A Status Report on Bibliophiles in Norway

A Status Report on Bibliophiles and the Rare Book Market in Norway

by Fredrik Delås

Are book treasures and bibliophiles to be found among the mountains and fjords in the land of the midnight sun? Certainly. With a population of 5.4 million people we have 16 certified members of the Norwegian Association for Rare Book Dealers (NABF). As one of the youngest in the rare book business when starting up 15 years ago I am still one of the youngest today, feeling more motivated than ever. During my years in business boundaries of national markets have become more blurred and collectors and dealers are communicating more globally. During the last couple of years, the pandemic situation has accelerated this development even more.

This is me, 2 minutes walk from the office. In the far background you can see Sweden. I live in Skjeberg, 15 minutes by car from the Swedish border and 1 hour south of Oslo. (Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of Fredrik Delås.)

Norwegians have a tendency to appear quite introverted, our rare book business being no exception. You have to find us to see what we are up to.

Together with friend and colleague Pål Sagen, specialist dealer of older books, atlases, maps and Norwegian national art, we started Sagen & Delås Auctions in 2019, the first Norwegian auction house to focus on single owner collections, aiming for both a national and international audience.

Original painting by Johannes Flintoe (Norwegian 1787 – 1870). The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) spent much time in Norway from 1913 on. His cabin “little Austria” would come to occupy the hillside to the left. Since 2019 it has been a listed house in the Norwegian National Heritage. Photo courtesy of Pål Sagen.

As late as in April this year we auctioned off the Polar Library of Otto Norland, drawing attention from book collectors world wide. Those of you subscribing to The Book Collector can read about Norland in the Autumn 2022 issue. Most of the collection found new owners outside of Norway. We even made a national record for the most expensive book ever sold at auction over here: Jens Munk Navigatio Septentrionali (1624), a dramatic account of the first Scandinavian attempt to find the North-West Passage. It sold for 1,187,500  [= $118,300]. I know this is not much to brag about, being aware that many collectors and dealers in the US will not even lift their eyebrow hearing the price. Nevertheless, our recent auctions have made us more confident in that there is an interest in our market outside the borders of our country.

Left: reading classics in the fjords. Right: Reading back issues of Fine Books and Collections is one of my favourite things to do when in our holiday house up in the mountains.

So, where do collectors meet in Norway? Book auctions are natural meeting places, but all are held in Oslo, and are therefore quite challenging for the collectors living in a country where it is not a short trip to go anywhere.  As for bibliophile clubs there is only one, and membership is very limited. Bibliofilklubben (the Norwegian Club for Bibliophiles) is celebrating 100 years in 2022, and we have published several books on the history of the club and collections of the members. Since the start in 1922 the club has been limited to 33 members, new members inheriting the number from the previous member. The first Tuesday every month we meet at Gamle Logen in Oslo to dine and discuss books. Each meeting has a 5-minute talk by one of the members on new aquisitions, discoveries etc. Then there is a 45-minute session by external or internal connoisseurs. A haven for the booklover.

Gamle Logen in Oslo, meeting place of the Bibliofilklubben (Norwegian Club for Bibliophiles).

My colleague Pål Sagen also runs a hotel and museum, Norsk Kultursenter (Norwegian Culture Center). Onsite are several listed buildings housing a very nice art collection and library. Here you can also see the only copy of the Norwegian national anthem on private hands. Every constitution day, 17th May, also called ”the Children’s Day,” it is taken out and children sing the national anthem outside.

Bibliofilklubben is of course for the fortunate and very few. In my opinion the situation is not satisfactory when it comes reaching out to potential book collectors. The last couple of years my two colleagues and I have tried to create new meeting places by initiating a rare book podcast and mini lectures where the collectors come to share their passion. Want to know more about what is going on over here? Please feel free to contact me (Fredrik) at post@antikvariat-bryggen.no.

Me in my office.

Editor’s Note: You can access Fredrik’s 2022 holiday catalog HERE.

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