2 - Papiers dominotés
As I was passing through the alleys of the Salon, I was suddenly attracted to the quiet stand of the Italian bookseller Giuseppe Solmi, where some wonderful sheets of coloured papers were hanging from a wire just like drying clothes. They were composed of small repetitive geometric forms or drawings. “These are 'papiers dominotés', or paste papers (or wood-block papers), they were sometimes used as end-papers”, Mr Solmi told me as proudly as if speaking about his own children. And he sure loves his paste papers. The way he talks about them, touches them and looks for your approval while exhibiting them say it all... These types of papers were first used to cover up objects or even as wall papers but in the late 17th century, it became quite fashionable to use them as paper boards or even end-papers. The cheapest ones ended up covering peddling books while the nicest ones were used as end-papers in full-morocco bindings. Some are quite common, like the golden stars, others are more original. “They would print a first set of designs with wood-blocks,” the bookseller said, “then print another one upon it, with a different ink. They could do it three or four times, each time making sure the design would match the previous ones.” This is a work of precision. “People who are looking for these items are not necessarily the same who buy books. There is a very specific market. Look at this one!” He unfolded a magnificent in-folio piece of paper with golden flowers printed on it. “This is not gold, as you know - it would have been way too expensive. This is copper.” The result is still beautiful. According to Mr Solmi, the best end-papers were printed in Germany and their current price varies from 100 euros to 1,000 euros a sheet. As far as books are concerned, I still put the contents above all – no matter the binding, the rarity nor the end-papers. If I can not enjoy my reading, it is pointless to me. I must confess, though, that I found it quite hard to resist the magic of these “papiers dominotés”.
3 - Modern binding, contemporary calf
The Parisian Hérodote bookshop specializes in travel books. No wonder they offered two sets of Captain Cook’s voyages. The first one, a regular first French edition, was composed of 14 volumes in a contemporary binding and in great condition. This book remains as powerful as ever, with its magnificent engravings and yet-to-be-matched contents. Nevertheless, this copy was an ordinary one compared to the second one... The binding was attractive but somehow peculiar. From where I was standing, I found it hard to determine whether it was contemporary or not. Mr. Olivier was spying at me from a distance – he enjoyed my confusion for awhile but eventually came to rescue me. He spoke with excitement : “Beautiful, isn’t it ? This is the first English edition of Cook’s travels – except for the third one with its in-folio Atlas. It was bound by the English master binder Aquarius in the 1970s”. He stopped there, smiling. I was still glaring at the glittering gildings. Something was puzzling here. “The leather, maybe?” asked the joyful bookseller. “Hum, yes... what about it?” “It is a contemporary Russia leather, from the 18th century. Unusual, isn’t it ?”