The Book Club of California

Posted on 18th April 2019 by eittaebnima

In his 1986 Malkin Lecture at Columbia University, Barney Rosenthal said: ‘Something very important happened in the world of rare books in this country in the nineteen-thirties and ‑forties … the exodus of the German and Austrian booksellers which followed the rise of Nazism in Europe.’  Barney termed this exodus the Gentle Invasion, ‘something which … changed this little world of ours dramatically, and permanently …  Since by far the largest number of these booksellers, and booksellers-to-be, settled in the United States, it is here that their impact has been most profound.  Yet their story as a whole has not been told.’

The book I’d like to recommend does just that.  Published in 2011 by the Verband Deutscher Antiquare (the German antiquarian booksellers’ association), after years of research, and as a memorial to those publishers, booksellers, and antiquarian book dealers who were driven out of Germany and Austria at that time, Ernst Fischer’s Verleger, Buchhändler & Antiquare aus Deutschland und Österreich in der Emigration nach 1933.  Ein biographisches Handbuch contains over 800 entries, with a phenomenally wide compass: writers, scientists, critics, and intellectuals who perhaps only worked briefly in publishing are also included.  It has become the standard reference work on the subject.  I’m sure, like me, you often reach for a biographical dictionary when wanting to know more about, say, an author, or to help identify a former owner from a bookplate or an inscription.  Fischer’s book is equally useful for provenance research, if you come across the label of an émigré bookseller in a book.  This may not be a book I use every day, but it is always useful, and makes fascinating reading, when I do.

Barney’s lecture (published by Columbia University as The Gentle Invasion: Continental Emigré Booksellers of the Thirties and Forties and Their Impact on the Antiquarian Booktrade in the United States in 1987) reminds us that the ABAA was not created until 1949, after the Gentle Invasion had taken place, and it is heartening to read not just how my forebears in the trade managed to escape persecution, but how they were often supported by their bookselling peers.  As the motto of that other great post-War bibliopolic creation, ILAB (the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, founded 1947), reminds us: Amor librorum nos unit.  The love of books unites us.

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