Exceptional catalogues: <br>Livres Anciens and Livres Precieux
By Bruce McKinney
When you cut into a superb fillet you know, before your taste confirms, that something special is at hand. Quality has a feel to it. In the book trade there is a certain magic that many dealers aspire to and a few actually provide. In London, stepping through the front door of Maggs Bros. is stepping into the history of exceptional printed material. So many important books have passed this way and you know it at a glance.
In Paris there is Chamonal which is short for Rodolphe Chamonal, heir and current proprietor, of the shop his father built following WWII. Located in the shadows of Paris's book auction bourse, the scale and airiness of the shop suggest a location that has been there since Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway drank and dined nearby. The inventory is extensive and eclectic. In other words you'll find something of interest but it may be a book you haven't heard of before. A French volume about San Francisco printed in 1856 with all the images in color is something I bought there years ago. For the lucky few there is a small room in the back where subject, condition and provenance rarities are displayed, discussed and negotiated. A trip to the inner sanctum a few years ago brought me face-to-face with a large bound volume of "Guerre D'independence American" manuscripts that today sit a few feet away from my desk.
A fifteen minute walk away is Libraire Thomas-Scheler, the family business of Bernard & Stephane Clavreuil located at 19, rue de Tournon. Here the shop is smaller but a portion of the material is very exceptional. The Clavreuils are very French and the standards strictly double A. For them the example must be superb and the book important. One can only wonder where they find such material. Here too I have purchased. On one trip I purchased a copy of Ferdinandi Cortesii, Von dem Newen Hispanien,...printed in 1550 in German and containing, according to Harisse, a translation of the second and third letters from the Latin edition of the Cortes Letters, with extracts from Peter Martyr's fourth decade, from Oviedo, and other extracts relating to the Canary Islands, Venezuela, and American discoveries down to the year 1543. This copy is from the library of Henri Ternaux-Compans, the extraordinary bibliographer of the 19th century and has his library mark, a ram and his initials on the cover. It is an absolute gem, a collector's book.