Some Americans in Paris - Our Trip to the Paris Book Fair 2009
By Kate Fultz Hollis
We went to the Grand Palais this June to enjoy the fair, buy some books and see old and new friends. The Grand Palais near the Arc de Triomphe is very spacious compared to the previous location of the fair at the Maison de la Mutualité in the Latin Quarter. There were many French dealers of course, but there seemed to be fewer dealers from other countries this year as compared to a few years before.
According to the Salon du Livre Ancien de Paris website, the Syndicat National de la Librairie Ancienne et Moderne (SLAM) in June 1984, on the initiative of its President Jeanne Laffitte, organized the first International Antiquarian Book Fair in Paris, at the Conciergerie (west of the Île de la Cité, near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame). In this historic location (once prison to Marie-Antoinette), the book fair was very successful, and every two years, booksellers from around the world began to make Paris a regular destination to exhibit a wide range of precious works. In 1993, the Fair moved to the Maison de la Mutualité and in 1995 the Fair became an annual event.
Since April 2007, the glass-domed Grand Palais has been host to the Antiquarian Book Fair in conjunction with the Original Print Fair. This magnificent setting provides a unique occasion to become known to a wide public and makes this show an exceptional cultural event.
The Grand Palais was as beautiful as everyone said it was and a very spacious place to walk around and search for books and manuscripts. There were several dealers who positioned themselves in the middle of the fair and they had fancy parties on opening night with beautiful displays of their books. However, a few people I spoke with said that those booths were not as good for searching for particular books as the smaller booths seemed to be more hospitable to casual browsing. Not being a collector myself I found it easier to browse at the smaller booths than the bigger, fancier ones (although the snacks at the big booths looked very good). However, no matter the booth big or small, the dealers were all extremely cordial and the amazing variety of earlier French and European material was wonderful to see.
This year the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec (BAnQ) had a big booth to show their Canadian national treasures in books and manuscripts. BAnQ is the most important cultural institution in Quebec, both in terms of its size and in the diversity of its activities and regional presence.
There were also several booths with materials about bookseller associations, and a very nice portion of the ILAB booth was dedicated to information about antiquarian books for the beginning collector. There was also a lovely print fair in one wing of the Grand Palais, and the Petit Palais had a fascinating exhibit on the drawings of William Blake.
As in the U.S., the book fair days sometime drag on more than you might want, but we had a good time at the fair because who doesn’t have a good time in Paris?
At the Paris LILA book fair at the Grand Palais in June, there were only seven dealers from the U.S. If one includes the two from Canada, one from Brazil and one from Argentina, there were only twelve from the entire American continent. Only one California dealer Ben Kinmont exhibited. I was, near as I can tell, the only visitor from the California book trade. I saw only one or two other visiting American dealers.
Aside from the very obvious reasons for going to Paris, the Paris book fair is an excellent fair to attend. It attracts a wide range of superb dealers with an astounding number of books that are very saleable in the U.S. For decades, American collectors and institutions have bought books at this fair on exploration in Canada, the Caribbean and territories within the present U.S.; books that recount important relations with the fledgling United States; historic books on philosophy, and political thought, literature from long before Voltaire to Sartre; glorious illustrated books from the renaissance to Livres d’Artistes which far surpass those of any other country in Europe; and books on fashion and costume, cuisines and wines, art and design. Not only the books but also the booksellers are excellent. Traveling to the Paris book fair is an effective way to meet dealers in person to establish better relations in ways that do not exist by mail, email, telephone. It is also the only way to see the wide variety of French books, their scarcity or commonality, their condition and values.
While I am writing of Paris and the Paris Book Fair, the same factors can apply in any large city from Amsterdam to Zanzibar. While not every bookseller in this country has a desire to deal with Continental books, the new realities of the out-of-print and rare book trade have greatly increased world book trade. The rare books world in general has spread around most of the globe within a short decade. Vialibri.com indexes 18 different databases, including those originating in Germany, France, Spain; Addall.com indexes 23 including those from Australia and New Zealand.
However, from the poor American turnout in Paris and also in London, not to mention the less well-known book fair venues of Milan, Amsterdam, Berlin, Hong Kong, and Tokyo it seems apparent that dealers in the U.S. are no longer part of the international book trade in any definable way.
If the out-of-print/rare book business continues on its present course, within another decade or two, databases will be available from Japan and China, from Russia and India, from South America, and North Africa, all with their millions of books online and their descriptions instantly translatable into rough English or whatever language one wishes through the advanced translation services.
Booksellers from abroad will continue to export heavily to this country. They will be studiously searching the library catalogues of U.S. research institutions and then joining the landing patterns of the flock of European dealers who already make the rounds of our rare book libraries and our book fairs. It is not clear how American dealers will import books from abroad. Sure we can buy them, hit or miss, on the web or wait for dealer’s catalogues, but we must go abroad as well. My 30 years in the book trade have convinced me that personal contact both in buying and selling is essential to success. Nothing in the virtual world has swayed this belief.
In the future, U.S. booksellers and those from the rest of the Continent will be able to buy books ancient and modern from throughout the world. Since we are a nation made up of immigrants, perhaps booksellers in the future will be offering books from China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Ghana, Nigeria, the former South Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines to name just a handful of nations whose citizens have recently immigrated to the U.S. While books from these countries will be found on the Internet, smart booksellers will travel to visit the book trades in their respective countries, portmanteau in hand. This is the way books have been bought and sold since the time of Alexandria and Rome.
The article was published in the ABAA Newsletter 2 (2009), and is presented here by permission of the authors and the ABAA. Thank you very much.
XXI. Salon International du Livre Ancien
16th to 18th April, 2010
Grand Palais, Paris
La Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de médecine (BIUM): invitée d'honneur du Salon International du Livre Ancien 2010 - An interview with library director Guy Cobolet, by Anne-Marie Coulon
Fréderic Castaing and Alain Nicolas show the high spots of the Salon International du Livre Ancien 2009
Le rendez-vous culturel de l’été 2009 – Official press releases
Jean-Pierre Fouques about the Paris Antiquarian Book Fair 2008 – from the ILAB Newsletter 60 (2008)