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In Memoriam Max Israel

An Obituary

By F.W. Kuyper

Max Israel, antiquarian bookseller and publisher, died on Friday October 12, 2001 at the age of 85. He was one of the last representatives of a generation of antiquarian booksellers who founded flourishing companies, mostly in Amsterdam, after the second World War; companies that were soon highly respected both at home and abroad. Other members of this illustrious group were Simon Emmering the printdealer and antiquarian bookseller who died in 2000, the learned Abraham Horodisch founder of Erasmus in Amsterdam, Dolf van Gendt, protégé of Menno Herzberger, who later became an auctioneer, and the legendary Max Elte of the Hague. Both the Amsterdam artdealer Lodewijk Houthakker and Max¹s brother Nico Israel, (himself a renowned dealer in maritime and cartographic books until his retirement), have a fund of stories of these wild post-war years which, despite the problems of reconstruction, offered almost unbelievable opportunities to the diligent and energetic. But now, alas, the seemingly endless stream of libraries from monastery and castle that were being dispersed in the 50¹s and 60¹s of the last century has finally dried up. The Israels, from a Jewish family of five sisters and four brothers, merit special admiration. Robbed of everything during the war, they were forced to re-construct their business from scratch after the war. Nevertheless the business of B. M. Israel retains to this day its high international reputation as a specialist in rare books and prints in medicine and the exact sciences. The company also has a very good stock of books in the history of art and bibliography and its publishing department is active in the same subjects.

Max Israel was known in the Dutch Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (NvVA), of which he had been a member since 1947, as a very kind and considerate colleague. For many years it was his custom to open the dancing at the annual general meeting of the Dutch association partnering that 'éminence grise' of Dutch antiquarian booksellers, Ans van Pagée. During every viewing, whether at national or international auctions, at all fairs both domestic and foreign and at all the many festivities Max took part in, he was always accompagnied by his wife and driver, Olga (née Leemhuis). Her unexpected death last year was a bad blow to Max and severely marred his final months.

It is a sad thought that a visit to the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal will never be the same. The two flights of narrow, slippery stairs one had to climb before entering that room at the front of the building where Simon Emmering ruled an antiquarian empire from behind his chaotically overladen desk. Then on to Max Israel, twenty houses further down. Climbing the stairs of the historic old building; the unusually loud bell; Max in person opening the heavy door and ushering you into the backroom. In this bibliophile¹s nirvana, this inner sanctum, time stands still; the books, the furniture, the dust, the shafts of sunlight through the windowpanes, all still evoke the spirit of Max. And voila! there he is, just as we remember him, laughing, joking, always in animated conversation.

Translated from the Dutch of F. W. Kuyper by Arnoud Gerits and Keith Fletcher