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Isidoor Berkelouw (1913–1987)

by David Levine

This article was published:

Isidoor Berkelouw (1913-1987), book-dealer, was born on 17 April 1913 at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, youngest of four children of Hartog Carel Berkelouw, bookseller, and his wife Henriette, née Engelsman. Isidoor entered his father’s book-dealing business as an apprentice aged 19. The family enterprise had been established in 1812 by his great-grandfather Solomon Berkelouw, who carried his stock in a jute bag slung over his shoulder. Hartog opened a shop at Schoolstraat, for which Isidoor travelled (1931-36) through the Netherlands as a representative and buyer. On 7 July 1936 he married Francina Johanna Koet in Leiden. He worked in London in 1938-39, before returning to the Netherlands. World War II was catastrophic for the Berkelouw family. Their Rotterdam store was destroyed by bombs in May 1940. The business was re-established in that city for a short time and then in The Hague, only to be confiscated in 1942 by the occupying power. Isidoor’s parents, sister and one brother perished in the Holocaust but he escaped from prison. On the liberation of Europe, he opened premises in Amsterdam for bookselling and auctions.

In 1948 Berkelouw decided on Australia as the land for his family’s future, arriving in Sydney in March with Francina and their three children. Initially he was engaged in the clothing industry as a director of Leo’s Store Pty Ltd, later called Leo’s of London. Berkelouw was naturalised in 1955. In September 1950 he had issued from his home in Roseville his first Australian book list of thirty-one items. He opened a bookstore at 38 King Street in the city and held auctions there; in 1957 he moved to 114 King Street. After the redevelopment of that site in 1972, he conducted the business from Rushcutters Bay.

Berkelouw established himself as the pre-eminent dealer in rare, antiquarian and second-hand books in Australia. In 1949 he was the only member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (International) listed as living in Australia. The press turned to him for comment on the book trade and matters of related interest. In November 1960 he scored a coup with his acquisition at auction of papers and manuscripts of Miles Franklin: `Going . . . Going . . . Gone—To Mr. B. Again! ’, headlined the Daily Telegraph. That collection was the subject of catalogue 47 issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the firm; one of Australia’s leading bookmen, Walter Stone, contributed historical and bibliographical notes.

Bringing with him a profound knowledge of the book trade rooted in the European tradition, Berkelouw recognised on his arrival in Australia that there was a market for technical publications. Libraries, universities and other institutions acquired many components of their collection from him. He was an astute businessman (`you can’t make a living by selling bargains’) whose high standards, in terms of the quality of his stock and an efficient cataloguing system, won him the respect and admiration of fellow traders. Especially did he enjoy the loyalty and good will of bibliophiles and collectors. These responses were founded not merely in his engaging charm (he was a handsome man who even smoked with style) but also in his personalised conduct of that special trade in the most civilising of products.

In 1976 Berkelouw retired to the United States of America, first to Honolulu and then to Los Angeles, California. Yet he still worked, travelling with Francina throughout America and Europe seeking material for the Australian market. Francina died in 1981 and Isidoor’s son Henry decided to join his father in Los Angeles. From 1977 his other son, Leo, operated the business at Bendooley, a historic house near Berrima. Isidoor’s only daughter, Francis Haymes, independently established a bookshop in Woollahra, Sydney, which was owned and managed by her son Sam after her death in 1986. Isidoor Berkelouw died on 24 November 1987 at his home in Santa Monica and was cremated. The business of Messrs Berkelouw continued, conducted by the fifth and sixth generations of the family.

Select Bibliography

  • Miles Franklin’s Manuscripts and Type-scripts [1962]
  • The Golden Age of Booksellers (1981)
  • D. Levine, The Isidoor Berkelouw Memorial Address (1989)
  • Bulletin, 9 Feb 1963, p 17
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Nov 1965, p 6
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 28 Nov 1971, p 116
  • Australian Financial Review, 17 Dec 1987, p 28.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Levine, 'Berkelouw, Isidoor (1913–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 April, 1913
Rotterdam, Netherlands


24 November, 1987 (aged 74)
Santa Monica, California, United States of America

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