- Books, Friends, and Bibliophilia: Reminiscences of an Antiquarian Bookseller
Booksellers have a long tradition of writing memoirs about their careers and the books they have handled. The best of these writers, such as Charles Goodspeed, A. S. W. Rosenbach, H. P. Kraus, David Randall, David Magee, and Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern, provide insight into the book business and teach about specific books and collections while gripping the reader with their stories. With Books, Friends, and Bibliophilia: Reminiscences of an Antiquarian Bookseller, Anton Gerits has written a valuable and interesting memoir of his long career. Though not quite as compelling as some of these earlier memoirs, this is still a book worth reading. Originally published in Dutch, this version has been revised and ably translated into English by Gerits.
Gerits began his career in 1950 in the antiquarian books department at Martinus Nijhoff and, except for a three-year period in the mid-1950s when he worked at Mouton & Co., remained there until 1970. Though bitter about the ultimate liquidation of the antiquarian department after the company was acquired by Kluwer, he clearly treasured his time there. Less rewarding were his experiences at Ludwig Rosenthal's Antiquariaat from 1970 to 1974 and at Dekker & Nordemann from 1974 to 1981. The latter was owned by Elsevier, which clearly was not much interested in the antiquarian book business. Obviously upset with his experiences with Kluwer and Elsevier, in 1981 Gerits founded his own firm.
At times Books, Friends, and Bibliophilia reads like a list of the books and collections Gerits handled and the prices for which he sold them (though generally not the prices he paid). Though there is interesting information about the books buried here, these sections make for tedious reading. Happily, the majority of the book, in which Gerits discusses the significance of particular books and collections and the negotiations and maneuvers that led to their purchase and sale, proves to be much more interesting. Gerits was one of the major figures of the late-twentieth-century book trade, placing numerous significant collections with libraries and collectors worldwide and serving as president of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). He dealt with a who's who of booksellers internationally and provides great insights into his relations with them. [End Page 573]
Perhaps of most interest are his thoughts about the consolidation of the book business by major publishers and vendors and his perspective on dealing with libraries. As an employee of companies acquired by Elsevier and Kluwer he is able to provide valuable insights into their business practices and their general disdain for the antiquarian book trade. Equally interesting are his observations, from the point of view of a bookseller, about library acquisitions. In all of his positions he helped place a great deal of books, often as collections, in libraries worldwide, particularly in the United States and Japan. Because of this, this book can be read for the history it provides of this aspect of the book trade.
Books, Friends, and Bibliophilia is a valuable contribution to the literature on bookselling. Though not in the league of the great works on the topic by the authors mentioned above, it does tell an interesting story and is certainly one of the best on the book trade in the late twentieth century. This book would be a worthwhile addition to collections on librarianship and the history of the book.