again the clerk of the weather, who watches favourably over all ILAB Conference excursions, was in kindly mood. We glided in admiration past the might dock installations of the Thames, loudspeakers pointing out many notable sights and buildings: and among other things we saw “Traitor’s Gate”, now a bricked-up entrance to the Tower of London through which traitors were formerly led to executions; one of the oldest inns in the world (a small wooden building of the 15th century); and the modest house which served as a dwelling to the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, with much besides.

In Greenwich itself we visited the National Maritime Museum, one devoted to the history of navigation with a quite incredibly rich collection of pictures, prints, ship models, books, nautical instruments, globes and rare maps. It was astonishing to learn that, in addition to old Admiralty possessions, the museum is largely the work of an English collector, who brought this unique collection together during the last forty years and is named the Caird Collection after him. The room devoted to nautical instruments in particular aroused our enthusiasm.

In a large tent we had a buffet lunch with sandwiches and tea. Afterwards, visitors strolled in the spacious park, or climbed the hill to the old Observatory, where the meridian may be seen.

The farewell dinner was held in the Savoy Hotel. Entirely new to us, and enormously impressive, was the figure of the toastmaster, who at the opening announced the name of each new arrival loudly and clearly and astonishingly without the smallest mistake, to the President. Mr. Murray Hill, who greeted each guest, wore a red ribbon, the insignia of the President of the ABA. At his side stood his charming little daughter, representing her mother, Miss Phyllis Calvert, the actress, who could not be present until later. The festively decorated room, in which, as we said, more than 350 people sat down - presented an impressive picture. The excellent food was very speedily served by a host of waiters, and soon the toastmaster (who incidentally performed his duties in a splendid red coat), announced the toast of Her Majesty the Queen. Then followed the witty speeches of Mr. Murray Hill and Mr. Sawyer. Next, Mr. Hertzberger of Amsterdam spoke, giving as Father of the ILAB (his honorary title) a present to the English Association. Following a suggestion from Mr. Grønholdt Pedersen of Copenhagen, it was decided to present the English Association with something useful for its office. After much deliberation the symbolic presentation of a gavel was agreed on. It was not possible in the short time available to supply a gavel worthy of the occasion. Asprey’s of Bond Street therefore supplied a simple model, which Mr. Hertzberger handed over. The model ordered will be a silver-mounted ivory hammer, on a stand of some noble wood, bearing a silver plate with an engraved dedication.

Then came the individual Presidents’ speeches given in alphabetical order of the countries in the League, and accordingly led by Austria (we Austrians gave a small present on behalf of our Association, a wax-mold of an old “Lebkuchen”, a kind of spiced cake in various shapes, representing a trumpeter charged by us we said to sound his trumpet henceforth in praise of the ABA). The remaining speeches followed, all alike, cordial and well turned, but particularly noteworthy were those of Mr. Grønholdt Pedersen of Copenhagen and Mr Alfred Frauendorfer of Switzerland. The speeches were followed by over an hour’s cabaret. First, Miss Marion Studholme (Mrs. Andrew Downie), sister in law of Mr. Ian Grant, a past President of the ABA, sang Mozart and Strauss arias beautifully; next followed a clairvoyant, two excellent acrobatic dancers and cabaret singer. The whole was presented by a well-known TV announcer. Afterwards, there was dancing to an excellent band until 2 am.

The Tenth Congress was thus a complete success, and the English ABA deserve our warmest thanks for unforgettable hours in London, in the atmosphere of English hospitality which has not its equal in the world.

Extract from the ABA Newsletter no 24. The pictures show a present given to the ABA on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The card is signed by the presidents and delegates of the national associations affiliated to the League in 1956: Chr. W. Nebehay (Austria), Dr. G. Karl (Germany), F. Tulkens (Belgium), P. Chrétien (France), G. Steele (USA), Menno Hertzberger (Netherlands), E. Gronholt Pedersen (Denmark), J. W. Cappelen (Norway), E. Olsoni, A. Frauendorfer (Switzerland), O. Andersson (? Sweden), V. Bourlot (Italy).

>>> History of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers

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