The Curiosity Sale: Drouot, December 19, 2012

- by Thibault Ehrengardt

Thpic 1

pic 1* - book/toilet seat.

Peculiar might be the most relevant adjective to qualify the items of the sale that took place in Drouot on December the 19th. Set up by the prestigious auction house Pierre Bergé & Associés and entitled Fantaisies & Curiosités autour du livre (fantasies and curiosities around books), it gathered 121 items more or less linked to books, and the art of printing. The expert for the sale, Benoît Forgeot, made it clear : “We’re at the heart of bibliophilism. All these items, from the decks of cards from the 19th century to the portable globes, are closely linked to the world of books.”

As I was looking at a curiosity in the exposition room of Drouot, sat beside me one of the most respected booksellers of Paris, Mr. Chamonal. A joyful and energetic man, Mr. Chamonal confirmed the point of view of his friend and colleague Mr. Forgeot : “ Oh yes, this is pure bibliophilism, no doubt about it. These objects might not directly “serve” a great text but they have always been sold by booksellers, not by antiquarians. Even the portable toilets hidden in the folio volume bound in full leather over there...” Yes, you read it correctly. The huge book, once open, transforms itself into a toilet seat (pic.1). “ Of course, said Mr. Chamonal, a bowl was put under the seat to, well – for obvious reasons. From what I’ve come to understand, it was used in the upper floors of a castle. To be honest, this is the only specimen I’ve ever come across.”

Mr. Chamonal has come across a lot of things, as far as bibliophilism is concerned. As a matter of fact, he had already seen the totality of the items of this sale. “I put this catalogue together myself, he said. It took me more than ten years to collect all these objects.” It only took a few hours for Jean-Paul Morin, a well-known collector, to buy them at once a few years ago. “ When I printed the catalogue, explained Mr. Chamonal, Mr. Morin called me to let me know he wanted to buy every item featured in it.” Looks like Mr Morin got tired of his toys, after all – he recently decided to sell them back. Bibliophilism being a small world, Mr. Chamonal decided to buy back a few of them. “ Maybe one or two”, he smiled. It is always interesting to pay attention to the books Mr. Chamonal or any other great bookseller observes before a sale. The last time I had seen him looking at what seemed to be a rather ordinary book from a catalogue, it sold for several thousands euros above the appraisal.