The Story of a Bookcase: The Amsterdam Years

From around 1983, I started to look further afield to seek out , both books for my collection and other mainly clandestine titles in French, but also sometimes English, the French titles tended to be better sellers as often they were illustrated and the English versions rarely so. By this time my bookcase contained a small selection of Olympia titles, mostly obtained from a book runner, named John who made regular trips to Paris in his white van and carried back a selection of late Olympia Traveller’s and Ophir books, most of which I would later find copies of myself in Paris bookshops as remainders, so there must have been a lot of them lying around, but more of that in my Paris chapter. Along with copies of Traveller’s I had obtained by way of trade with Michael Goss, I had about 20 titles in my collection.

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The decision to go to Amsterdam might seem odd, because of the Olympia Press Paris connection, but I was not in the position just to buy for the collection and needed to find other books that I could use to trade. Having done my homework I knew of Amsterdam’s historical link with clandestine publishing, and more commonly printing, often English and French erotica was actually printed in the Netherlands as the home countries were high risk for both publisher and printers, hence the development of clandestine imprints, which became something of a specialism for me. And as a bottom line, books in France were and still are very expensive, foreign language books in the Netherlands were much cheaper. The currency in the Netherlands was then the Guilder, with an exchange rate of around 3 Guilder to the UK Pound.

IIbreria - MorBCN

Both travel, by coach and accommodation, Hostel, were cheap and basic, and until I got to the point where I had to put a price on my time, the norm and in the early 80’s these trips were as much leisure as business, although I did little else than look for books, eat, and get stoned. My favourite place to stay for a long time was the Euphemia and its sister establishment the International Budget hotel, both really hostels, and often in multi bedded shared rooms, which was quite an interesting experience, especially when one retires at night in a room with 7 other empty beds, and awakes in the morning sharing with 4 young women running around semi-clad, not an erotic fantasy, but an actual event and in reality quite unnerving.

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I love Amsterdam, it is by far my favourite city , both for its liberal attitude to cannabis and for its wealth of bookshops, there is something in the character of the Dutch that makes them less likely to use the internet to trade, absolutely no idea why but it certainly appears to be the case, and as a result, the closure of bookshops although happening has been much slower than much of the rest of Europe.

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Once you have unravelled the mystery of navigating around Amsterdam, it is a delight just to roam without any destination in mind, navigating is likely the best term to describe how to get around with ease, as the city was built with canals as its main arteries and roads as the veins. There are lists of second hand bookshops available on line and there are enough to warrant more than a few days visiting them. And then there are the markets and the junk shops to visit many of which have English books.

I cant promise that you would have an easy time finding Olympia Press titles, and it never has been easy, often a case of being in the right place at the right time, and ultimately building a network of contacts, I went from my first (books focussed) visit to Amsterdam, making the mistake of imbibing too much herbal tobacco, notoriously stronger over there, and as a result suffering horrifying paranoia, which cost me an entire day, to some years later going to Amsterdam and other places in the Netherlands taking bags of books with me to trade with my contacts over there, thereby covering the cost of my trip and accommodation.

My best Olympia find in Amsterdam was at a Bookfair in Dam Square , this would have been in the mid 90’s, I spotted a stall with a few Olympia Traveller’s Companion Series, which I quickly claimed, and then asked the stall holder if he had any more, only to be presented with a box of Paris Olympia titles, and another box of US Olympia titles along with some 20 Brandon House books. A bout of haggling followed and , after emptying my rucksack of all my clothes, I left the scene victorious and absolutely broke, spending my last night in Amsterdam, hungry but elated, and practice lifting the rucksack which, weighed nearly 30 Kilos, for a planned late arrival at check in for my flight, as I had no money to pay excess baggage so I advanced to the desk the bag held high in the air, saying ,“only this bag”, to be waived through with the comment, “its either very light or you are very strong”.

Best of all however were the contacts I made over the years and I will mention two here by Trading name only, as I do not have permission to share their  actual names. The first small shop that became the focus of my attention is located at Planciusstraat 26 and is listed as Boekwinkel Fukkink, and extraordinary, phonetic pun for the puerile English imagination, and a very special little shop, It took me a very long time to get to know the owner, but eventually he and I and another friend spent many hours after closing time in his bookshop drinking whisky and talking. Here I was able to find a nice selection of early clandestine titles by the likes of Brancart , Liseux and Gay , and it was also here that I purchased, although it was more of a gift, the first edition of Lolita, (rebound without the original covers), the owner though somewhat shy and reclusive, is extremely knowledgeable, and multi linguistic and an absolute gentleman.

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As slight aside, but continuing the theme of phonetic accidents and puerile English humour, I got my first ever copy of the first edition of “The Story of O” at a shop in Amsterdam named Antikvariat Kok, brilliant name, and the book cost me 38 guilders in 1988, I was panicked about my possible misunderstanding of the exchange rate, then about 3 Guilder to the UK£, or even the possibility of a missing 0 in the price of the book, but no , it was 38 Guilder, or just over £12. Read and weep.

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Another favourite shop is the oddly named  Boek & Glas at Agatha Dekenstraat 47, not so odd really as the owners had two shops opposite each other one trading in glass items and the other a bookbindery come second hand bookshop. I became good friends with the owners and took many titles from the UK to trade with them, and they found some great books for me including Olympia Press titles, they were warm and welcoming hosts and I was fortunate enough over the years to share meals with them along with various members of my social circle who occasionally, accompanied me on my trips.

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I cannot easily describe the difference between visiting the Netherlands as a tourist and that of a trader, it is however a world apart, and in part I suspect that the Netherlands, because  of its  total dependence on trade , has encouraged its citizens to develop amazing linguistic skills, but whether that alone can explain the warmth and generosity of its people I somehow doubt. More than anywhere else, I miss my book hunting trips to Amsterdam, but also other locations in the Netherlands. At the risk of boring you I will continue my Dutch adventures at a later date, including reference to one of the most amazing collections of erotica I have ever seen.

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