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Libreria Antiquaria Pregliasco VI | | Libreria Antiquaria Pregliasco VI

Libreria Antiquaria Pregliasco VI

Published on 20 May 2011

By Umberto Pregliasco

Part 6

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.

(Charles W. Eliot)

ALAI, the Italian Association of Antiquarian Booksellers

All the three generations of Pregliasco have dedicated themselves with enthusiasm to  the fate of ALAI: Lorenzo was one of the founders of what was then a Club in 1948;  Arturo has been its President from 1970 to 1976, organizing a memorable World  Congress in Venice in 1985 with Vittorio Soave, while Umberto was  president from 2004 to 2010. The Anglo-Saxons use a very appropriate  expression, “to serve as the President”, and a typical Piedmontese  attention for the association is always present within the family, with  the seriousness and the commitment that it requires.

The position within the institution has seen Umberto being very active in participation  to meetings – on bibliophiles, relationships with public libraries, safeguarding  precious books – organized within contexts of exhibits in Rome at Palazzo Venezia  in 2004, in Florence at Palazzo Corsini in 2005, at the Torino Book Fair in 2007, in  Milan in May of 2008, and, starting in 2006, all the ones held in Bologna. These events  have hosted important conferences with prominent personalities, such as “Culture  and Book-collecting” with Giulio Andreotti, “When books were expensive” with Luciano  Canfora; and – maybe among the happy few all over the world - had the chance to  held four lectures together with Umberto Eco.

Truly, associating with bad books is often more dangerous  than associating with bad people.

(Wilhelm Hauff)

ILAB-LILA gathers about 2,000 antiquarian bookshops from all over the world  and it forms a true “International” of culture, abolishing any possible border with its  own deontological code and its own traditions, uniting the most different persons  and languages, under the banner “Amor Librorum Nos Unit” (The Love of Books Unites  Us) – and a more appropriate one would be hard to find. “Considering the dubiety with  which our activities were treated it is pleasant to record that the Congresses in London in  1949 and in Paris in 1950 were very successful both socially and professionally, while the  standard of hospitality in both cities was impeccable.” (Percy H. Muir, Chairman of the  Preliminary Conference)The World  Congress and the related exhibition  are a commitment that the countries  that are members of the Association  take turn in organizing, and are a privileged  time to examine the  problems related to this profession  and to the antiquarian market, and  also to make friends. Italy had hosted  it in 1953 in Milan, in 1964 in  Ravenna and in 1986 in Venice; in  2010 Umberto was responsible for  organizing the one in Bologna, trying  to get the city and young people involved  and to make the rare book as  “spectacular” as possible, in fact for  the very first time it has been the  focus of a great festival dedicated also to those who were not in the field. Thanks to  the participation of more than 120 exhibitors, the Antique Book Fair has occupied  the whole Palazzo Re Enzo: it has been an occasion that probably cannot be matched  for the Italian bibliophiles, the largest cultural event in its kind ever put together in  Italy. Following this success the Italian booksellers shall at last be considered to match  up with the cultural and typographical patrimony of their country. And if the small  ALAI brand shall finally have a commercial and ethical importance, it will be thanks  to the new awareness of this association that represents almost 120 bookshops and  that for years has been cooperating to safeguard the book patrimony with institutions.  Libraries and Museums of Bologna have put their trust into the project, organizing  memorable exhibits at the Archiginnasio, at the University Library and at the Music  Museum. More than 500 among the most important rare book dealers and experts  came to Italy from all over the world to spend a week full of cultural highlights. For  one week Bologna – home of the world’s oldest university – became the world’s capital  of the book with its magnificent historic sites and bibliophile treasures, with visits to  all the important libraries and collections of the region, with concerts and lectures,  and even a murder-party in a library and a football match “Italy vs Rest of the World”.  We were congratulated “on a hugely successful week, and the great service which their hard  work and meticulous planning has rendered to the ILAB”.

A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.

(John Milton)


The Cineteca of Bologna has realized a medley of the most relevant scenes related  to the antiquarian bookseller’s job, selected through a series of interviews taken among  booksellers, with the contribution of a few American Universities. Besides the usual  meetings, visits to the most important libraries in Emilia-Romagna have been organized,  together with a great many conferences. Almost two thousand persons, among  whom there were many young people, have gathered in the splendid Aula Magna of  Santa Lucia, where both Umberto Eco’s lecture and the literary-musical lectio magistralis  by the well-known Italian pop-singer Roberto Vecchioni took place. Reckoning  that the antique books have an enormous cultural potential that can be suitable for  modern contexts, for the first time we decided to put it side by side with contemporary  music. From Ancient Greece to the modern songwriters was the lecture theme, and it indeed  charmed the public. The Professor has spoken about musical poetic forms from  Saffo to De André and he has explained the personal or cultural reasons that have led  him to use some literary sources. As a matter of fact, in many of his texts there are authors  and characters that become like some of the songwriter’s “doubles”, in which he  projects something of himself, from Homer to Dante, from Cervantes to Defoe, from  Rimbaud to Oscar Wilde, from Cesare Pavese to Fernando Pessoa. For example, in  “Le lettere d’amore” (Love letters), Vecchioni has managed in a few verses to highlight  the complexity of the Portuguese poet: “Pessoa closed his glasses and fell asleep. Those  who were writing for him left him alone and he finished hiding behind so many names, forgetting  about Ophelia. Too late he understood that inside that Tabacaria there was more  life than in all of his poetry”. Pessoa, before dying, realizes the failure of his own personal  life in spite of the literary one: although through his heteronyms he wrote hundreds  of poems, he never wrote any love letters to Ophélia Queiroz.

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.

(Henry David Thoreau)

ILAB, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers

We asked Arnoud Gerits, who was elected ILAB President righthere in Bologna, to  give us his ideas about the past and the future of the League, which we are happy to  publish below:  “The idea of forming an international organisation of antiquarian booksellers that  would beneficially link various national associations was conceived by the Dutch  bookseller and President of the Nederlandsche Vereeniging van Antiquaren (NVvA)  Menno Hertzberger. As a Jew, Hertzberger had spent part of the Second World War  hiding from the Nazis. The war had divided the continent, if not indeed the world,  into opposing nations, and the scale of destruction, both material and immaterial, was  almost beyond the imaginable. Menno Hertzberger wished to reunite his colleagues  that had been separated by the war. His aims went far beyond anything the antiquarian  booksellers had thought of before: establishing international peace through cultural  exchange and open markets:

“Five long years had put up extra barriers between nations. There was no communication.  This enforced extra chauvinism and worse, hatred. Was there a possibility to do something  about interhuman relationship, to bring nations more together? This was my dream; but  how could it be realized? Only on common ground, on mutual interests, and therefore, for  an antiquarian bookseller, by his love, the book!”


In 1947 representatives from Great Britain, France, Denmark, Sweden and The  Netherlands met in Amsterdam for a Preliminary Conference. In the same year a  group of Italian dealers, among them the Libreria Pregliasco, met in Milan to give life  to the Circolo dei Librai Antiquari, that later became the Associazione Librai  Antiquari d’Italia (ALAI). In 1948, when the International League of Antiquarian  Booksellers (ILAB) was officially incorporated in Copenhagen, booksellers from Italy  were among the congress delegates. In  his opening speech Einar Grønholt  Pedersen, President of the Danish  Association, gave an impressive definition  of the aims and responsibilities of  all ILAB dealers:

“The commodity we  handle - the book - is, I daresay, about the  most international thing on the world market.  It is the support of the research worker  and the scientist, the indispensable tool of  the intellectual worker thirsting for  knowledge. It satisfies the desires of all thinking  and sensitive individuals. It is the  inspiration behind new ideas, new deeds -  and last, but not least, it fulfils a great mission  in enlightening the masses. Our  mission is to find the right book, preserve  and finally convey it to wherever it is needed and can bring benefit or pleasure. A mission which, by its very nature, imposes upon us a  responsibility which we must not neglect.”

In its 60 years of existence, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers has  become a real global network, and the aims are still the same: to foster friendship and  understanding between the nations as the mutual basis for a fair international trade,  to uphold and improve high professional standards and to contribute in various ways  to a broader appreciation of the history and art of the book. Today ILAB has as its  members 22 national associations representing 32 countries and around 2,000 antiquarian  booksellers. Since 1947, ILAB affiliates and bibliophiles have met on 39 ILAB  Congresses all over the world: the Bologna Congress was an exceptional event, first  and most of all thanks to the brilliant organisation of the ALAI. This recent event has  proved that ILAB Congresses and  Antiquarian Book Fairs are excellent  places to get in contact, to buy books  with confidence, to find new friends,  to meet old ones, to be a part of the  international family of book lovers  and to enjoy the wonderful world of  bibliophily. The ILAB Breslauer Prize  for Bibliography is awarded every  fourth year to the most outstanding  work on the history of the book. The  ILAB Code of Ethics defines the rules  and regulations of the trade and the  high standards to which each ILAB  bookseller must adhere. The ILAB  Stolen Books Database combats book  thefts worldwide. And finally, the  ILAB website is the meeting point for  bibliophiles. contains a  wealth of information for every person  interested in books, manuscripts, autographs and prints, from interviews with  booksellers and articles about the world of books to the definitions of the trade and  a calendar of book-related events, while the ILAB Book Search presents the high quality  offers of the ILAB dealers and brings customers in direct contact with the world’s  leading experts.

Our Italian colleagues Arturo (who was member of the ILAB Committee) and  Umberto (who gave the recent Congress in Bologna, which no ILAB delegate will  ever forget) have always played an important part in the international trade and in the  International League. Today, 2000 antiquarian booksellers from 32 countries organized  in 22 national associations worldwide congratulate the Libreria Pregliasco to its  100th anniversary and to 100 years of success in the antiquarian book trade!” 

Arnoud Gerits, ILAB President


To be continued ...

Part 6 of "Living With - And From - Books: A Century of Manuscripts and Early Printed Books of Literature, Fine Arts, Science and First Editions", published by Umberto Pregliasco on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Libreria Antiquaria Pregliasco. The text is presented here by permission of the author.

>>> Bologna Diary: pictures, reviews, programme

>>> Libreria Antiquaria Pregliasco

>>> Celebrating one hundred years of Libreria Pregliasco - watch the video on Vimeo  

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