Dates and goals, publications and people and much more ...


The Antwerp Bibliophile Society was founded in 1877.
The initiator was Max Rooses (1839-1914), curator of the then recently opened Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp.
The first chairman was politician and important collector Gustave van Havre (1817-1892).

In “The Golden Compasses” volume 56 (1978) an article appeared on the occasion of the centenary of the Antwerp Bibliophile Society.
It was written by Leon Voet, editorial secretary of the association and curator of the Plantin-Moretus Museum.
Below a large fragment, the original can be read on the site of the DBNL :

'Vereeniging der Antwerpsche bibliophielen' one hundred years 1877-1977 by Dr. L. Voet, editorial secretary

The first curator of the Plantin house, Max Rooses, was a relatively young man of 37 years old when he was appointed in 1876. When he died on July 15, 1914, he had managed to write standard works about Plantin and the Moretuses, Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens, which after all these years and despite the libraries full that had been written about these figures since then have not been completely replaced. Rooses also played a very prominent role in the Flemish movement and in the political life of his city of birth. He set up the Plantin-Moretus Museum and turned it into an internationally renowned scientific center. And while he was still preparing the Plantin house and editing the museum’s first catalog guide (a monument of erudition, like everything Rooses has done), he was working on another ambitious plan as well. This in collaboration with his colleague, Pieter Génard, the city archivist of Antwerp.

Leon Voet (source: DGP jg 61-63)

On November 23, 1877, a meeting was held in the home of the bookseller Pieter Kockx on the Oude Koornmarkt, attended by a number of prominent Antwerp book lovers. Besides Rooses, Génard and the host were present: Knight Gustaaf van Havre, Ridder (Knight) Leo de Burbure, Colonel Henry Wauwermans, Alfons de Decker, Filips Rombouts, Antoine van Bellingen, Dr. Lodewijk Delgeur and Alfons Goovaerts. Rooses and Génard presented them with a plan to set up an association of bibliophiles. The meeting started at 2 pm. and ended at 3 p.m. – and in that one hour the decision in principle was taken and a provisional chairman, le Havre, and a provisional secretary, Goovaerts, were appointed.

The gentlemen did not waste any time. The second meeting took place barely a week later, on 30 November, and during that meeting a regulation, drawn up by Wauwermans, Rooses and Génard, could be discussed and approved article after article. The ‘Maatschappij der Antwerpsche Bibliophilen’ was born.

The society would consist of honorary members, working, exchanging letters and joining members. The number of honorary members was unlimited, but in practice remained very modest. One of the very first was Hendrik Conscience. The number of working members was set at 50, with the first twenty (a quorum already reached at the meeting of December 7, 1877) being considered as founding members. These working members, recruited by means of this leaflet in Dutch and French, had to pay 20 francs a year, for which they received the publications of the society and were also allowed to make their voices heard at the general meeting, where the board was elected and the financial management checked. New members, number unlimited, also had to pay 20 francs and could attend the general meetings, however, without being allowed to intervene. Finally, the “corresponding members”, also set at 50, had been discharged from financial obligations, but therefore did not receive the publications of the Society. If they wished to obtain this, they also had to register as a joining member (and of course pay the associated contribution of 20 francs).

At the meeting of December 14, 1877, the general council was elected and it was also decided to ask the city council to be allowed to establish the seat of the company in the Museum Plantin-Moretus. A request that was promptly granted and from then on to the present day the Society has gratefully benefited of the hospitality of the Plantin house. It was also argued that the city council and government would be asked for grants – another constant in the history of society, although with varying degrees of success. The go-ahead was given …

Rooses and Génard had made the society possible. Now that the child could begin to walk, they modestly withdrew to the background, leaving to others the functions of chairman, secretary, treasurer, etc., and declared themselves content with the modest role of member of the board.

In the report of the very first meeting, the aims of the new society were briefly and succinctly stated, as formulated at the meeting by Rooses. They have been included in more detail in the regulations: a) The publishing of unprinted works and charters, relating to the national history and in particular the history of Antwerp, as well as that of literature, arts and sciences; b) Reprints of important and rare books.

Publishing in principle unpublished manuscripts pertaining to Antwerp was therefore the primary goal of the new society.

The society has been using this logo from the start.

At the same time, also at the insistence of Rooses and already pleaded for at the first meeting, a Bulletijn would be published, in which the minutes of the meetings would be included and distributed among the members free of charge.

It is symptomatic that the very first publication of the association, already published in 1878, was provided by Max Rooses: Book kept by Jan Moretus II , as dean of the Guild of Saint Luke (1616-1617), based on a manuscript in the Museum Plantin-Moretus.

The Bulletijn also appeared for the first time in 1878, but did not last longer than until 1886. It was published in episodes according to the requirements of the moment and bundled in two parts (first part: 1878-1881, 283 pages, including table of contents and index; second part: 1882-June 1886, ending abruptly on page 202). In addition to the administrative reports and the reports on the works to be published, numerous interesting contributions were also included on the history of printing in Antwerp (largely by Rooses, of course), which turned the Bulletijn into a truly bibliophile journal. and not just the administrative result of the activities of a bibliophile association.

If the Bulletijn died a soft death in 1886, the same cannot be said of the individual publications, which was the ultimate goal of the association. From 1878 to 1913, no fewer than 28 volumes were published, most of which have not become merely bibliophile curiosities, but works that are still consulted and often very gratefully used. …
The ‘Maatschappij der Antwerpsche Bibliophilen’ thus showed itself to be very active and very productive during the first 35 years of its existence. However, one gets the impression that after the first élan, which lasted for almost ten years, the enthusiasm started to wane. An initial weakening that can be placed around 1886, with the disappearance of the Bulletijn, in itself less a cause than an effect and a symptom. (…)

Max Rooses

The causes of this disappointment cannot be determined with certainty, but must undoubtedly be sought in Rooses’ professional life. Génard is one of the initiators, but has probably done this more to please Rooses. In any case, he does not seem to have played an important role in the life of the association afterwards. The real thrust lay with Max Rooses, however modest outwardly his administrative position as board member (and after 1908 as secretary) may have been. But what Rooses did in scientific publications after 1878 borders on the unbelievable – and this must have meant that in time he no longer found the opportunity to keep his brainchild as prosperous as in the early years.
Be that as it may, the Maatschappij der Antwerpsche Bibliophilen continued to live on and would even get through the First World War in one piece. Albeit not without tension. (…)
F. Donnet took the initiative on January 21, 1920 (…) with a small group of people, whom he could expect to be sympathetic to the cause of the Bibliophiles. Apart from Donnet herself, G. Caroly, E. Van Heurck, A. Cornette and AJJ Delen took part in the meeting.

Maurits Sabbe, the new curator of the Plantin-Moretus Museum, was not present, but he was certainly thought of: the meeting decided to appoint Donnet as chairman, Sabbe as vice-chairman, Delen as secretary, Van Heurck as treasurer, Caroly , Cornette and P. Buschmann to members.

The association was able to start again – this time in a more pronounced French-speaking atmosphere. Where between 1877 and 1914 the administrative activity had been conducted entirely in Dutch, nowadays reports and cash books were drawn up in French. A new orientation for which Donnet and Van Heurck probably bear the main responsibility, and which came to an end in any case around 1930, with the new and complete breakthrough of Dutch.

Donnet handed over the chairmanship to Sabbe in 1923, who immediately started a rejuvenation operation. The name of the society was initially changed from ‘Maatschappij der Antwerpsche Bibliophilen’ to that of ‘Vereeniging der Antwerpsche Bibliophielen’. However, the innovation went much further than just a change of name.

Publication of publications had been the primary goal of the ‘Maatschappij der Antwerpsche Bibliophilen’. Such separate editions continued to appear, but declined sharply after 1925 and finally became a major exception.

From 1923, under the impetus of M. Sabbe, the emphasis shifted to the publication of a magazine, whose name ‘The Golden Compasses’ clearly indicates the link with the Museum Plantin-Moretus and also underlines what the magazine was in the first place: contributions related to the printed book, in particular in Antwerp. After 1923, the action of the ‘Vereeniging der Antwerpsche Bibliophielen’ would practically coincide with the publication of ‘De Gulden Passer. Le Compas d’Or ‘(a bilingual title, which only became monolingual Dutch in 1938). At the same time, the outdated division into working, regular and corresponding members came to an end.

Sabbe died in 1938 and the association faced another serious crisis, complicated by the approaching threat of war. The secretary-treasurer A. Dermul and the remaining members of the board (…) did what they could to keep the head of the association afloat and to ensure the continuity of The Golden Compasses. After much hesitation, Dermul arranged a meeting on February 13, 1941 in the City Library (which was the society’s headquarters during the war and until 1950) at which the association was once again given a firmer administrative base. (…)

The dangerous gap had been bridged. The ‘Vereeniging der Antwerpsche Bibliophielen’ would also survive the ordeal of the Second World War in one piece. (…)

The first number

The life of the association in the past 30 years has not been easy. In the face of the rising printing costs, it was not an easy task to keep The Golden Compasses alive and on time and to bring a special edition as originally planned by Max Rooses. It meant and still means a relentless effort for the day-to-day management to ensure that the number of members diminishes, the monies come in in any (honorable) way, and that this income plus minus outweigh the expenditure.

In the meantime, more than 40 years have passed and a lot has happened.
The aim of the association was to publish archive documents and manuscripts relating to the history of Antwerp and to publish rare editions in facsimile. The association could count on the support of many active board members, including Marcus de Schepper, Jeanine de Landtsheer, Pierre Delsaerdt, Elly Cockx and Fons Thijs.

To promote contacts between its members, the association has been organizing excursions to special book collections at home and abroad since 1993 and still is today. The first trip took the participants to the Gheraert Leeu exhibition in Gouda. Later visits were made to the Dombibliothek in Hildesheim, private libraries in Loppem and Marke, the seminary libraries of Liège and Bruges, the Bibliotheca Thysiana in Leiden and the Stiftsbibliothek in Xanten.

Literature: Carel Debaive, ‘The “Vereeniging der Antwerpsche Bibliophilen” and its organ, “De Gulden Passer”’, inWetenschappelijke Tijdingen , 6 (1941), col. 166-168, 177-188 (also published separately); Leon Voet, ‘”Vereeniging der Antwerpsche Bibliophielen” one hundred years. 1877-1977 ‘, inThe Golden Compasses, 56 (1978) p. 8-20 (also published separately).