Rotterdam, my city of Birth and Berkelouw’s books.

Rotterdam, was the city I was born in on The 7th of August 1940 a few months after it was bombed by Germany at the beginning of WW2.


Gerard on the right (looking already bewildered.)

The story below is what I gleaned from the Berkelouw’s bookshop website. Berkelouw Online Bookstore So I quote.

“The story of Berkelouw Books begins in Kipstraat, Rotterdam, Holland, in 1812. Solomon Berkelouw traded in vellum-bound theology books which were en vogue in the early nineteenth century. Publishers of the period were certain of selling publications as long as they dealt with theology. Solomon peddled his wares on Rotterdam Quay and his clients were mainly owners and skippers of the barques that brought grain and other agricultural products from the provinces of Zealand and Zuid Holland to Rotterdam. The owners of barques were well to do citizens with a growing interest in education. Not much is known of Solomon Berkelouw except that his bookselling career came to a sudden and unfortunate end. On a late winter’s afternoon, with snow falling thickly all around, Solomon attempted to cross an icy plank that connected a customer’s ship to the wharf. Halfway up, he lost his footing and fell into the freezing water. Before anyone could fetch help he drowned, his jute-bag full of books sinking with him to the bottom of the icy harbour.

Solomon’s young son Carel was determined to carry on his father’s trade. He put the business on a more stable footing by opening a bookstore at the Niewe Market in Rotterdam. Under Carel’s direction Berkelouw Books prospered and he later moved to a larger premises at Beurs Station, also in Rotterdam.

Carel’s son Hartog Berkelouw continued to expand the family business. After serving an apprenticeship with his father in the Beurs Station store, he opened a new shop at Schoolstraat, Rotterdam. It was Hartog who first began issuing the catalogues that gained Berkelouw an international reputation. In 1928, the firm was granted membership to the prestigious International Antiquarian Booksellers Association. Business subsequently increased and Hartog’s children, Sientje, Leo, Carel and Isidoor, all became involved in the book trade. However, the Second World War intervened, introducing a dark chapter into the history of the Berkelouw family. During the siege of Rotterdam, Berkelouw Books’ premises were bombed and its entire stock destroyed. Amongst the lost books was a collection of antique bibles thought to be the most valuable in all of Europe. Further tragedy followed – Sientje and Carel became casualties of the war. As Leo had left the firm many years earlier, the once thriving business was brought to a standstill – the work of four generations of Rotterdam booksellers virtually wiped out in just a few years.

Immediately after the war, Isidoor Berkelouw began to re-establish the firm. He set up business in Amsterdam and began conducting successful book auctions. However, Isidoor was keen to move the business out of Europe. The Berkelouw collection had already been destroyed once and he did not want to see it happen again. In 1948 Isidoor liquidated his company and made the long journey to Australia. Shortly after arriving in Sydney, Isidoor issued a catalogue, generating immediate interest amongst book collectors around the country. He set up shop at 38 King St, Sydney and conducted book auctions on a regular basis. As Berkelouw’s clientele and stock expanded, headquarters was relocated to 114 King St and Isidoor began to share the management of the business with his two sons, Henry and Leo. By 1972 the Berkelouw collection had grown to such a size that it was forced to change premises once again. The firm made a brief move to Rushcutters Bay, then in 1977 took a quantum leap relocating entirely to ‘Bendooley’, an historic property just outside the beautiful village of Berrima in the Southern Highlands of NSW.

In 1994, the sixth generation, Paul, Robert and David Berkelouw, returned to Sydney, opening its now landmark store in Paddington. Five years later another Sydney store was opened in the cosmopolitan suburb of Leichhardt. Since then, Berkelouw Books has opened further stores in Sydney and Eumundi on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. All our stores offer an extensive, interesting and eclectic new book selection covering all interest areas with a special interest in Children’s Books, fine stationery, as well as a hand-picked display of rare books. Our Paddington, Leichhardt and Eumundi stores have a vast selection of secondhand books. Adjoining many of our stores are the Berkelouw Cafes, a great place to relax and enjoy ambience.

Today Berkelouw Books is Australia’s largest rare and antiquarian, secondhand, and new bookseller. We have an overall stock in excess of 2 million books, many of which are listed and available for purchase here.

Thus the romance of books is engendered. Thus too, the association of books and Berkelouw continues. An old and fruitful tree of Rotterdam, Holland, now firmly planted in the soil of Australia.”

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22 Responses to “Rotterdam, my city of Birth and Berkelouw’s books.”

  1. leggypeggy Says:

    Extraordinary history. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. auntyuta Says:

    “About Berkelouw Book Barn

    The Book Barn is the iconic home of our Berkelouw Book Business and is located on beautiful Bendooley Estate.

    Built early last century, and sitting just outside the quaint Southern Highlands village of Berrima, the Book Barn has recently been transformed. The renovations highlight its exposed timber beams and cathedral ceilings, now featuring huge rustic iron pendant lights.

    The Book Barn is a book-lovers dream, housing tens of thousands of new, secondhand, rare and antiquarian books. At the heart of the Book Barn is an enormous stone fireplace, inviting you to sit, relax and enjoy.

    Our Rare Book Department is also sited on Bendooley Estate, in another barn just a little further down the lane.

    The Book Barn is a multi-functional space. It operates as a bookshop by day, as well as housing the Bendooley Estate Restaurant and our Cellar Door where you can enjoy coffee, lunch or a glass of wine. For weddings and special events, the scores of bookshelves are integrated into the end of the barn and it transforms into a magical space. . . .”

    This is what I wrote at the time:

    “It was a very good place to meet up again with G and H.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it is always a pleasure to visit the book barn. I noticed that the venue is now closed during week-ends due to weddings.
      Brides that have been prevented from holding weddings with more than 10 quests are now chomping at the bits to splash out on large weddings.
      I hold a rather pessimistic view that the larger the wedding and the more expensive they are, there is a direct correlation to the marriage longevity. Modest weddings- long lasting. Expensive weddings-short duration.

      Liked by 1 person

      • auntyuta Says:

        In my excperience, Gerard, even couples that have a very expensive engagement party separate and go their own ways rather quickly!

        Liked by 1 person

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        Ye, sadly when the emphasis is on the big spending on engagement and weddings, other important factors get lost or drowned out.
        I think if fridges or cars had similar failure ratings as marriages, consumer affairs would be called in and ban them.


  3. janesmudgeegarden Says:

    I’ve enjoyed a few happy forages in Berkeleouw Books in Leichhardt!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. doesitevenmatter3 Says:

    Such interesting and important history!
    And the photo of you and your brother is sweet, Gerard! Such handsome boys!
    Your hair looks like my hair looked in all of my baby/preschooler photos…I had dark hair, but it stood straight up! 🙂
    I’ve always loved bookstores and libraries!
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PATS and RUBS to Mr. Milo! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. catterel Says:

    Great story – but what a horribly way to die, poor old Solomon. Lovely babies!.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sandie Says:

    Very interesting story. Your picture as a wee one is very cute.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Curt Mekemson Says:

    “Holland, now firmly planted in the soil of Australia.” Which is true of you as well, Gerard. Love your wild look! –Curt


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes Curt, during the top of Dutch migration coming to Australia, over a hundred thousand arrived. That would have been in the late fifties and early sixties.
      However the shoe is now on the other foot, and many Australians now live and work in The Netherlands.


      • Curt Mekemson Says:

        Interesting, Gerard. Obviously, the continent had a great appeal to the Dutch. I suspect economic opportunities city and wide open spaces? But why the reverse migration? Are the folks going back primarily of Dutch origin? –Curt


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