AE Monthly

Articles - December - 2006 Issue

Livres Precieux

Columbus.letter

At the gates of heaven God will ask, Did you bring it?


By Bruce McKinney

The purpose of book catalogues is to sell books. In the modern era there have never been more books and fewer catalogues because the world has moved on to bigger and worse things. The net is amazing but it doesn't yet convey the significance of material as effectively as catalogues, the endangered species of the book business. In the real world clams, snails, insects, arachnids and crustaceans all have their advocates and their places on the endangered species list. But where if not here can a voice be raised in support of the time honored printed declaration of a book's significance and value. Catalogues offer the opportunity to present unified perspective on a subject be it 19th century fiction, letters of the American Revolution or the literature of Shakespeare. For the collector the focused catalogue is a tour of specific territory complete with headliners, showstoppers and sideshows. It's a way to inhabit a subject and to ultimately want to own it.

There are in fact many exceptional cataloguers today and we review many of their efforts in AE Monthly. We celebrate all catalogues as the fundamental efforts that support and sustain book collecting. But truth be told we don't see efforts of this magnitude often and so it's appropriate to recognize it as an exceptional example.

One of the great practitioners of the cataloguing arts has issued what is becoming an annual catalogue of Livres Precieux. This is of course Bernard & Stephane Clavreuil who conducts their business as Libraire Thomas-Scheler at 19, rue de Tournon in Paris. In issuing this catalogue they overcomes three hurtles: material, clients and will. Recently there has been some discussion of resurgence in the issuance of catalogues and we'll hope this trend is both real and enduring. In the meantime we celebrate this exceptional effort which is too rare today.

Livres Precieux is not strictly a catalogue. It's a book of 149 pages, a bibliography, history and sales document: a permanent record. Each item is entombed in open space, the 56 co-conspirators tastefully separated, an orphanage of star pupils all hoping for a good home, all aware they are the privileged. Future auction houses will reference its 56 items and descriptions and the prices paid will be higher as a consequence.

Shall we start with Colomb? This for those who need to ask Colomb is Columbus whose name crowns cities and towns and even circles if you live in New York City. This is the first printed notice of the New World, an eight page pamphlet that carried news to transform our understanding of the world. This is of course a Columbus Letter and this is the Roman version printed by Stephan Planck in 1493.

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