Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2013 Issue

Strictly Morocco!: Portrait of a reasonable collector

Wolfi2

Les Contes de la Fontain.

Mr. Wolfi hardly ventures beyond the 18th century but makes an exception for his favorite binder, Bozerian. He loves mosaic bindings, bindings “à la fanfare”, etc. but is not that keen on coats of arms he judges “too impersonal”. According to him, a prestigious provenance means a book coming from the bookshelf of a famous book collector such as Beckford or the Duke de La Valière. Mr. Wolfi is a meticulous man who has read a lot of old booksellers’ catalogues; that’s where he spotted the must-have editions. When mentioning the Khel edition of Voltaire’s works, he means a full morocco bound copy, with the figures bound “avant la lettre” (before the numbers of the pages were indicated on the engravings) – the top one. As far as his copy of La Fontaine’s Les Contes is concerned, it is the 1762 edition, in two in-8° volumes, “one of the 10 or 20 copies bound in reliures de présent”, he precises. Full morocco? Come on, of course... bound by Derome le jeune with Mr. Gravelot’s irons. An exceptional copy. On his bookshelf also lies a fantastic copy of La Fontaine’s Les Fables. It is composed of four in-folio volumes bound in contemporary red morocco. "One of the 100 copies printed on grand papier from Holland," proudly underlines Mr. Wolfi. "The margins are 500 mm high.” His almost incredible copy of Chardelos de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses is so clean, it looks like it was printed and bound yesterday. “These two in-8° volumes are hard to find in that kind of binding – the post-Revolution period was not the best one for bindings. This one is signed Bozerian, and the book was printed on vellum paper.” Another book that took Mr. Wolfi some time to find is Don Quichote by Cervantès, the quarto edition of 1746, illustrated with plates “avant la lettre”. No room for mediocrity on this bookshelf.

Mr.Wolfi loves to glance through his treasures, but he does not read them. “I download Gallica’s scanned copies”, he says. To read an old book always damages it to some extent and Mr. Wolfi is obsessed by preservation. He talks about his treasures in a casual way, making reason the card by applying strict, almost mathematical, rules to his passion. But the latter remains the gale that moves him. As a matter of fact, it has taken him into a slightly different direction, lately, and Mr. Wolfi seems to enjoy the excitement of the hunt more than the taste of the game. He loves tracking down the perfect morocco at the perfect price all around the world. “I have recently bought an original edition of Helvetius’ De l’Homme in an American sale at a derisory price!” Denmark, England, France... Mr. Wolfi leaves 10 orders to win one book. He also buys from professional booksellers at times, and even from eBay, where he says he has found a couple of very nice books. Nonetheless, Mr. Wolfi is still looking for his Grail : a copy of Voltaire’s Contes et Nouvelles from 1778... in full morocco, of course. “Voltaire’s contes were not that prized at the time, they were rarely bound in morocco.” 

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