ILAB - History of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers
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.
“There had already been some coverage of the conference in the Danish press; with the formation of the league we found ourselves a media event.
Not only was Percy interviewed at the conference hall, the following morning an eager young reporter turned up at our hotel and insisted on talking to Percy while we were breakfasting in our bedroom, not a time when I was keen to be photographed. There had been a party the night before; I felt far from my best, but there was no escape from the press photographer.” (Barbara Kaye)
Despite being a small organization with no more than 10 members the founding of the ILAB raised much interest in the public. The 1st ILAB Congress lasted three days. There were various problems to solve: payment among countries, exchange control laws, a black market in currencies that had been existing since the end of the war, as well as "a confidential information service concerning solidity" which was, in fact, a black list of bad payers. The structure of the ILAB had to be fixed: As a bilingual organization the official languages were English and French, with the official names International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) and Ligue Internationale de la Librairie Ancienne (LILA). ILAB was defined as the roof for all national associations, whose independence was granted. The President had to be elected by the representatives of the national associations, and the League was to have an own budget raised from the member countries.
“We make a great point not only of the independence of the national body, but also of the independence of individual associations. Each must, in our view, remain master in its house.” (André Poursin)
An international directory was to be published by Percy H. Muir and André Poursin. The other mammoth task was to write an international dictionary of trade terms and descriptions. It was Menno Hertzberger who first put forward this idea, and it was him who finally had to shoulder the burden. His “Dictionary for the Antiquarian Booktrade in French, English, German, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Spanish and Dutch” was the first ILAB publication, it was published in 1956, and later reprinted with the addition of a Japanese section.
“The farewell banquet was a jolly affair, typical of the Danish preference for informality. Instead of having to listen to long speeches, we were invited to sing a song in praise of eggs and bacon, the words of which were printed on Carlsberg beermats. As a gesture to the French, we belted it out to the tune of ‘Frère Jacques’ ... When I read the dinner menu, I was aghast at the amount of food we were being offered. Dutch herrings, lobster, prawns, smoked salmon, eel - just for starters; followed by roast duck, turkey, and lamb, with cheese if we were still hungry. To wash it down, there were the Danish national drinks, Carlsberg or Tuborg topped up with aquavit and finally liqueurs. To my apologetic murmur that I would never manage it all, Einar (Grønholt-Pedersen) replied, ‘Eat slowly, my dear. Eat slowly, and you will manage.’ Somehow I did." (Kaye)
A Milestone in the History of Antiquarian Bookselling
The year 1948 marked the beginning of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, but there was more. In Copenhagen Percy H. Muir told the delegates:
"Spread the news in your own countries. Governments can do a lot for us if they will, and governments are very sensitive as to what appears in the press ... we hope, too, that one result of this conference and the formation of the League will be to persuade the booksellers who have no national association to form one."
Antiquarian bookselling was no longer a business of individuals who fought on their own. The booksellers, all individualists, had recognized that the future of their business depended on cooperation between colleagues and collectors, between nations and cultures. Since 1948, more and more national associations were founded and joined the League during the upcoming 60 years of its existence.
The idea of a global market for antiquarian booksellers was born in 1948 - with the ILAB as the roof for all national associations and their booksellers, worldwide.