The Koopman Collection in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek

Cultural relations between France and the Netherlands mattered a great deal to Koopman. He considered subsidising Dutch students of French linguistics and literature, and offering a special award for French novels set in the Netherlands. He ultimately decided to invest fully in the collection itself. Koopman understood as few others did that a collection without financial means faced an insecure future, although he might not have foreseen at the time that the French language was to lose so much of its importance in the Netherlands. Now that this has happened, and the public's altered reading habits are mirrored by the offerings of bookstores and libraries and what readers choose to consult or purchase, the Koopman Collection may appear to have reached an impasse -a growing collection for a diminishing audience - but this is certainly not the case. For the books in the Koopman Collection aren't just important for their literary contents, but their bibliophile form -typography, illustrations, dedications from authors and artists, design, bookbindings -is also a source of research and presentation. It makes the collection perfectly suited for a digital exhibition.

Bookplate for Anny Antoine, designed by Félicien Bobeldijk

Bookplate for Anny Antoine, designed by Félicien Bobeldijk

Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands

Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands

Blaise CendrarssLa fin du monde, illustrated by Fernand Léger (1919)

Blaise Cendrars'sLa fin du monde, illustrated by Fernand Léger (1919)

Invoice from Caffins bookshop

Invoice from Caffin's bookshop

ColettesLa fleur de lâge(1949), printed on blue paper

Colette'sLa fleur de l'âge(1949), printed on blue paper

Autograph dedication by Colette inLa toutounier (1939)

Autograph dedication by Colette in*La toutounier *(1939)

Cover for Jean Lorrain:Narkiss(1908)

Cover for Jean Lorrain:Narkiss(1908)

Autograph dedication with drawing by Jean Cocteau inCéremonial espagnol du Phénix (1961)

Autograph dedication with drawing by Jean Cocteau in*Céremonial espagnol du Phénix *(1961)

Gouache by Maurice Utrillo

Gouache byMaurice Utrillo

A view of the stack-room

A view of the stack-room

Louis Koopman's interest for French books probably dates back to his early childhood. His mother was a teacher and held a French teaching certificate. The family belonged to the Walloon church and was strongly invested in French culture, in part thanks to the enthusiasm of the Walloon preacher Étienne Giran and his successor Charles le Cornu. Koopman established collections of publications by both clerics, which have been placed alongside the collection in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands. Koopman was trained to be an engineer, worked for AEG, and finally obtained ownership of Almara, a company that supplied medical-radiological apparatus, located on the Rokin in Amsterdam. He maintained contacts with artists through his membership as 'art-loving club member' of the society Arti et Amicitiae, where he managed to find his way into the club’s management committee. His collection of paintings of father and son Kasper and Eduard Karsen (whom he knew well), and of French artists such as Jules Cavaillès, was auctioned by Mak van Waay after his death. He left the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands the painting 'La colline' by J.F. Raffaëlli and a few portraits, including two of himself and two of Anny Antoine.

In 1935, Koopman's bookcase held 1500 books; by 1940 there were already 3000. In 1960, the collection in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek already consisted of 112 meters of shelf space, with over 5000 volumes. And this growth continued: 7000 in 1989, and over 8250 to date. The books take up a combined length of 240 meters. Each year, approximately 50 books are added to the collection.

Louis Koopman and Anny Antoine collected modern French literature in beautiful editions, and the collection is voluminous both in breadth and in depth. Not only did they buy everything written by a number of favourite authors (Colette, Blaise Cendrars, André Maurois, Paul Valéry, Georges Duhamel, André Gide), they also acquired as many novels and collections of poetry as possible by just about all the authors of the interbellum period. The same thing went for illustrators and artists, such as Hermine David, Chas Laborde, Gus Bofa and Jean-Emile Laboureur. After World War II, Koopman subscribed to each literary publication that appeared in a deluxe edition.

There were however a few blind spots, such as certain surrealist authors, the post-war artists' book, and work by certain printers such as Bernouard. These gaps in the collection have since been rectified by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands, although there still remain certain desiderata. From 1972 to 2000, for more than a quarter of a century, Romanist Han van Berkel (1939-2000) was responsible for the collection's expansion as curator. He maintained contacts with antiquarian book dealers in every corner of France, and his purchases included new editions from Fata Morgana and Kickshaws. In the late 1980s, the entire collection was catalogued, and in 1989 the collection was made public with the exhibition In liefde verzameld ('Collected in love'). When Van Berkel left the Koninklijke Bibliotheek,he had purchased a quarter of the current collection.

Since around 1900, first editions of literary texts often appeared in a deluxe edition, printed on special paper, sometimes in an unusual size and individually numbered. This 'édition originale' represented the first real printing. But this edition could again be divided into sub-editions on various kinds of paper in increasingly large editions, for instance 2 with Roman numerals on Empirical Japanese paper, 6 with Arabic numerals on Chinese paper and 35 on Dutch paper, 10 of which were 'hors commerce', intended for the publisher, author and artist. A copy of the sub-edition mentioned first in the colophon is an 'exemplaire de tête'. Any bibliophile would want only that edition; the Koopman Collection includes hundreds of them.

Koopman stayed in touch with the authors and, to a lesser extent, with the artists represented in his collection: he wrote to them, they wrote dedications in his copies, and he visited them in Paris or received them in his native city of Amsterdam. He brought letters and photographs of the authors from antiquarian book dealers, and also manuscripts and galleys of stories and poems, for which he had half-leather bindings made. He collected unique copies by Colette, Philippe Soupault, Francis Carco, Jean Giono and Valery Larbaud. Besides theses manuscripts, the collection also contains a number of archival pieces and photobooks, mostly pertaining to Anny Antoine.

The illustrated books in deluxe editions were usually provided with extra prints of the illustrations (etchings, lithographs, wood-engravings), sometimes in unusual colours, printed on a different kind of paper. Some rejected etchings, original design drawings or a plate were also added to certain copies. The actual artists' book -about which a separate article has been included on this website -came upon Koopman's path more or less coincidentally. For instance: he bought a book by Carco about the painter Utrillo, one of five copies printed on Japanese paper with an original gouache by the artist. Unique works of art thus began to make their way into his collection. He purchased Cendrars' La fin du monde from 1919, with a dedication by the author: back then it was 'just' a first edition, and now it's a coveted artists' book. Along with his sizeable Cocteau collection,the work of his lover Raymond Radiguet fit nicely, and so Les Pélican, illustrated by Henri Laurens and published by Kahnweiler, arrived in the Netherlands. Koopman continued to buy artists' books until well into the 1960s, such as Les incongruités monumentales (1967), with lithographs by Enrico Baj. After Koopman’s death, it was decided that the collection would first be expanded with illustrated, deluxe editions. By now the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands no longer collects only French bibliophile editions, the 'livre de luxe', but also the artists' book, for instance with lithographs by Matisse, Picasso or Ubac, with etchings by Giacometti or Jacques Villon, or with gouaches by Sonia Delaunay.

See also the multi media presentation about the history of the Koopman Collection.