Sonneggstr. 29
CH-8006 Zürich
Tel.+41 44 251 36 08

Readings / exhibitions

You can get informations about our regular readings and small exhibitions here.


Bücherfreud & Bücherleid
von Valentin Altorfer

1993-2023 Balance sheet of thirty years.

- 36658 books, graphics, posters, photographs a. paintings in stock

- 42577 invoices written

- 4 debt collection proceedings initiated, all still open.

- Lost a case against a book scrounger. The man is still active, because in Swiss legislation intentional fraud is almost impossible to prove.

- 99235 items registered

- 82355 titles sold

- 5 warehouses - almost all full!

- 200 banana crates unprocessed

- 2 shop premises: sonneggstrasse 28 u. 29

- 22 employees (currently 0)


1993 - 2023 shop history

1984-86 Assistant antiquarian bookseller at Sigismund Seidenberg "Das gute Buch" on Rosengasse, 8001 Zurich. There infected by the virus of bibliophilia. Since then book lover. The idea of becoming self-employed matures.

1986-92 Work as a trained mechanical engineer in various companies in Zurich.

1992 Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. After 3 months and many balsams, no miracle, no enlightenment - Nada.

1992, Oct Purchase of the Sonnegg bookshop from Michael Eberle, successor of the Zurich communist Paul Schibli, who bought the house Sonneggstrasse 29 with his rich wife's money and rented out living space cheaply to students and social cases.

1993, Feb Opening of the business with a mountain of debt of CHF 70,000.- My house bank the ZKB did not want to give me a current account credit of CHF 30,000.-. Financing through friends and acquaintances - a truly interesting experience.

1994 Inherited 14.000.- Swiss Francs from my grandfather, enough for the first computer and a little debt repayment.

1995 First print catalogue of 18 numbers appears Until 1995 I was still working part-time, employing unemployed young people from the outreach programme. The door lock had to be changed three times during this period.

1997-99 Organisation of 5 Zurich Antiquarian Book Markets at the Volkshaus Zurich. These were quite popular but ultimately too costly. And certainly not profitable.

1998 Second pilgrimage from Santiago to Zurich. Paul Bader, an antiquarian bookseller from Bremgart, replaces me in the shop. Afterwards, I never had so much money in my account, because antiquarians actually prefer to buy rather than sell. On the way, I visit many antiquarian bookshops and have several book packages sent to Zurich.

1999 First bibliophile book of the edition peter petrej is published "Geschenke - Ein Totentanz" with texts by Aglaja Veteranyi and woodcuts by Jean-Jacques Volz.

2001 First participation in the Antiquarian Book Fair Zurich of the Swiss Antiquarian Booksellers Association. I find that fairs bore me.

2001 The "Ascona Bau-Buch" is published as the second book of the edition in collaboration with Hanspeter Manz, antiquarian of Ascona "Liberia della Rondine" and Bruno Maurer of the gta of the ETH Zurich.

From 1995 to 2001 numerous readings and small exhibitions. The last years with the legendary neighbourhood publisher couple Curt u. Marianne Zimmermann. From the Nimrod publishing house. There was always good wine and delicious homemade ham croissants. After that, I was disgusted with cultural entrepreneurship. Too much ego on the part of the writers - too little profit.

2005 Short-term liquidity crisis due to expulsion from the then most important internet platform ZVAB. Finally got to know the Social Welfare Office in Zurich - I was impressed.

From 2005 - 2011 responsible for the book department in the Brocki Pfannenstil of the social enterprise NOVEOS. There I learned to destroy books. Book production is also overproduction, but how do you want to control it?

ince 2008, print catalogues of the antiquarian bookshop have been discontinued because they are too expensive. Instead, regular newsletters with the new arrivals.

2009 The third and last book of the editon is published: René Groebli's "Magie der Schiene". After that it is clear that either you become a publisher or you don't.

2013 The house is sold to the ETH. They kindly let us stay, but a long-term lease is still refused without explanation. To date, ETH has acquired almost all 7 houses with taxpayers' money for the purpose of building an institute. The 50 or so flats will then be destroyed and an institute built. That is ETH Zurich's contribution to the housing shortage! In return, however, Switzerland will soon fly into orbit. Presumably for cheap housing!

2021 The last employee and designated successor involuntarily leaves the business. Succession planning is not easy.

If any of you are interested, he or she should get in touch? Women are preferred in the sense of the quota regulation.

2023 30th anniversary - how nice is the everyday life of an antiquarian without the usual human irritations in working with employees.

There is no end in sight for the time being, because it is still life-giving for me and still brings me joy. Before every library visit, I hardly fall asleep with excitement, which I take as a good sign.


What is an antiquarian bookseller?

1. an antiquarian bookseller has found nothing better in life than to make his fascination with books his bread and butter profession.

2. an antiquarian bookseller is usually a man.

3. an antiquarian bookseller works like a farmer 7 days a week. But without subsidies.

4. the antiquarian hates holidays. Especially places without antiquarian bookshops.

5. the antiquarian is better with old ladies than with young beauties. The former definitely have the better libraries - if at all.

6. the antiquarian is only interested in money to a limited extent.

7. the real antiquarian is reluctant to part with books that are important to him.

8. the antiquarian prefers to clean the books himself for fear that non-bibliophile cleaners might damage them.

9 The antiquarian is a generalist. He knows many things, but far too little about many things.

10 The antiquarian bookseller prefers to learn from his customers rather than pretending to them.

11. the antiquarian bookseller is not a low-maintenance person. Unless you hit his bibliophilic nerve as a customer, then he becomes talkative. 12.

12 The antiquarian can live best alone. Piles of books in all places do not have to be justified then.

13 The antiquarian doesn't care about clothes. Buying them only costs him time he cannot spend with his books.

14 The antiquarian is not a good accountant. That's why he needs one. Thank you Manuel Graf.

15 The antiquarian bookseller must become a pedant or perish, because otherwise he won't find his treasures. Currently I am looking for a box of artist's bags.

16. The antiquarian is the god of books. He decides what survives destruction.

17 The antiquarian is also master of the anarchic pricing of the book. All prices are speculation. Even in the Migros.

18. the antiquarian is always curious, unless he has been reading crime novels too long at night.

19 Since the antiquarian bookseller is also mortal, the question of his book masses arises.

20 The antiquarian owns more books than he can ever read. Privately and in the shop anyway.

21. the antiquarian is everything you imagine him to be and yet also not.

22 The antiquarian's corpse ultimately doesn't care about anything. Culture then no longer has any meaning.


THOUGHTS of a melancholy antiquarian about the antiquarian trade.

When the car came, the coachman disappeared with his beloved horses. The changing times are also affecting the antiquarian book trade. No one knows where this journey will lead.


1. The decline of the bourgeois culture of collecting.

The change in our way of life, such as increasing mobility, high rents, the impossibility for ordinary mortals to buy a house, are detrimental to collecting.

What used to be collecting is now travelling and other time-consuming leisure activities.

Collecting personalities usually do not find successors within the family because our other possibilities seem limitless. And we are infinitely addicted to experience.

And collector fashions change much faster than they used to.

This insight by no means applies only to books. Anyone who regularly attends auctions will notice that eager bidding only takes place for internationally sought-after top works, regardless of whether they are books, carpets, paintings, graphic art, arts and crafts, etc. Otherwise, you get most of the items for the price. Otherwise, most things are sold at the starting price.


2. The antiquarian book trade is a man's business

The antiquarian book trade is a business between men over forty. In thirty years I have had the pleasure of meeting two women collectors.

So what's wrong with women that they can't warm to the beauty of books the same way men do?

And why don't they also pay homage to the "religion of bibliophilia, collecting first editions - of course with the original dust jacket and preferably signed? In short, they pay homage to the book fetish.

Women, on the other hand, are bigger readers than men. At readings there are usually more than 50% women present. 3.


3. No business can exist without reasonable rents.

The crisis of the book trade and all small shops is above all a crisis of rent.

Those who don't have a patronising landlord who would rather have a well-kept antiquarian bookshop in his property than a clothes shop can only trade on the internet. In the process, the sensuality of a bookshop is lost. And the inspiration of works you haven't looked for, just sitting there on the shelf.

I wonder how many new ideas have come from finding a book by chance that you've never heard of before.


4. Price decline thanks to the internet. Curse and blessing of the www.

Today, no business can trade successfully without an internet shop. You can reach the whole world, suddenly you have customers from the furthest corners of the globe who normally wouldn't set foot in a Zurich shop.

It's not only customers who can be reached everywhere on the net. All antiquarian booksellers are also present there with their stocks. And everything is usually available from somewhere. Books from the USA are sometimes still cheaper than in a Swiss shop, despite the postage.

Really rare prints still have their price, of course, but only if they are exceptional and find an international clientele. Even with incubals and manuscripts, according to a French bibliophile association, there has been a massive drop in prices since 1850. And the fact that more and more auction houses are offering only a few books, or none at all, shows the passage of time. Not to speak of second-hand bookshops, which often refuse to collect or accept books at all. Basically, a price destruction has to be stated. Every colleague and a few female colleagues find out their price from what is on offer on the net. What used to be the competence of the dealer and his reference library as a reference for determining the cultural and thus its financial value is now worthless. The "market transparency" is apparently on the net. Anyone can query the "value" of his books and offer them on platforms for private individuals.

It seems that the antiquarian bookseller will soon no longer be needed.


5. Antiquarian book brutality: "Your library is worth nothing".

What some see as a farmer-smart method of the dealer is brutal market reality. Anyone who has compiled a well-kept library over decades will be horrified when the antiquarian bookseller, on the occasion of a viewing, tells him that he will only take a few books and these for free or only very cheaply. Everything else stays - he doesn't want it and, unfortunately, no one else does either. And recently the ERZ of the city of Zurich has been forcing us to separate the book block from the cover for ecological reasons. As a result, I often have to coerce book suppliers into tearing up the books with me if they don't have anything usable to dispose of them.

And yes, the warehouses are full and life is too short.


6. Is there a future for the antiquarian book trade?

If one assumes that the trend will continue as it has in recent years, then one must expect that this profession will soon no longer exist. Or only as an internet dealer without a face. Above all, the area of inexpensive second-hand books, in which most colleagues are active, will be pulverised. And the fact that the academic milieu is buying fewer and fewer books or reading them, let alone building up a library, is another death blow to our wonderful profession. The fact that the beautiful profession of antiquarian bookseller is also not popular is shown by the fact that there are no requests from young people who want to do an apprenticeship in an antiquarian bookshop. Influencer is simply sexier and perhaps also more lucrative. I wonder if antiquarian booksellers are not doing enough advertising for their wonderful profession?


7. Ageing

The age of the colleagues I know is between forty and seventy. Since most of them are one-man businesses, not to mention the few one-woman businesses, there are no successors. It is therefore to be expected that large stocks will come onto the market in the next few years, which will lead to further price collapse. Or they will end up directly in the dump. Donations to libraries in globo are no longer possible. A customer with 2000 Bibles from the 18th century told me how difficult it is to give them to the libraries. Understandably, they only want those titles they do not own. They are not interested in the rest. Another person with 5000 Alpine panoramas has the same problem. If he were to give them to me, I would be totally overwhelmed.

So where to put all the masses?


8. Will there still be book collectors in the future?

I would say definitely. Not only because the book is a wonderful object consisting of design and content, but also because it is still the best storage medium for knowledge. All electronic storage media still have a dubious lifespan. Whether one will still be able to read the hard disk in 500 years is rather unlikely, but the printed book will. 9.


9. Can there be a world without antiquarian bookshops?

Who, if not the antiquarian booksellers, should then separate the important from the unimportant books? This triage will also be necessary in the future if we want to cope with mass production. Of course, every book will probably find a buyer at some point. But since the antiquarian is not only a book lover but also a merchant, he can only hoard books to a limited extent. And there are unfortunately many books that are unsaleable within a reasonable period of time, that simply do not interest anyone at the moment.

10. What next?

The world is changing, professions are disappearing, new ones are being created. It may well be that the profession of antiquarian bookseller will cease to exist in its present form. However, as far as I am concerned, the passion for books and my lexical curiosity still won't let me go. So it's time to continue.

My role model is the Bernese gallery owner Eberhard W. Kornfeld, who recently passed away at the age of almost one hundred. A life centred on his passion and less on money. When I was able to show him a few prints by Dürer last August, I was impressed by his clarity, his competence and his modesty.

I think I'm on the right track.

And after that I don't care about anything. And anyone who says otherwise is lying!





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