Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2004 Issue

Livres Anciens: An Exceptional Catalogue

Rodolphe Chamonal, a dealer whose catalogues are as collectible as his books.


By Bruce McKinney

Book dealers of course issue book catalogues to sell books but such catalogues also serve other purposes. They are a statement of serious intent and an invitation to the reader to evaluate the dealer by the basic historical yard-stick of the field: the written word in a printed form. Catalogues are, in short, the vertebrae of the traditional book business. They are also everywhere in decline, the victim of alternative selling strategies that leach the commercial energy of such projects.

We are fortunate that some dealers do not bend easily to marketplace whims and the deeper trends. They remind us that progress has a price. In December I was fortunate to receive from Rodolphe Chamonal Libraires of Paris, a catalogue that simply can not be placed next to the other catalogues I received in 2003. It is simply the Christmas 2003 Chamonal presentation. It is in fact not a book catalogue. It is eleven of them in a royal maroon box. An exceptional dealer, Rodolphe Chamonal has the history, wherewithal and experience, not to mention inventory, to do this. Few others have the skills or nerve to even try.

Such efforts have been uncommon in any era. Most catalogues are solid but pedestrian: their goal to sell rather than to celebrate the books offered. It is these pedestrian endeavors that are most closely duplicated on the net today. The net, more efficiently than the printed and mailed catalogue, delivers the seller’s description anywhere in the world to anyone who knows where to look and has the interest to do so. However, it does not do so with the spirit and pizzazz that the exceptional booksellers’ catalogues do: at least not yet.

Material offered in such presentations is potentially more valuable and more easily valued by collectors so long as there is a clear informational trail to accompany both the book purchased and to record its place in high powered printed catalogue descriptions. Rosenbach’s Catalogue 19, The Sea, is one of those catalogues and occasionally a skillful bookseller will identify a book they offer for sale as being the same copy offered for sale in 19. Such references most often will fly over the heads of collectors and unfortunately even of some dealers. Such selling history is very important to the value of a book but this history is too often ignored, suppressed for various reasons or forgotten.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [RUTH, George Herman “Babe” (1895-1948)]. Signed photograph. Circa 1930s. 191 x 248 mm. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HARRISON, Benjamin. Document signed (“Benj Harrison”) as governor of Virginia, certifying the service of Daniel Cumbo, a Black Revolutionary soldier. $6,000 to $9,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: ONE OF THE FIRST PRINTED ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: FIRST PRINTING OF LINCOLN’S IMMORTAL GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HIGHLY IMPORTANT MORMON ARCHIVE. ALLEY, George. Archive of 23 Autograph Letters Signed by Mormon Convert George Alley to His Brother Joseph Alley. $10,000 to $20,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [AVIATION]. [ARMSTRONG, Neil A.] Aviation Hall of Fame Gold Medal MS64 NGC, Awarded to Neil Armstrong in 1979. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: NEWLY DISCOVERED FIRST PRINTING OF "WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE... " FROM THE ONLY NEWSPAPER ACTUALLY ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL PROCESSION. $4,000 to $8,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: THE MOST IMPORTANT GEORGE WASHINGTON DOCUMENT IN PRIVATE HANDS; GEORGE WASHINGTON’S COMMISSION AS COMMANDER IN CHIEF, 1775, ONE OF ONLY TWO ORIGINALS. $150,000 to $250,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: A VERY RARE ACCOUNT OF BLACKBEARD’S DEATH AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIRATE ITEMS EXTANT. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: EDISON, Thomas. Patent for Edison’s Improvements on the Electric-Light, No. 219,628. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent Office], 16 September 1879. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [VIETNAM WAR]. The original pen used by Secretary of State William P. Rogers to sign the Vietnam Peace Agreement, Paris, 27 January 1973. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: SONS OF LIBERTY FOUNDER COLONEL BARRÉ ANNOTATED TITLE-PAGE, “WHICH OUGHT TO ROUSE UP BRITISH ATTENTION”. $4,000 to $6,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions