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Cinema as a new artform: art collector Pieter Sanders’ collection of books on film

In 2018, lawyer and art collector Pieter Sanders (1938 - 2018) donated his collection of books on the history of cinema to Eye Filmmuseum. This collection of books on film which Pieter personally acquired from rare book sellers during his trips abroad aligns with the experimental, multimedia nature of the art collection Sanders and his wife, the politician and administrator Marieke Sanders-ten Holte (1941), curated. Sanders’ book collection is exceptional in multiple ways, and was way ahead of its time.

By Abel van Oosterwijk30 August 2022

The couple had previously donated parts of their extensive collection of contemporary art to the Dutch state and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Marieke continued to donate even after Pieter’s death, including to Teylers Museum and the Rijksmuseum.1910, the most recent to the late 1970s. It was during the former period that, after France and Italy, film industries also sprang up in Germany, the Soviet Union and the United States. Gradually, cinema became accepted as an artform. The exceptional thing about this collection of some 650 books, primarily in German, French and English, is that it constitutes a transnational cinematic history of this eventful period. Eye’s library hereby gains some 250 obscure, yet valuable books on cinema history in multiple languages.

A new industry

It is noteworthy how balanced the ratio between books about film (scripts, film annuals, actor biographies) and books about the industry and technology (equipment history, industry manuals, educational books) are in Sanders’ collection. This demonstrates a wide-ranging interest in film as an art, technology and industry. Sanders’ approach to collecting aligns with the more comprehensive approach that has become popular in recent years at film archives.

Equally remarkable is the high number of works on film stars such as books of photos and collectors’ albums of images of since almost forgotten film stars. The self-help books Screen Acting: Its Requirements and Rewards (1922) by Inez and Helen Klumph, and Breaking Into the Movies (1927, Ed. Charles Reed Jones) even describe what you need to become a famous Hollywood actor or how to break into the industry doing something else. Manuals such as The Art of the Photoplay (1913) by Eustace Hale Ball and Wie schreibt man einen Film? (1937) by Viktor Abel teach readers how to write a film script.

Film technology and amateur cinema

Sanders also collected plenty of international titles on cinema technology.

Technik und Film (1932) by Hermann Grau provides an early glimpse of the technological state of the art in film equipment.

Il fonofilm (1932) by Giuseppe Lega does that in the framework of the then new sound films or ‘talkies’.

Le cinématographe scientifique et industriel (1911) by Jacques Ducom is another very early treatise.

In 1923's Le cinéma à la portée des amateurs Raoul Danot describes what you need to shoot an amateur film as well as how to apply effects such as slow motion yourself.

In this regard, another very special item in Sanders’ collection is a distribution catalogue for the home cinema projector Pathé Baby. This projector, that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, allowed people to screen 9.5mm (amateur)films, a breakthrough in home cinema.

It is unusual that Sanders included the 1930’s distribution catalogue (featuring films on travel, nature as well as comedy and drama) in his collection. After all, such catalogues were intended for disposal after perusal and this currently lends it considerable cultural-historical value.

The collector’s importance

Sanders’ book collection is special in several ways and was far ahead of its time: not only did Sanders have a transnational take on collecting, he also did justice to multiple facets of cinema. Eye benefits immensely from such donations as the film museum is largely dependent on fanatical collectors like Sanders for the film-historical depth of its book collection. They provide the substrate that researchers and makers base their knowledge of cinema history on. Collectors’ interests and drives lead to treasures in Eye’s collection.