Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2014 Issue

The Zoummeroff Sale: How Do We Cope With Crime?

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Rambert – Skinned and bound.

Some auction sales are all about money, but others try to tell a story. The one entitled Crimes & Punishments (Pierre Bergé & Associés) that took place on Friday 16th, May, sure had something to say. But it was clearly misunderstood by some, as two items were pulled from sale: a first edition of Mein Kampf by Hitler, as well as a book bound in human flesh. The controversy and debates about censorship that followed proved that books haven’t lost all their power.

 

The Mighty Collection of M Zoummeroff

 

I don’t pass any moral judgement on these books,” confessed M Forgeot, the expert for the sale. “Some of them shock me, others disgust me or excite me. But they don’t tell the story of “bastards” only, they also denounce the atrocities committed by man.” This fascinating collection belonged to Philippe Zoummeroff, a well-known collector and the current administrator of the French National Library, who had spent more than fifteen years gathering it. “Dealing with crime and justice, I was bound to come across some evil people,” he admitted. “But I’ve never been fascinated by their misdeeds. Crime is part of who we are, and it started as soon as two men faced each other, with Abel and Cain. But this collection also underlines the role played by people who made justice a more human institution, like Cesare Beccaria; he was among the first philosophers of the 18th century to stand against the death penalty.

 

As a matter of fact, M Zoummeroff didn’t stick to theory, as he created a fund for the rehabilitation of prisoners and co-wrote a book entitled Prison Doesn’t Only Happen to Others (Albin Michel 2006). “I’m mainly concerned by the consequences and stakes of the incarceration of young offenders,” he said. But he had eventually been around the block—and he decided to let his collection go. According to M Forgeot, these documents were hardly associated to bibliophilism. “This sale, and most particularly the catalogue, is a way to focus on an on-going issue: how do we cope with crime?” Fearing the collection might end up in some dark room, M Zoummeroff didn’t donate it to the National Library of France. “I know it will be scattered, but only to end up with people who are truly interested in it,” he said. Ironically, the sale attracted several official institutions such as the National Library of France or the National Archives that both pre-empted several items. Other museums were also quite active, including the Musée du Barreau (Museum of the Bar). Finally freed from this devouring obsession, M Zoummeroff will now focus on his next project, a biography of Thomas Edison. Aged 85, this surprising man hasn’t lost his curiosity for the world.

 

Controversies

 

On May the 7th, the Jewish association Bureau National de Vigilance Contre l’Antisémitisme (BNVCA) published a press release on its website, asking for Pierre Bergé & Associés to withdraw from sale item 309, a copy of the first edition of Mein Kampf written by “Hitler this dictator”. The association was outraged by the fact that it was described in the catalogue as “a piece of art written by a poet or a member of the French Academy (sic—the catalogue didn’t introduce Hitler as a poet or a member of the French Academy, the BNVCA probably meant as if it had been written by a poet etc.). The book was depicted as the “devilish dejection” of a “German guilty of the death of millions of people (...) and responsible for the Shoa.” Suddenly harassed by journalists, M Forgeot was clearly irritated. “This is ridiculous. We are dealing with history, not with anti-Semitism. On the contrary, this crucial testimony perfectly belongs with this collection.” M Zoummeroff, for his part, never wanted to pull the book from sale: “This is a stupid controversy,” he said. “They are idiots! I’ve read Mein Kampf, of course, and it taught me something: Europe shouldn’t have waited for 1938 to stop this dangerous man.”

 

Mein Kampf is obviously a special book, and the French authorities are very concerned about its circulation. “In order to print it,” said M Forgeot, “you have to add at least ten pages of historical contextualisation and warn the readers about its implication.” But at the end of the day, it is not banned. As far as the accusation of anti-Semitism is concerned, suffice to say that M Zoummeroff is of Jewish ascendance, and that he has lost some relatives in the Nazi’s camps during WWII. But this sale also teaches us that justice and attitudes have often evolved following a witch-hunt. “The fight of BNVCA is legitimate,” said M Forgeot, “but I think they chose the wrong target. Anyway, our decision was to step away from controversy and to avoid any incident during the sale.” Let’s underline that the sale also featured two copies of the infamous Code Noir that has regulated the slave trade for centuries—it taught slave owners how to punish a disobedient slave according to the nature of his so-called crime. Curiously, no one complained about these ones. Every community to its own fight, I guess.

 

Les morts n’ont pas tous la même peau.

 

On October 22nd, 1930, Louis-Marius Rambert and Gustave Mailly broke in the house of M Bergeron and his octogenarian aunt in Ecully, and murdered them both with a hammer. Rambert was no newcomer to crime, as shown by his numerous tattoos. He had a striking one on his chest, representing an eagle and a dragon fighting each other. Nowadays, this tattoo graces the cover of a bookcase enclosing Rambert’s manuscript memoirs. Indeed, it was bound with the skin of the criminal—at a closer range we can even make out a few hairs! “Anytime I would look at it, it gave me the creeps!” confessed M Zoummeroff. “A binding in human flesh is necessarily disturbing, but let’s first remind that Rambert had officially bequeathed his skin to Dr Jean Lacassagne, an eminent criminologist who had followed him, and who had the bookcase bound. Furthermore, this item is quite relevant to the collection, as tattoos have always been a distinctive sign among criminals.” It was pulled from sale too, but this time it was to be blamed on the committee of experts of Drouot. “It’s forbidden by law to trade human remains, but this restriction doesn’t apply to “obvious cultural items”, recited M Fourgeot.But what is this book if not an obvious cultural item?” At the end of the day, the controversies didn’t discourage people, as our expert received “numerous offers for the two items.”

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Booth & Williams: NO RESERVE Rare Book Auction, now through July 23, 7:15PM EDT</b>
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> John Muir. <i>My First Summer in the Sierra</i>, Boston, 1911.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Ernest Hemingway. <i>For Whom the Bell Tolls</i>, New York, 1940. First edition later printing.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Upton Sinclair. <i>The Jungle</i>, New York, 1906. First edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams: NO RESERVE Rare Book Auction, now through July 23, 7:15PM EDT</b>
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> George Orwell. <i>Nineteen Eighty-Four</i>, 1949. First American edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Harper Lee. <i>To Kill a Mocking Bird</i>, 1960. Early printing.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Richard Wright. <i>Native Son</i>, New York, 1940. First edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams: NO RESERVE Rare Book Auction, now through July 23, 7:15PM EDT</b>
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Dryden, Congreve, and others. <i>Ovid’s Art of Love</i>, London, 1764. English translation of Ovid’s work.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> S. E. Hinton. <i>The Outsiders</i>, New York, 1967. First edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> J. D. Salinger. <i>The Catcher in the Rye</i>, Boston, 1951. Book club edition.
    <b>Booth & Williams: NO RESERVE Rare Book Auction, now through July 23, 7:15PM EDT</b>
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Ayn Rand. <i>Atlas Shrugged</i>, New York, 1957. Early printing.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> J. D. Salinger. <i>Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters</i> and <i>Seymour: An Introduction</i>, Boston, 1963. First [book] edition, third state.
    <b>Booth & Williams No Reserve Sale until Jul 23:</b> Tennessee Williams. <i>Sweet Bird of Youth</i>, 1959. First edition.
  • <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>Keep Calm and Carry On</i>, designer unknown, 1939. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, <i>Le Journal / La Traite des Blanches</i>, 1899. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>"Let Us Go Forward Together,"</i> designer unknown, 1940. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, <i>Babylone d'Allemagne</i>, 1894. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Frank Beatty, <i>Out of the Running</i>, 1929. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Wake Up America Day</i>, 1917. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>Danté / Sim • Sala • Bim!</i>, designer unknown. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>[Zodiac]</i>, 1900. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Rick Griffin, <i>Jimi Hendrix Experience / John Mayall</i>, 1968. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Abram Games, <i>Join the ATS</i>, 1941. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Aldo Mazza, <i>Torino / Esposizione Internazionale</i>, 1911. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Robert Motherwell, <i>Julliard School / Dedication - Lincoln Center</i>, 1969. $3,000 to $4,000
  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.

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