Friday, November 26, 2010

‘Ritman at risk’

Ever skeptical of the effectiveness of on-line petitions – I’m still lobbying for the return of The Bottom Line! – I nonetheless submit to you this global rallying cry for the preservation of the Library of Hermetic Philosophy, known more widely as the Ritman Library, in Amsterdam.

According to the petitioners:

It is widely known that the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam, founded by J.R. Ritman, was in great danger in the 1990s, when the ING bank took possession of the collection and threatened to sell it. Fortunately, the Dutch government intervened, and the BPH was put on the list of protected Dutch heritage, and the State eventually acquired more than 40 percent of it. The books remained at the same physical location, integrated with the rest of the collection, and the government would eventually acquire all of it. As part of this process, there were great plans for further expansion. Largely due to the financial crisis and a change of government this was taking somewhat longer than originally anticipated, but nobody doubted that the library was safe.

Last week this turned out to be incorrect. An extremely valuable medieval manuscript owned by the BPH (The Grail of Rochefoucauld) was put on sale at Sotheby’s, and this triggered a reaction from the Friesland Bank, which took possession of the library, that had apparently been brought in as collateral, in order to get back a 15 million euro loan from Mr. Ritman. At present the BPH is closed, and intense negotiations are going on behind closed doors. It is impossible at this moment to predict the outcome, but there is no doubt that the situation is extremely serious. There is a very real possibility that the Friesland Bank will try to sell at least the 60 percent of the library that is still owned by Mr. Ritman, and nobody knows what implications this will have for the rest of the collection and the BPH as a whole, including its staff. The brand-new government of the Netherlands has announced a program of radical financial cuts in the culture section and elsewhere, which makes a renewed intervention from that side highly unlikely.

If the Ritman library would go down, this would mean an enormous blow to international scholarship in Hermetic studies. The damage would be irreversible. By signing this petition you express your concern, and ask the Dutch government and Friesland Bank to do their utmost to ensure that the collection will be saved and will remain available for the international scholarly community.

Additionally, you can express your concern by means of a signed letter. The initiative for this petition comes from the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam (organizationally independent of the BPH, and not in any danger itself), so please send your letter to its director:

Prof. Wouter J. Hanegraaff
Oude Turfmarkt 141-147
1012 GC Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Or e-mail to: w.j.hanegraaff (at)

Sign the on-line petition here.

My thanks to Paul Hardacre, editor of Alchemy Journal, for bringing this to my attention.

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