Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2013 Issue

A Casual Tour through the Salon du Livre in Paris


Cook's Voyages.

Indeed. Now, this book has quite an amazing story : In 1786, the Die Frau Metta Catherina brigantine left St. Petersbourg with a cargo of hemp and leather. The latter was no ordinary leather, but Russia leather its typical crosshatched grain, tanned with willow bark and curried with birch oil – what the New York Times magazine calls “a top-of-the-line luxury.” This leather was renown for its unique perfume, its resistance to water and, as it seems, for being insect-repellent. Captain Twedt who was the skipper of the Die Frau Metta Catherina back in 1786, was aiming to Genoa. But he never went beyond Plymouth Sound. Torn from her anchorage by a sudden storm, the Metta Catherina eventually sank to a depth of about 100 feet. “The vessel and cargo entirely lost, read a contemporary article; crew saved.” The cargo, including rolls of Russia leather, quietly remained underwater for the following 187 years, until some members of a local diving club discovered the ship. Brought to the surface, the rolls of leather proved to be somehow well preserved. Mr. Brown, who happened to commercialize them, stated : ''The hides on the outer edges of the rolls, as well as others that were disturbed as the vessel sank, had all deteriorated badly. The inner hides in most of the rolls were in a remarkable state of preservation, protected by the layers of thick mud that covered everything.'' (New York Times, 2002). The renown English binder bought some of this Russia leather (some rolls even featured heads and tails of the animals). Such an exceptional material required an exceptional book – James Cook’s travels, of course! The English binder later on sold this one-of-a-kind copy that ended up in Hérodote bookshop in Paris. It takes a unique story to make a unique book. Some hardcore collectors might still consider it as a later binding no matter what... But this set has something special – and even the way it looks is quite unusual.

The Salon du Livre is not necessarily the best place to buy ordinary books. The VIP square, under the main glassy dome where the most prestigious booksellers gather, looks like a museum - a “top-of-the-line luxury” salon. That’s what makes this Salon both irritating and exciting. So many beauties of this book world are there to be smelt, beheld and dreamt of! At one point, I started to feel a little bit dizzy and weak. That’s when I realized I had been casually looking at books for more than four hours straight! I don’t know if it was as “wonderful” as the Salon du Livre had promised, but it sure was a “journey” – and a feverish one.

* Giuseppe SOLMI :


* Librairie Moorthamers :


* Librairie Herodote :


* Le Salon du Livre:


Thibault Ehrengardt

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