In Memoriam Henk Voorn


copyright: Albert Elen, 1994

making paper by hand
during the 1994 congress
in Annonay, France


The IPH has lost its most prominent member Henk Voorn, who died in Arnhem, The Netherlands, on 7 April at the age of 86. He was privately buried in Eindhoven on 11 April in the presence of his elder sister, his two grandsons, his only great-grandchild and a few other relatives and friends. Dr. Henk Porck of the Dutch Royal Library was present at this solemn occasion and spoke in commemoration of Henk Voorn and his great merits in the field of paper history.

Henk Voorn has been an active paper historian since his early years in the paper business. Henk's life story is that of the self-educated man who becomes obsessed with his work and hobby and develops into a universally recognized authority in his field of expertise: the history of papermaking. Born in Amsterdam on 29 September 1921, Henk spent his childhood in the capital and received his education at a local grammar school, followed by trade school. He became involved in paper during his first job at the Firm of H.L. Schuurmans, a representative of foreign paper manufacturers (1937-1942). During World War II he was employed by the State Office for Paper (1942-1946), where he wrote his first report 'Paper during the War' (Papier in den oorlog), which unfortunately remained unpublished.

From its foundation in 1946 Henk was the first editor of the magazine 'Paper World' (Papierwereld). Three years later he made his first large financial investment and became the owner. In the more than 30 years that followed (until 1980 when the periodical was discontinued) he had a fulltime job as a publisher, being himself the most important contributor of articles and news items. At the same time Henk was actively collecting literature, documents and objects related to paperhistory. His home in Haarlem, where he and his wife Marja and little daughter Marianne had moved to in 1952, was also his office, his library, gradually developing into a private museum.

He was a pioneer in Dutch paperhistory, the author of 'The History of the Dutch Paper Industry' (De geschiedenis der Nederlandse papierindustrie), his magnum opus, published in three bulky volumes in 1960, 1973 and 1985. He had received the official commission to write this history from the Association of Dutch Paper Manufacturers in 1954. For this purpose the Foundation for the Research of the History of the Paper Industry in The Netherlands was created, with Henk Voorn as its director.

His vast network of international contacts developed into the International Association of Paper Historians, which was offically founded in Bamberg in 1959. During the third congress in Ambert (1963), Henk was elected the first president, retiring in 1974 and being elected the first honorary president on that occasion. Henk's commitment to our association and all its activities is beyond description. He was as devoted to IPH as he was to paper, acting as the editor of the periodical IPH Information for many years, also making contributions to nearly every issue ('filling the gaps').

In 1971 his collection was acquired by the Dutch Royal Library in The Hague, the national library of the Netherlands. He was at the same time appointed the first curator of the Paper-Historical Collection, one of the library's reserve collections. This acquisition and appointment by a major institution in itself was a recognition of the importance and great merits of Henk Voorn. This recognition was followed by the honour bestowed upon him in 1985, when he was made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau by the Dutch Queen Beatrix.

When he reached the age of 65 Henk was forced to retire as a curator of HIS collection at the Dutch Royal Library, obligatory under Dutch law. I was witness to his farewell and honoured to be his successor, appointed three months before, in order to ensure a smooth transition. On this occasion Henk received a Festschrift titled VOORNamelijk papier ('Primarily Paper'), which contains contributions by - among others - his close friends and paper historians Edo Loeber and Bé van Ginneken-van de Kasteele, who described his life and career. The book also contains a detailed list of Voorn's publications, books and articles alike, numbering almost 200. He remained involved in the activities of the Paper-Historical Collection, always available for assistance and advise, although this gradually diminished during the years of growing older. After his retirement Henk moved east from Leiden to Velp in the province of Gelderland, where, most appropriately, he bought an appartment opposite a historical paper mill site.

Henk's life has known grief and sorrow as well. He lost his wife who died too young in 1980, and later on also his daughter and his son-in-law. In his last years his health was deteriorating and he was forced to move to a nursing home in Arnhem. The last time Henk Voorn was among us was during the IPH Congress in Rome in 2002, which he attended together with his long-time partner Mettha Schreurs. He then already announced that this 25th congress, all of which he had attended - and many supervised as well - would probably the last.

In Henk Voorn we lose a good friend and a great scholar, who will live on in our memories.

Albert J. Elen


copyright: Albert Elen, 1992

Left, from right to left: Henk Voorn with his successors at the Dutch Royal Library, Dr. Albert Elen (1986-1990) and Dr. Henk Porck (1990-) during the Vienna congress in 1992

copyright: Albert Elen, 1990


Right, from right to left: 3rd President Dr. Richard L. Hills (1984-88), 1st President Henk Voorn (1963-74), 4th President Dr. Peter F. Tschudin (1988-98), 2nd President Dr. Hans B. Kälin (1974-84), Vice-President George T. Mandl (1986-97), during the Malmédy congress in 1990