Founded in 1883
“Speedy and sound execution of all orders” – this is the promise Hermann Gilhofer made to his customers in the opening advertisement for his bookshop, which opened in the heart of Vienna, at the corner of Bognergasse and Tuchlauben, in the summer of 1883. Little over a year later, on 1 October 1884, Heinrich Ranschburg joined as a partner, and the company was subsequently known as “Gilhofer & Ranschburg”. It was Ranschburg who expanded the business’s range to include old and rare books and who thus laid the foundation for a company that within less than a decade was to become one of the principal concerns of its kind on the continent.
The golden age: fin de siècle to 1920s
When the founder Hermann Gilhofer retired from the business in 1903, Heinrich Ranschburg had already succeeded in earning it worldwide renown – through his strong-willed and at once gentlemanly leadership, but more particularly with his book and art auctions which drew customers from all over the world to Vienna.
By 1912 Gilhofer & Ranschburg had issued 102 stock catalogues and 99 occasional shortlists; 35 auctions had been held, including those of the Trau, Metternich, and Schreiber collections. The next decade was to see the famous sales of the Albertina duplicates, the Prince Dietrichstein collections, and the auctions of most of the books from the libraries of Tsarina Catherine II and Tsars Nicholas I and Alexander, as well as the complete collection of miniatures from Tsarskoye Selo.
At the time, the company’s stock comprised some 300,000 books, 100,000 engravings and lithographs, and 25,000 autographs. To maintain these stock levels, Ranschburg personally attended all important auctions in London, Paris, Leipzig, and Munich.
After Ranschburg's death in 1914 and the resignation of Ignaz Schwarz, who had been acting manager since 1902, the legendary Ernst Philipp Goldschmidt and Wilhelm H. Schab took over the reins.
In 1926 Gilhofer & Ranschburg was made sole agent for the sale of the Gutenberg Bible owned by the Benedictine monastery of St Paul in the Carinthian Lavant Valley. After a consortium of investors had been formed, the Bible was sold – through the intermediation of the industrialist and collector Otto H. F. Vollbehr – to the Library of Congress in 1930. This finest of the 48 known copies of the world’s probably most sought-after book is now on permanent display in the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building.
1938: National Socialist Annexation of Austria and aryanization
The events of the year 1938 cut short the company’s previous success story. Under the new laws imposed by the National Socialist rulers, Wilhelm Schab and Otto Ranschburg (Heinrich’s son, who had taken Goldschmidt’s place) were forced to abandon their business. Schab entered into negotiations with his Munich colleague Hans W. Taueber. After the sale was completed, Schab emigrated to New York, where he founded a bookshop under his own name, later to be headed by his son. Otto Ranschburg, too, escaped to New York, where he was to take over the well-known business Lathrop C. Harper in 1951.
Post-war period and restitution
After the War the previous owners filed restitution claims, and the business was placed under public administration in 1947, with Friedrich Hoffmann acting as temporary manager. On 8 April 1949 the restitution commission ruled that the business, now registered as the limited partnership “Gilhofer KG”, was to be restored to its rightful owners, William H. Schab and the heirs of Heinrich Ranschburg. A final agreement was subsequently reached between Taeuber, Schab, and Ranschburg’s heirs, in the course of which the ownership structure of Gilhofer KG was changed again. In 1952, catalogue no. 292 (“Zoology and Botany”) concluded the first series of catalogues, which had been consecutively numbered since the company’s foundation nearly seventy years earlier.
When Rudolf Hoffmann joined Gilhofer in 1958, the company managed once more to live up to its reputation of old. He would become sole proprietor in 1988. Due to Hoffmann’s tireless travelling and his exploration of new buying opportunities, Gilhofer again became a recognized name on the international market, and the company’s position as the trade’s principal concern in Vienna was firmly established.
Gilhofer celebrated its centenary in 1983, and at least in Vienna the company was once more a household name. The anniversary’s correspondence alone takes up three archive folders. Among the congratulators were the international trade’s foremost dealers and the heads of the great libraries, as well as numerous private collectors and longtime friends. One of the latter was the 83-year-old Otto Ranschburg, who on 20 September 1983 sent his “dear friends” in Vienna his “very best wishes and congratulations”.
2005: Inlibris Gilhofer Nfg.
In 2004/05 the tradition-steeped business was taken over by Inlibris, a fellow rare book and autograph company founded by Hugo Wetscherek in 1993. Wetscherek, who had trained at Christian M. Nebehay’s Vienna gallery and rare bookshop, continued Gilhofer’s success story, selling important archives such as the estate of Kafka’s friend Robert Klopstock and of the theatre director Max Reinhardt, collections like the last great privately owned Wittgenstein manuscripts, and several eminent autograph letters by Martin Luther. In 2017, at Vienna's Dorotheum, the company won the most expensive book ever knocked down at an Austrian auction – an occasion noted even by the international media.
Active in the Middle East for more than a decade, Inlibris Gilhofer Nfg. today counts among their customers some of the principal museums and national libraries in the Arabian Peninsula. The company’s business involvement in China has resulted in the sale of the most substantial Karl Marx manuscript in private hands: it commanded the highest price ever paid for a non-musical autograph manuscript, more than doubling the record previously held by the manuscript of Kafka’s Process.
Moving forward ... with friends
From the very beginning Inlibris has actively sought to cooperate not only with their customers, but also with their fellows in the trade. We take pride in having partnered with friends for some of our most ambitious and successful ventures.
For more than 25 years we have been collaborating on various fronts with Kotte Autographs, based at Rosshaupten, Germany. One of our most recent joint ventures was the luxurious rooftop showroom set up above our long-standing office quarters, where outstanding items are presented in a regularly changing exhibition – a logical step after our having jointly exhibited at most fairs in the Western world for nearly two decades.
Our Middle Eastern fairs and adventures are traditionally shared with Antiquaariat Forum in the Netherlands, who – like other colleagues – decided to partner with us for certain acquisitions. Sourcing and sharing exciting opportunities also put us in touch with another Dutch dealer, now long a partner and friend, Konstantinopel Rare Books.
To better support customers and simplify business processes on three continents, Inlibris now has additional registered branches in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. While Inlibris LLC in New York was set up as an independent company as early as 2013, our offices and showroom in Sharjah were founded in 2017 as Inlibris FZE, a 100% subsidiary of Inlibris GmbH, Vienna.