My Impressions of the Boekkunstbeurs – Book Arts Fair in Leiden, the Netherlands

I decided not to wait until I edit the video and the photos from the Boekkunstbeurs (Book Arts Fair in Leiden, the Netherlands) and summarize my impressions right after the two-day event has ended.

First, some general info. This fair is an annual event organized by two foundations: Stichting Handboekbinden and Stichting Drukwerk in de Marge. You may call them bookbinding and printing guilds of the Netherlands, I guess. As I found out from talks with some printers, the Drukwek in de Marge covers Belgium as well. Probably it works the same way for the bookbinding foundation.

History of the Foundation

I’m a bookbinder, so I’ll say a bit more about the organization I’m now a member of.

Some organized movement of bookbinders started in the Netherlands in the late 1970s, Initially in the form of an annual group meeting for the book professionals. Later it became known as the Vrienden van het Handgebonden Boek (Friends of the Handbound Book). In 1989 two organizations for amateur bookbinders were founded: Stichting Vouwbeen (Bonefolder Foundation) and Stichting Boekbehoud (Book Conservation Foundation).

However, as you may guess, two bookbinding foundations for a country with less than 20 million inhabitants may be excessive. In 1994 negotiations started to join three foundations into one entity. Only two of them participated in the merger creating the Vereniging Nederlandse Handboekbinders Liga (Association Dutch Hand Bookbinders League).

Stichting Handboekbinden was finally created in 2008 when Stichting Boekbehoud and the League came together.

You can find more on the history of the Foundation in this issue of the Designer Bookbinders newsletter on the pages 6 and 7.

The Fair and the Vibe

The Fair is held in Pieterskerk – one of the major landmarks of the Dutch city Leiden. Last year more than 1500 visitors came to participate in a joint bookbinding and printing event.

As far as I know, in 2018 on the first day of the Fair there were approximately 1000 visitors attending. Maybe even more. Judging by my own impressions of the flow of visitors on the second day, the last year’s total estimates may be true for this year as well. It was far less crowded on the 11th of November compared to the 10th of November, still, quite busy.

This year there were about 120 participants and they used almost all the space available on the church floor. You can check the list and the location map here. You will find bookbinders, papermakers, producers of instruments and leather, printer and antiquarian booksellers there. And much more!

There were workshops around the clock. Both for kids and adults. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance any of them, because I was quite busy all the time.

I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the event. First, it’s really hard to stay on your feet for two days in a row. And to try to offer your services to all the incoming customers at the same moment. However, it’s a great pleasure as well. Many of the clients told me they are following iBookBinding’s Facebook feed, newsletter, or other outlets.

One visitor even confided that her mother, who lives in the States, has received a recent newsletter and recommended her to go to the Fair. That’s an absolutely amazing feeling to know you are a part of an international community of book lovers.

As usual, there were sales. And for sure this event is considerably larger than the Bookbinders’ Fair Belgium and the Bookbinders’ Fair Cologne combined. On the first day, the flow of the buyers didn’t seize until the very end of the event at 17:00.

However, I urge you to visit two other bookbinding fairs mentioned above as well – I loved them as well =)

Here is a video I streamed from the fair. Later I will edit it with other footage I shot that weekend:

As during the previous fairs I took a part in, some of the visitors offered their thoughts on my tools. And some of these talks would definitely result in new projects or updates to the old designs! So, I hope other people of the book will join the Fair not only as visitors but also as participants – it may boost your creativity and empower your projects with some new ideas!

That’s true it isn’t easy to find information about the Fair in English. Even while there is a reasonable amount of participants coming from the UK and other countries besides the Netherlands and Belgium. However, I have an understanding that next year more efforts would be spent to help international visitors finding their way to Leiden.

Freebies

By the way, in exchange for the 6 Euro entrance fee visitors have received not only the Fair catalog but materials and an instruction (in Dutch) on how to make a book. It was written, designed, and printed specially for the Fair. And there’s a new book every year!

Leiden

The place itself is a reason good enough for visiting the Fair. I live here, so I may be a bit biased, but Leiden is a beautiful small city, with more than 9 centuries of history and buildings that saw the Pilgrim Fathers. Seriously, pilgrims lived here after they had left the British Isles and before they traveled to North America.

Leiden is just 20-30 minutes away by railroad from Amsterdam. Even closer if you go here directly from the Schiphol Airport. It is only one stop away from the international hub if you use Intercity trains.

From here you can easily visit other places. Including both of the country’s capitals (the Hague is considered to be the second one), Rotterdam, etc.

But even in Leiden itself, there are enough attractions. Museums, botanical garden, wonderful and diverse cafes, and restaurants, channels and boat tours, Saturday market and more!

In Conclusion

I’m a fan of all the three bookbinding fairs I participated in up to date. Each of them has its own vibe, pros, and cons. However, Leiden Book Arts Fair is definitely the largest of the three, and if you’d like to find out more about the modern state of European bookbinding and printing – that’s the place where you should go first.

I plan to take part in this fair next year, as well as join some other events in the US and UK if that would be possible. Then I’d be able to write a more complete review of this sort of events on the international scale.

I’m glad to be a part of such a wonderful community. This Fair boosted my eagerness to work even more on iBookBinding and other book-related projects.

See you next time!

Below are some of the posts from Boekkunstbeurs I found in my Facebook feed: