Irma Boom: SHV 1896-1996

Irma Boom

This eleven-centimetre-thick book, which runs to 2,136 unnumbered pages, created a sensation when it was published in 1996. To this very day young typographers come to the museum to have a look at the book weighing 3.5 kilos. This is on account of the typographical tours de force involved in its manufacture: laser print, perforations, complex raster imaging and other creations seldom manifested in books.

Surely this book is the most expensive anniversary volume ever published. On the occasion of the centenary of the Steenkolen Handels-Vereeniging (SHV) [Coal Trading Association] Paul Fentener van Vlissingen (1941-2006) commissioned designer Irma Boom and art historian Johan Pijnappel to make a book that would reflect the motto of this family business – ‘Look for the unusual’. They worked for well over five years on this anniversary volume, which eventually cost about 1.3 million Euros.

For the interior special paper was made that will last for centuries. A steel plate was attached to the hollow spine, reflecting the years 1896 and 1996 on the book-block in such a way that it reads like ‘2096’ (‘as if, with its hundred-year-old history, the book itself holds a mirror up to the coming century’). On the edge of the book, which contains eight bookmarks, a tulip field is printed which changes to a poem by Gerrit Achterberg (De Bolero van Ravel) as the pages turn. The printer, Rosbeek in Nuth, had to stop all other work for three months in order to print this book.

It was published in two editions: a Dutch edition in white (4,000 copies) and a Chinese edition in black (500 copies). The Chinese edition is black because white denotes the colour of death in Chinese culture.

Huis van het boek is one of the few institutions in the Netherlands to own both editions. In fact, the title of the anniversary volume cannot be seen on either of the copies, because it is only when the book is used intensively that three letters appear: SHV.