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Athenaeum Boekhandel & Nieuwscentrum, Amsterdam. A palace of printed paper devoted to its independent roots

Glancing at what seems to be an infinite abyss of books, one feels that the structure holds every title ever published and can expand at will to host even more

Athenaeum Boekhandel & Nieuwscentrum in Amterdam

In Amsterdam’s historic square and weekly book market venue het Spui, a statue of a street boy guards the entrance of Athenaeum Boekhandel & Nieuwscentrum. The white facade of a Dutch Baroque building towers over the modern finish of the ground floor. Under its red and white awnings, illuminated windows reveal a tessellation of book covers and low stands bear arranged piles of magazines. Inside, tall black shelves brimming with books line the three floors of the bookstore and elongate into island displays. They create nooks and aisles with a labyrinthine quality to them.

Customers in search of a particular genre can trust LED-illuminated signs on top of the shelves to help them navigate the rooms with a sense of purpose and direction. Or they can wander through the spellbinding patchwork of book covers, guided by curiosity. Diversity and richness are the keywords in this space. Avant-garde indie zines and children’s books cohabit with ancient embellished editions of classic novels. Glancing up and down the stairs – to an apparent infinity of walls and displays crowded with books and tomes – one feels the bookstore holds every title ever published and can expand in space at will to host even more.

Historical background

Athenaeum was founded in 1966 by renowned publishers Johan Polad and Rob van Gennep in a former artwork store. Three years later, the store underwent an expansion by creating the Newscentre and broadening its offer to newspapers and magazines. The publishing house Polak & Van Gennep Uitgeversmaatschappij eventually split off from the bookstore and merged with Uitgeverij Querido, but that did not discourage Athenaeum Boekhandel & Nieuwscentrum from continuing on its path of development and enrichment.

In 1976, Athenaeum proved that its growing success and clientele did not make it forget its original nature of independent enterprise. It, therefore, decided to rescale its structure. For this reason, it turned into a private company by offering co-ownership to the staff. It also went on to further build its presence in the editorial panorama.

Athenaeum is now one of the largest independent bookstores in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. It counts, in fact, six branches, each with its particular assortment of titles and publications. It also features an online shop with more than ten million titles. Book reviews, podcasts and articles represent its daily offer. The joint catalogue ranges from Dutch authors to foreign and ancient languages, from academic texts about history, politics, classics, to independent magazines on current affairs, design, art, fashion, and cooking.

Het Spui Amsterdam. Image Molendijk, Bart / Anefo, Nationaal Archief

Lampoon review: Athenaeum Boekhandel & Nieuwscentrum extending its reach to international titles and editors

In 2018, the bookstore knocked down the walls that separated it from the adjacent newsstand and incorporated it. Nowadays, it stocks its kiosk to the brim with cutting-edge publications and international newspapers. Thus completing its latest expansion into the universe of publications.

While extending its reach to international titles and editors, Athenaeum takes pride in its Amsterdammer roots. «Amsterdammers buy their books in an Amsterdammer bookshop, either in store or online», declares its website, signaling allegiance to the empowering initiative it created with bookstore Scheltema involving twenty-one other local bookshops.

But Athenaeum does not reserve its devotion to its fellow citizens only. It also offers a welcoming space for international literature lovers, intellectuals, art and design students, aspiring novelists, curious tourists and inspiration seekers. Athenaeum does not forget its origins either. It remains, in fact, actively involved in the independent publishing panorama. It regularly hosts launch events and Q&A’s. The aim is to promote emerging editors and to offer a behind the scenes’ view of the editorial world. Over time, Athenaeum has gained the reputation of veritable palace of printed paper. It features a steady expansion in offer and space and an increasing connections and trust with independent editors and publishers

Athenaeum Boekhandel & Nieuwscentrum  

Spui 14-16, 1012 XA Amsterdam, Netherlands
Athenaeum Boekhandel & Nieuwscentrum stocks one of the largest magazine collections of the Netherlands.

Giulia Giudici

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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