Fore-edge painting was a well-known way to hide things in a book. “A machine would wring the pages in a certain way, explained Mr. Chamonal, before the artist painted the edge of the book. Then, they gilded the edge and let the pages come back to their original place. At the end of the day, when you look at it casually, you can not see anything. But when you twist the pages to put them in the right position... here you go !” Lord ! This delightful edition of The Adventures of Gil Blas (London, 1836 – pic 6), was in fact silently sheltering several erotic drawings. A naked musician with his instrument in the open, playing music for a light muse ; another one, lying on a sofa, introducing his art to a young girl ? “Well..., smiled Mr. Forgeot. Edge-paintings were quite common in England. But it is extremely rare to find some erotic scenes.” These exploits moderately impressed the potential buyers, as the copy went for 1,500 euros, “ a pretty good deal... for the buyer”, said Mr. Forgeot.
I had come under disguise too, as I have always been very skeptical about bibliophilism curiosities. “ Books ” with no text just hardly make sense to me – apart a “non-written” book by Laurence Sterne, maybe ? Nevertheless, I’ve seen more rarities in a couple of hours than I had seen in my entire life : chimney screens featuring some engravings, animated images, puzzles... even a “paper theatre”. And I must confess to my confusion that I’ve been amused, surprised and sometimes touched by these peculiar testimonies of what books, or printing, have inspired men over the centuries. I was not the only one, as the sale brought back 280,000 euros for a total estimation of 200,000 euros. Nevertheless, I was not contaminated enough to buy anything, thank God. But every time I pass by the bakery at the end of my street, I think of the – alas! – bygone days when kids had to read some rude poems by Mr. de Montreuil before eating candies. And I do remember this small in-16 volume, wishing I could taste this literary honey straight from the honeypot.
*Photographs (c) Stéphane Briolant et Art Digital Studio / Courtesy of Pierre Bergé & Associés.