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Amsterdam Conference

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.
ILAB was formally incorporated in Copenhagen in September 1948.
Since 1953 do ILAB booksellers proudly display the logo of a book encircled by the slogan "Amor Librorum Nos Unit" - The love of books unites us.
In the same year, the ILAB Code of Usages and Customs was adopted to which ILAB booksellers until this day adhere to.

A large number of booksellers dedicated their time and expertise and served on the ILAB Committee over the years, some in leading roles as ILAB President, Vice President, Secretary or Treasurer or in other capacities, awarding the ILAB Prize for Bibliography, taking over responsibility for educational programmes, event planning, security matters, IT development or liaising with peer trade bodies in the arts trade, library world or with large cultural institutions.

The aim of the League has not changed since its inception; uphold and improve professional standards in the trade, promote honorable conduct in business, and contribute in various ways to a broader appreciation of the history and art of the book.

ILAB: A Timeline


The Preliminary Conference in Amsterdam

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.

ABA (International) New Letter No. 5: Resumé of Meeting of September 18, 1946
"A letter was read from the Dutch Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association inviting us to arrange a conference in Holland in October to which representatives of antiquarian booksellers’ associations in other countries could be invited. It was suggested that in our capacity as an international organisation our representative should preside over the conference at which the problems and matters of interest to the trade should be discussed. Mr. Harris thought this was an opportune moment, but that we should need time to get things prepared. He suggested that an agenda should be formulated and that the President should go as our representative. The President agreed that such a meeting would have many advantages, but that the preparation required could not be completed in a few weeks. It was decided that Mr. Hertzberger, as Secretary of the Dutch Association, should be asked what countries would be interested. We regarded the proposition favourably and thought it might be possible to arrange for such a conference in the spring of next year. This would also give time for a representative from America to attend."


Copenhagen 1948

The ILAB was formally incorporated in Copenhagen in September 1948, with ten participating countries. Representatives from Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, and Italy joined their colleagues from Great Britain, France, Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands at the conference table. Denmark was holding a proxy for Norway. Menno Hertzberger proposed William S. Kundig as ILAB’s first president. Kundig, “a man with authority, position, and money ... a good host and a first-class raconteur” (Kaye) was unanimously elected. The first ILAB Committee consisted of William S. Kundig (President), Percy H. Muir (Vice-President), Menno Hertzberger, Einar Grønholt-Pedersen, André Poursin.


The Early Years

During the first years the ILAB Committee Meetings were held in Switzerland, most of the time at the President’s office. William Kundig’s authority was legendary, as well as his generosity, when the right decisions were finally taken. On one occasion the committee members found a box of Havana cigars on the breakfast table after an exhausting meeting the night before: “With the compliments of your President.”

“William Kundig was the right man for the presidency of the League in its infancy. Certainly the greatest of his achievements was to compel the Americans to form an association and to affiliate to the League.” (Muir)


Amor Librorum Nos Unit

More congresses worth remembering followed in Brussels 1951, Geneva 1952, Milan 1953, Vienna 1954, Munich 1957. The ABAA hosted two conferences in New York 1955 and 1959. London, however, became the unofficial meeting place for ILAB booksellers: After 1949 the ABA hosted two further events in the British capital: 1956 and 1958.

The ILAB logo was designed: a book encircled by the words: “Amor librorum nos unit.” The Milan conference 1953 saw the publication of "A Compendium of Usages and Customs of the Trade" to which all ILAB affiliates adhere.


The admission of Japan, the ILAB Bibliography Prize (now ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography) and the first ILAB International Antiquarian Book Fair were the milestones of the 1960's.

“Dans le monde du livre ancien et de la recherche bibliographique, deux personnages sont, jours après jours, confrontés à des problèmes de recherche, d’identification et d’évaluation d’oeuvres anciennes, précieuses ou non: Le Conservateur de bibliothèque et le libraire antiquaire. Le second, tout particulièrement, car de sa science et de ses connaissences dépendent son commerce et sa réputation.“ (Georges A. Deny)
"In the world of antiquarian books and bibliographical research, two characters are, day after day, confronted with the problems of research, identification and evaluation of ancient works, precious or not: the Librarian and the antiquarian bookseller. The latter, in particular, because on his science and knowledge depend his trade and his reputation." (Georges A. Deny)

Georges A. Deny from Brussels was ILAB President from 1960 to 1965 and the first Secretary of the ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography who laid down the ground rules. The Prize is awarded every fourth year to the author of the most original and outstanding study in bibliography. Deny supervised the first and second awards to Jean Peeters-Fontainas “Bibliographie des impressions Espagnoles aux Pays-Bas méridonaux” in 1967.


Established in 1966, the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of Canada (ABAC) or Association de la Librairie Ancienne du Canada (ALAC) became an ILAB member at the Paris Presidents' Meeting in 1970. Australia followed eight years later. The Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB), created in 1977, belongs to the League since 1978.

At the Vienna Meeting 1972 the representatives of the national associations elected Dr. Frieder Kocher-Benzing as new ILAB President. The German bookseller was a specialist in the history of printing, had been an ILAB Committee Member since 1966, and Vice-President from 1970 to 1972. Furthermore, he became the longest serving secretary presiding over the 3rd to 11th awards of the ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography. The Prize is so deeply connected with his name that he was finally elected ILAB President of Honour.

Stanley Crowe succeeded Kocher-Benzing as ILAB President from 1975 to 1978, followed by the Dutch antiquarian bookseller and publisher Bob de Graaf until 1981. ILAB Congresses and Book Fairs took place in London 1971, Amsterdam 1975 and for the first time in Asia in 1973. “Japan was a tremendous force in the global market for antiquarian books”, Mitsuo Nitta said in his interview with Sheila Markham. “Our economy was booming and universities were competing against each other to acquire treasures for their rare book collections.” No wonder that the 22nd ILAB Congress and 5th International Antiquarian Book Fair in Tokyo were an outstanding success.


“By the 1980s the biennial congresses were attracting several hundred delegates. A certain amount of business gets transacted (the subjects cropping up most frequently being standards of collation, the training of new entrants to the trade, and relationships with the auction houses). Its harsher critics say that the League is only a talking-shop – and it is true that the social side of congress life is very pleasant, the national association sponsoring each congress taking great care to mount an interesting programme. Highlights have included a visit by private train to the library of Chatsworth, private concerts in the Fenice Theatre and Les Invalides, a barbecue on the Berkelouw’s farm near Sydney, a banquet in a palazzo on the Grand Canal, and the whole of our Japanese experience. Deserving special mention is an exhibition at L’Assemblée nationale in 1988, where the procèsverbal from the trial of Joan of Arc was put on display. Rumour had it that the personal intervention of François Mitterand, President of France, was needed for this treasure to be shown. In the atmosphere fostered by such enternments friendships are easily forged, which can only be a good thing.” (Anthony Rota)


Expanding the Global Market

Expanding to the Global Market : During the 30th ILAB Congress and the 13th International Book Fair in Tokyo 1990 the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of Korea (ABAK) were elected as the 18th ILAB member. Two years later Czech booksellers formed the Svaz Antikvářů CR (SACR which joined the League during the 32nd ILAB Congress in Amsterdam in 1994. The Spanish Asociación Ibérica de Librerias Anticuarias (AILA), founded in 1990, also joined ILAB.

The 1990s were the decade of two ILAB Presidents: Anton Gerits, the well-known specialist of books on Social Sciences and Humanities and former managing director of Nijhoff’s antiquarian department, had been a Committee Member since 1985. He edited the ILAB Newsletter from 1985 to 1996, was General Secretary from 1985 to 1991, Vice-President from 1988 to 1991, and finally became ILAB President in 1991. Alain Nicolas succeeded him as ILAB President in 1996. The French specialist in autographs and rare manuscripts joined the ILAB Committee in 1990 and was elected as Vice-President in 1992. Anton Gerits and Alain Nicolas did much to promote the ideas of the League, their names are deeply connected with ILAB’s increasing global and cultural influence. In gratitude for this both were made ILAB Presidents of Honour in 1998 and in 2002 respectively.


The beginning of the 21st century saw the first woman at the head of the League: Australian bookseller Kay Craddock was elected ILAB President during the Congress and the International Antiquarian Book Fair in Edinburgh 2000. Craddock, meanwhile ILAB President of Honour, was succeeded by Bob Fleck from 2002 to 2006, and Michael Steinbach 2006 from to 2008.

After the Boston Presidents' Meeting in 2001, the Danish, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian associations organized a very special event: The 36th Congress and 19th International Antiquarian Book Fair took place in four countries, with a sea journey in between. On this occasion the 13th ILAB Bibliographical Prize of $10,000 was awarded to Anna Perälä, for her atlas of Finnish typography, 1642-1827, a monumental two volume work, published in Finnish, Swedish and German. Kay Craddock presented the award to Anna Perälä at a dinner in Helsinki.

In 2003 the Presidents travelled to Potsdam for their annual meeting, only a year later the ILAB affiliates met for a Congress and a Book Fair in Melbourne, well organized by the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB).

All ILAB Congresses & Presidents' Meetings since 1947

This article lists all ILAB Congresses (with attached ILAB fairs) and Presidents' Meetings which took place since the Preliminary Conference in 1947.
ILAB Congresses and Meetings are and always were a unique opportunity to network and learn about book history and iconic locations of the hosting country.
Due to the 2020/2021 COVID crisis, for the first time since ILAB's beginnings, an ILAB Congress had to be cancelled; the Amsterdam Congress was much anticipated in the trade.
The 2022 ILAB Congress in Oxford was a great success, a gathering of the international rare book trade after the long pause caused by the 2020/2021 COVID crisis.
After the cancellation in 2020, the Dutch antiquarian booksellers' association has kindly agreed to host the congress from 14 - 18 October 2024 in Amsterdam, followed by the Amsterdam Antiquarian Book Fair.

ILAB Past Presidents

ILAB has a long tradition of dedicated booksellers serving their national associations and later offering their services and expertise to the international community. Not much has changed since the founding days of the League. Presidents and their committees were and are driven to advance the trade within its current business context at the time, adapt with the times, grow the organisation, introduce new ideas and represent the rare book trade internationally.

All past ILAB Presidents to whom our great thanks are due, are listed here.

ILAB Presidents & Members of Honour / Presidential Services Awards

Our gratitude to those who have driven the organisation but also the trade as such through their tireless commitment and vision.

Menno Herzberger was one of the founding fathers of ILAB, a legendary Dutch bookseller and auctioneer who died in 1982, aged 84. Menno survived WWII but lost his entire family in the Holocaust and had to rebuild his business all over again. It was during that time that he started lobbying for an international trade organisation.

Since its founding days, international booksellers from Europe, Asia, Australia and America have shaped the League and built a foundation for today's work and trade.