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Manuscripts in the news (cont'd)
September 10, 2007: The Smitskamp/Brill Archives now in Leiden
An important source for the history of the Oriental booktrade in The Netherlands
has now been incorporated in the Library of Leiden University. In the course of
the summer of 2007 Mr. Rijk Smitskamp, founder and owner of the Leiden-based antiquarian
bookshop ‘Smitskamp Oriental Antiquarium’ (formerly Brill’s antiquarian
donated his archives to Leiden University Library. The archive consists of no
less than forty-six carton boxes containing the correspondence over the period
between 1970 and 2004. In addition there are eighteen boxes filled with annotated
sales catalogues over the period between c. 1930-2005, further twelve boxes with
special files and photographs, and ninety cases with cards with information on
books sold. Describing an archive of this size is no light task and some parts
of the archive will remain closed to the public for a while for reasons of privacy.
Once fully described and accessible the Smitskamp/Brill archive will provide unique
insights in the Oriental book trade in Leiden in the twentieth century. The archive
does not include the archives of the well-known Leiden publishing house Brill’s.
The static archive of that firm is kept in the University Library of Amsterdam. Smitskamp's
stock has been auctioned off by the Leiden-based auctioneer Burgersdijk & Niermans.
Mr. Rijk Smitskamp, who started his scholarly life as a student of Latin and Greek, was the last
representative of a tradition of centuries of Oriental booktrade in Leiden, which started
with the firms of Elsevier and Maire in the seventeenth century, which was continued
from 1683 onwards by the firm of Luchtmans, and from 1848 onwards by Mr. Evert
Jan Brill, whose name is still kept by the present-day publishing house.
In the early 1990’s Smitskamp effectuated a management buy-out from Brill’s
where he had been working since 1970 as an employee and later as the head of its antiquarian
department. Smitskamp himself was an acknowledged expert on the history of
Oriental printing as becomes clear from his numerous contributions to his own
sales catalogues, and which culminated in his erudite Philologia Orientalis.
A description of books illustrating the study and printing of Oriental languages
in 16th- and 17th-century Europe (Leiden 1992). He kept a close relationship with
numerous prominent scholars, who would buy from his catalogues, and whose widows
would sometimes sell their late husbands’ libraries back to the Antiquarium.
Smitskamp and his Oriental Antiquarium published numerous high quality sales catalogues,
which sometimes have acquired the status of reference works. It could happen that the complete
contents of a catalogue would be sold to one single affluent buyer, e.g. in Malaysia or Saudi
Arabia, who would thereby obtain not only the manuscripts and books but also
the added value of a state-of-the-art bibliographical and philological description.
When Smitskamp decided that he would discontinue his work as an antiquarian bookseller
he had no successor in his highly specialized job. It was a deplorable fact that the
Antiquarium could not be continued. Deplorable, not just for old times’ sake,
but because having a specialised bookseller in the neighbourhood is an asset, the value
of which can hardly be overestimated.
An episode in the Oriental book trade in the Netherlands has come to an end, and when
this is, as some have thought, a sign on the wall which tells us that interest
in the written heritage is on the decrease, then Smitskamp's disappearance is a matter
of grave concern.
A few aficionado’s have deplored and documented the end of the Smitskamp Oriental
Antiquarium in some of the Dutch media. The following references may be given here:
Léon Buskens wrote ‘Doek valt voor ‘‘de winkel van
Brill’’’, in: ZemZem 2 (2006) No.
2, pp. 106-114, 157-158. Buskens also wrote ‘Vanishing Orientalism in Leiden’
in: ISIM Review 18 (2006), pp. 44-45. Peter Schoonheim wrote ‘Smitskamp’, in
Frons 26 (2006), no. 2, pp. 15-19. Jan Just Witkam wrote ‘A giant fades away’,
in Ezelsoor. Newsletter of the Department of Book and Digital Media Studies,
Spring 2006, pp. 1-6, and ‘De sluiting van Het Oosters Antiquarium van Rijk
Smitskamp’, in De Boekenwereld 23 (2007), pp. 207-214.
Dr. Arnoud Vrolijk is the curator
in Leiden University Library who is responsible
for the acquisition of the Smitskamp Archives. There exists a preliminary description
of the archive which was made by Mr. Smitskamp.
Source: Extracted from the website of Leiden University Library, dated 10 September
2007, with additions from other sources.