Major medieval library in Amsterdam may have collection sold off

The upcoming sale of a medieval manuscript has raised speculation that a major academic library will be closed and have it collection sold off in order to pay off its owner’s debts. The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in the Dutch city of Amsterdam has been closed to the public and one of its major manuscripts, The Rochefoucauld Grail, is set to be auctioned off by Sotheby’s on December 7th.

The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica was founded as a private library in 1984 by JR Ritman, who owns a 60% stake in the library. The collection focuses on  manuscripts and printed works in the field of the Hermetic tradition, more specifically the ‘Christian-Hermetic’ tradition, with works by Augustine, Lactantius and other medieval and Renaissance writers. The library holds more than 22,000 volumes: ca. 700 manuscripts (85 of which date before 1550), ca. 5,000 books printed before 1800 (305 of which are incunables, books printed before 1500) and ca. 17,000 books (primary and secondary sources) printed after 1800.


After Mr. Ritman got into debt problems in the 1990s, the government of the Netherlands stepped in to save the collection by buying a 40% interest in the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, and had one time planned to completely acquire the library.  But with Mr. Ritman now owing debts reported to be between 15 and 20 million euros, and the Dutch government unwilling to support the institution, it is now thought that the creditor, the Friesland Bank, will try to sell at least the 60% of the library that is still owned by Mr Ritman. Ritman has apparently decided to sell the Rochefoucauld Grail on his own. The manuscript is expected to sell for between £1.5 and £2 million, and the press release from Sotheby’s notes it is “being sold by its current owner Mr J. R. Ritman, with the proceeds to go of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam.”

A message on the library’s website states: “Due to special circumstances the library is closed until further notice.” Professor Wouter Hanegraaff, Chair of the History of Hermetic Philosophy at the University Amsterdam, wrote in an open letter that “The story is just beginning to be picked up by the Dutch media but doesn’t yet seem to have spread abroad. If the Ritman library would go down, this would mean an enormous blow to international scholarship in hermetic studies. The damage would be irreversible.”


A Facebook group Save the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam (Ritman Library) was started earlier this week, and its founder Alexa Jane Chandler, has been updating the situation and creating an online petition.

Click here to go to the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica Library website

Click here to read the article Medieval Manuscript expects to fetch up to £2 million at auction

Source: Pheonix Rising