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In Memoriam Menno Hertzberger (1897 - 1982)

By Bob de Graaf


Menno Hertzberger died on April 26, 1982, 84 years of age. With him one of the most distinguished and colourful personalities among our colleagues passed away.

Menno was born in Sneek (Friesland, The Netherlands) on October 1, 1897, the son of a well-known physician, philanthropist and bibliophile. He attended the Gymnasium (Latin School) in his birth-town and in The Hague, passing his exams in 1914. His parents had destined him to become a physician as wen, but as in his young years Menno's health was poor, it was finally decided that he should become a librarian. To prepare for this profession he was as a volunteer connected to two rather famous Dutch bookselling firms, viz. RW.P. de Vries in Amsterdam and Martinus Nijhoff in The Hague. Here he acquired the taste for buying and selling old books, a fascination for the antiquarian book which would stay with him during his whole life. A couple of concluding semesters at the Library School of London led to Menno's final decision: Not to become a librarian but rather an antiquarian bookseller.

On May 17, 1920, only 23 years old, he founded in Amsterdam the Internationaal Antiquariaat, and started as an independent dealer. His first business address was Singel 364, in the very heart of Amsterdam, right across from the firm of his earlier employer, R. W.P.
de Vries.

For Menno Hertzberger the addition 'Internationaal' to his firm's name was not just an embellishment: From the very beginning onwards his business was internationally orientated, and it aimed for a wide public of bookcollectors, librarians and fellow-dealers. As early as 1921 Menno held his first auction-sale and he soon became known as an important auctioneer as well. The growth of the firm necessitated a move to larger premises and in 1935 the firm's new address became Keizersgracht 610 in Amsterdam, a large and elegant house along one of the famous canals.

When Menno retired as an auctioneer (all those who have known him even superficially realize that he never retired as an antiquarian bookseller) some two hundred auction-sales had been organized by him, including those of several prestigious libraries and collections. Within the circuit of antiquarian bookselling and auctioneering Menno's premises in Amsterdam became a well-known and regularly visited centre.

It was also Menno Hertzberger who in 1935 took the initiative to found a Dutch Association of Antiquarian Booksellers. As a matter of course he also became the first president and with some interruptions he kept that office until the end of the nineteen-fifties. Afterwards he was nominated a President of Honour, and almost literally until the day of his death the 'Nederlandsche Vereeniging van Antiquaren' could benefit by his continuous interest and experience.

During his large number of active years Menno was an active member of a great many associations and institutions connected with the book. Also he regularly published articles on bibliography and the history of the book as well as two well received studies on the great Dutch scientist Herman Boerhaave and on Dutch Private Presses.

Menno himself survived World War II but he lost his whole family. The once flourishing firm was pillaged by the Germans, and again he had to start from scratch. Although no longer a young man Menno rebuilt his business with unbelievable energy. A new series of antiquarian book catalogues started to appear; again a series of libraries and collections came under the hammer of his auction-house. Already before the war Menno had also entered the publishing field. After 1945 several standard works in the fields of Bibliography and History of the Arts started to appear under his imprint as a publisher.

It was upon the initiative of Menno Hertzberger that in 1947 the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers was founded, following a suggestion by Menno that a preparatory meeting should be held in Amsterdam. Twenty odd delegates from the five countries which at that period of time had their own national association - Great Britain, France, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands - met for this goal in September of that year, thus marking the year 1947 as the founding year of our Federation. Menno's enthusiasm for the project well earned him the title 'Father of the League' which was bestowed upon him at a later date and which made his name stand out among the deceased and living illustrious Presidents of Honour of the League.

Menno was distinguished by the French government by awarding him the distinctive badge of Chevalier de I'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. On the occasion of his 65th birthday the Dutch Queen made him a Chevalier in the Order of Orange-Nassau. On the same occasion Menno himself founded the Menno Hertzbergerprijs voor Bibliographie, a triennial Prize sponsored by him and by the Dutch Association of Antiquarian Booksellers.

Menno Hertzberger was an extremely knowledgeable antiquarian bookseller who contributed a great deal to the international reputation of his Dutch colleagues. As a human being he was well known for his energy, his battling spirit as well as for his wit and humour. This latter trait of character is reflected in his recently published 'Flashbacks', a small volume of memoirs which he issued in a limited edition for a few friends only.

Menno literally died in harness. He was still present at the opening of the Book Fair in Maastricht, an opportunity he used to meet his colleagues and to buy a rare and splendid book, the first imprint of the famous Antwerp typographer, Christopher Plantin. On the way back from a short holiday in the nearby Belgian Ardennes he died from a heart-attack. Menno Hertzberger is survived by his wife Sjollina and by three sons from a former marriage.

After a service in an Amsterdam synagogue Menno was buried at the Jewish cemetery 'Gan Hasjalom' in Hoofddorp, not far from Amsterdam. On behalf of the Nederlandsche Vereeniging van Antiquaren and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, a funeral oration was delivered by the undersigned.

The article was published in the ILAB Newsletter 34.

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