3 x 9 = XXVII: Book Lovers Society – 90

M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art

The XXVII Book Lovers Society (active in 1930–1940) left a bright mark in the cultural life of Lithuania. A meeting of a larger group of bibliophiles chaired by Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas took place on 30 October 1930. The statutes of the society being discussed, a month later, on 26 November, were signed by the founders of the XXVII Book Lovers Society – a bibliographer M. Mašiotaitė-Urbšienė, Vytautas Steponaitis – author of the idea of founding the Lithuanian Bibliophile Society and its title, Paulius Galaunė – the museum co-worker and J.Tumas-Vaižgantas. It was decided to enter 27 members only, to arrange gatherings on the 27th every month, even the final number of the Society’s bank account was 27. Supposingly, the number 27 was chosen according to the then very popular mixture of 27 herbs produced at the Palanga pharmacy. Foreign culture chronicles wrote: “A Society of bibliophiles titled 27 (XXVII) Book Lovers, relating to the national drink “Triple Nines”, was established in Lithuania.

The Society set itself the task of performing immense actions: to foster and develop the liking for a refined book, improve prints and the quality of paper, unify the formats, research the book history, organize exhibitions of the most beautiful books, give lectures to the public, maintain contacts with other similar societies, gather funds for publishing books, etc. Surely, the most essential sphere of the Society’s activities was book publishing. Publications of excellent printing quality received the highest awards in international exhibitions: an illustrated folk tale by Viktoras Petravičius “Swan – King’s Spouse” was awarded the Grand Prix at the World Exhibition of Modern Art and Technology in Paris in 1937, and Jonas Biliūnas’ “Sad Tale“ illustrated by Mečislovas Bulaka received the gold medal award. In 1935 – 1937, two volumes of “XXVII Book Lovers Yearbook” and other significant publications were issued. Copies of all these publications for the members of the Society were numbered in Roman figures. Fifteen members of the Society had their own ex-libris, sometimes even several versions of each.

Jonas Biliūnas’ “Sad Tale“ illustrated by Mečislovas Bulaka

A significant event in the initial period of the Society’s existence became the Exhibition of a Refined Book organized in 1933 in the M. K. Čiurlionis Gallery, which presented Lithuanian books of the 18th – early 19th centuries.

The Society focussed on the history of the Lithuanian press, the book art, bibliophilia; features and the development of Lithuanian printing and publishing houses, rare publications, authorship problems, periodicals of different spans of time were of major importance, as well as the content of the material published in the yearbooks.

The Soviet occupation in 1940 resulted in the abolition of the Society, its assets were scattered: manuscripts were transferred to the Manuscript Department of Kaunas University, 247 books, engravings and their clichés kept in the library – to the Kaunas State Culture Museum, the archive, correspondence, documents, records of meetings – to the Wroblevski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.

The Society was restored on 27 June 1993 after Lithuania regained its Independence, It continued the activities of predecessors. The third volume of the Society’s Yearbook was prepared and published, as well as two pre-war volumes were issued anew as they had become a bibliographic rarity; in 2010 – volume IV, in 2014 – volume V and in 2018 – volume VI were issued. Among the successfully accomplished projects of mention is “Cross-carving in Lithuania” (640 p.) compiled by the former chairman of the Society, academician A. Buračas and ethnographer A. Stravinskas. The publication was presented to the UNESCO leaders and handed over to Pope John Paul II. The book contributed considerably to the fact that this century-old Lithuanian folk tradition was inscribed on the list of intangible cultural heritage of world masterpieces.

Organizers: Kaunas University of Technology, M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art