AE Monthly

Articles - January - 2013 Issue

The Curiosity Sale: Drouot, December 19, 2012

Thpic 5

pic. 5* - a book of numbers.

“I love books with a story, continued the expert while exhibiting one of the most curious books I’ve ever seen. Take this one, for instance. Isn’t it weird ?” Indeed. What a... a book ? Yes. A very, very strong in-4° volume bound in full contemporary leather, with some 2000 pages (pic 5). On each one, a hand-written Roman number and... and that’s it. The numbers, not so steadily drawn, occupy the middles of the virgin pages. “Did you notice the inscriptions on the end-page ?” asked Mr. Forgeot. Yes, I had. It reads : “ Searched and verified, 1745 ” - written several times and signed. “This is the mark of the police, said the expert, who certainly checked the book to make sure no one was cheating on people with it. Thus we can assume that it was used by some pedlar. People would probably pick up a number, betting money on it, then the book owner would open it, just like a lottery. Look at the title given to the book : Divertissement de princes et seigneurs de la cour française (Entertainment of princes and lords of the French court). It is so ironic, full of popular wittiness – you even have some false royal coat of arms on the boards ! This book is full of life.” It was sold for 6,500 euros.

The universe of old books is full of mysteries, prophecies and alchemists’ boiling bottles. The art of disguise is thus very appreciated amongst bibliophilists. The sale offered some classical “book boxes”, of course - but also some less expected tricky books. Once upon a time a Russian publisher put out an edition of the Tales of Grimm. He enclosed half a dozen of in-4° engravings. Nothing special... until the magic operates. Put the meanest mother-in-law ever in front of a candlelight and the portrait of Snow White suddenly appears in the magic mirror, Ô mirror !, in front of her. As the Prince Charming rides through the wilderness of the forest, the castle of Sleeping Beauty materializes in the background. Etc, etc. “These six plates date from 1882. They probably painted the full scene before covering the hidden parts with a thin layer of painting,” said Benoît Forgeot. It was one of the “nice surprises of the sale”, as it went for 2,500 euros while estimated between 800 and 1,200 euros. 

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