The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers¾ILAB
to English-speaking members, LILA to the French-speaking¾came
into being the following day. Its constitution, drawn up by the ten
presidents, was approved by the general assembly, its officers and
executive committee duly elected. Its birth had not been easy, the labor
had been protracted, and it would suffer growing pains for years to come;
but it was a wanted child, and the Danes saw to it that its christening
was suitably celebrated.
When Menno Hertzberger proposed William Kundig for
president, it was Percy who seconded. He believed that Kundig, a man with
authority, position, and money, from a neutral country, was the right
choice. He certainly had no wish to take on the job himself. As he wrote
some years later: "I did not take to Kundig. He was a boaster ... and
he enjoyed bullying. He boasted that he was King of the Black Market; but
it is fair to say that the laws he broke were not Swiss laws and his good
humor was impenetrable... ."
Despite reservations about Kundig’s character, Percy got
along with him pretty well, not least because he was a good host and a
first-class raconteur. His election as president was unanimous and was
followed by the Dutch proposal for Percy as vice president. Hertzberger
was then elected honorary treasurer, with André Poursin and Einar Grónolt
Pedersen making up the executive, the latter representing the Scandinavian
The fact that the league was starting life with no money in
hand had largely been ignored in the discussions. That funds should be
provided by member associations (those with memberships of more than 150
would pay double) had been agreed, but that did not mean that funds were
instantly available, especially in view of the stringent currency
regulations then operating in many countries in Europe. Switzerland,
without such problems, was clearly the best place for the funds to be
held, as Kundig pointed out. He followed this with a typically grand
gesture: So that the work of the International League could begin straight
away, he would personally loan it the necessary funds.
Meanwhile, the Danes, anticipating a happy conclusion to
the morning’s discussion, had tipped off the press. Informed by a Danish
delegate, Mr. Friis, that they were waiting to hear the good news, Percy
announced an adjournment "to mark this great occasion," both to
celebrate and to see that the press was fully informed of what had been
achieved. "Spread the news in your own countries," he told the
delegates. "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
Ten associations, including the reluctant ABA, made an
excellent start. Percy had no doubt that more would be formed and would
join. There had, in fact, been an American observer at the Amsterdam
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
"He’s made me look like Eleanor Roosevelt," I
grumbled crossly when the story appeared the next day above a lot of
unintelligible Danish from which I disentangled something about novelist
wife of conference chairman, Mr. Percy Muir. But our Danish hosts were
delighted with all the publicity and even more so with the increased
volume of books sold during the conference week.
Among the various invitations and publicity material
awaiting us (and all the other delegates) when we arrived in Copenhagen
had been one for a soirée at Branners, the bookshop under the direction
of that same Hans Goetz who had haunted the Amsterdam conference and was
still being cold-shouldered by the Danish association. While
diplomatically refraining from embarrassing the British by turning up at
the conference as a member of the ABA, he was not going to be overlooked
on his home ground.
"I think we should go," Percy said. "I
don’t want to upset the Danes, but after all we’ve nothing against
Goetz; in fact, he has behaved very well. It will be interesting to see
who else is there."
The party took place in the large and elegant showroom of
the Branner premises. Looking around, it was clear that apart from the
Scandinavians, pretty well all the other countries were represented, their
delegates feeling, as we did, that it was not their quarrel. Suave and
smiling, Hans Goetz and his vivacious wife moved among their guests
murmuring their appreciation of the support of so many friends and
colleagues. "We have been so looking forward to meeting our friends
from other countries. It is a difficult time for us, you
Glasses were filled and refilled. The atmosphere was
cordial. Surrounded as we were by fine books, some of the guests were
moving purposefully along the shelves. No reason, their stooped backs
suggested, as they pulled out a volume here and there, that sociability
and business should not be combined.
As Percy’s wife I had been introduced to most of the
delegates and such wives as were accompanying them. Many of the ladies at
the "soirée" seemed to speak only French. All were dauntingly
well dressed. As to who was French, or Belgium, or Swiss I had no idea.
The few Danish phrases I had managed to memorize had gone down rather well
with our hosts and hostesses, who, in any case, mostly spoke good English.
In fact, I would have done better to have smartened up my inadequate
schoolgirl French, which was going to need considerably more than a
brush-up in the years to come.
One morning during our stay, badgered by the children to
take them to a swimming bath, I took them to one along the coast. In view
of the Danes’ uninhibited attitude to sex, I was surprised to find males
and females strictly segregated, with separate baths. I thought this
rather illogical, since both baths opened into the sea at the far end,
where, presumably, the sexes could mingle as they liked. But perhaps, as
by then they would be in deepish water, it was thought unwary females
would be safe enough.
Entry into the baths was guarded by a stern dragonwoman who
spoke no English. David, small for his eight years, was scrutinized
closely before being allowed (something of a concession, I gathered) into
the women’s section. The reason for the segregation was clear once we
went through the barrier. There, sunning themselves along the side of the
bath opposite to the changing cubicles was a group of naked females,
disposed on sunbeds and deck chairs, gossiping and nibbling at Danish
pastries. None being exactly slim, the scene had a Rubenesque quality.
My children were inclined to stand and stare. Hurrying them
into a cubicle, I told them that in the circumstances they could forget
about their swimsuits, which would save me having to dry them later. After
all, when in Rome...
Helen modestly demurred, said she would wear hers anyway,
while David, less inhibited, ran out naked.
I had not reckoned on the dragonwoman. No sooner had he
left the cubicle in his birthday suit than she appeared, waving her arms
and gabbling indignantly in Danish. The words were incomprehensible, but I
got the drift; it was okay for the ladies to display their bodies in the
seclusion of the females-only bath, but for even an eight-year-old male it
was strictly forbudt. So it was
into the cubicle again and on with his bathing trunks.
Back on the edge of the bath at the shallow end, he decided
that he wasn’t so keen on a bathe, after all. Having put in a tentative
toe, he protested that it was cold. Too cold. My efforts to persuade him
that it would be lovely once he was in were to no avail. Exasperated, my
patience gave way and, dumping him in the shallows beside the steps, I
swam off to join Helen, leaving him yelling lustily in two feet of water.
I had been aware of some hostile glances from the far side
of the bath even before I got my son into the water. When I glanced back
at him, he had already scrambled out and was being led away by one of the
Rubens ladies to join her friends, oiled and gleaming like basking female
"We don’t need to bother about him," said his
sister in superior tones, as I wondered aloud if he would join us of his
own accord when it was time to leave, or if I would have to go over and
wrest him from his lady friends. "I don’t care if they want to keep
From time to time I glanced to where David was clearly
having a splended time being fed sweet cakes and petted by jolly naked
ladies. The dolce vita, indeed. Would he ever forget it? More to the
point, would he come away willingly?
When we returned to our cubicle to dress, I called across
that it was time to go.
"Farvell, David," said the lady who had enticed
him away. "Now you must go to your mother."
Smiles and farewells sent him on his way. Someone gave him
an apple. He didn’t hurry. As he rejoined us, there was a glint of
triumph in his eyes.
"The lady who was bare was very nice to me," he
The business sessions of the conference lasted three days.
As well as the actual formation of an international organization, the
agenda dealt with problems of payments among countries bedeviled in the
aftermath of the war by exchange control laws that inevitably created a
black market in currency deals. Then there was the matter of an
international black list of bad payers or defaulters, long-windedly termed
"a confidential information service concerning solidity." An
international directory was to be published, a mammoth task to be
shouldered jointly by Percy and André Poursin. This had its plus side,
for it would lead to many agreeable Anglo-French meetings, usually in
Paris. Those who worked with André could expect to be lunched or dined
very well indeed. Unless he decided they were casse-pieds,
his term for bores.
It was also agreed that it would be helpful to have an
international dictionary of trade terms and descriptions. It was Menno
Hertzberger who first put forward this idea, and, as often happens with
proposers of bright ideas, he found himself lumbered with carrying it out,
which he accepted with no great enthusiasm, although he was promised
Danish cooperation. Other problems surfaced, several to crop up again at
future meetings, but with most the prevailing atmosphere of good will
ensured general agreement.
At the end of the final session, Dudley Massey, with
Percy’s and Winnie Myers’ approval, rose to propose that the 1949
conference should be held in London, a proposal accepted with enthusiastic
applause. With this invitation the three British delegates had put the
ball well and truly in the ABA’s court.
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."
I was agreeably placed beside the Danish president, Einar
Grónolt Pedersen (Percy’s partner was Einar’s attractive wife). Einar
was tall, wore horn-rimmed spectacles, and spoke English and French with
an engaging disregard of grammar. In English the French mon
cher became "my dear" irrespective of which sex he was
addressing. His sense of fun was as irrepressible as his fondness for
women, leading André to describe him as pas
sérieux. Which was perhaps not altogether fair, for his whole hearted
support of the league had been instrumental in bringing in the rest of the
Scandinavian countries. Percy had taken to Einar from the beginning, for
he was a lovable man. It was a friendship that time would not dim.
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 replied, "Eat slowly, my dear. Eat slowly, and you will
manage." Somehow I did.
As was to become the tradition at league farewell banquets,
the presidents of each country’s association were asked to say a few
words in their maternal tongue, once they had paid tribute to their hosts
and hostesses in one of the official languages.
Most memorable of the speeches in Copenhagen was one from
the grey-haired, rather solemn Ilmari Jorman, who let himself go in a
torrent of passionate Finnish oratory. It hardly mattered that none of us
understood a word; it sounded splendid. But I did notice that the French
were chortling behind their hands as Ilmari sat down to prolonged applause
having brought his speech to an end with a ringing cry that sounded like
"Kee-piss." A salutation, I supposed. But André, catching
Percy’s eye, was heard to murmur: "Quelle question indiscrète!"
It was, in fact, the Finnish form of skaal.