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>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 26, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Joyce (James). <i>Dubliners,</i> first edition, signed presentation inscription from the author, 1914. £100,000 to £150,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> The Beatles.- Baker (Geoffrey.) 3 Autograph Letters and 1 Autograph Card signed to Ann Gosnell, addtionally sgn’d by George Harrison, John Lennon, Cynthia Lennon and others, 1968. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Pilgrim Press.- Dod (John). <i>A plaine and familiar exposition of the tenne commandements ...,</i> [Leiden], [William Brewster], 1617. £15,000 to £20,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 26, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Automaton Chess Player & Mechanical Illusion.- Reynell (H., printer). “The Famous Chess-Player, No.14, St.James's-Street, next Brooks's,” broadside advertisement for "The famous Automaton", [1784]. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Clemens (Samuel Langhorne). <i>Life on the Mississippi,</i> first English edition, signed presentation inscription from the author, 1883. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Arctic Sledge Flag.- Fulford (Reginald Baldwin). Sledge flag... HMS Discovery, 1875. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 26, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Rowling (J.K.) <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,</i> first edition, first printing, 1997. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Piranesi (Giovanni Battista). <i>Le Antichità Romane,</i> 4 vol., 1756. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, called). <i>Urbis Venetiarum Prospectus Celebriores,</i> 3 parts in 1, Richard Ford's copy, Venice, Giovanni Battista Pasquali, 1751. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 26, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Atlases.- Speed (John). <i>A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World,</i> bound with <i>The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine,</i> 1631-27. £12,000 to £18,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Anatomical illustration.- Aselli (Gaspare). <i>De lactibus sive lacteis venis... dissertatio,</i> first edition, Milan, Giovanni Battista Bidelli, 1627. £20,000 to £30,000
  • <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Rowling (J.K.) <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,</i> FIRST EDITION, first issue, 8vo, 1997. £15,000 to £20,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Bible, Italian.- Malermi Bible, woodcut illustrations, folio, Lazaro de Soardi & Bernardino Benali, Venice,1517. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Germany.- Homann (Johann Baptist). <i>Atlas von Deutschland,</i> engraved half title, hand coloured, 87 double page engraved maps, [folio, Erben, Nuremberg, 1753]. £8,000 to £10,000
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> [Mirk (John)].- <i>Liber festivalis et Quatuor sermons</i> [bound with], [Le Roy (Pierre)] <i>A Pleasant Satyre or Poesie,</i> first edition in English, Widdow Orwin for Thomas Man, 1595, 8vo. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Antoninus Florentinus (Saint Archbishop of Florence). <i>Confessionale: Defecerunt…,</i> 8vo, Pietro Quarengi, Venice, 15 February 1499. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Jesuit Letters.- [Froes (Father Luigi) & et al.)] Avvisi del Giapone de gli anni 1582, 1583, 1584…, 1586 [bound with] Avvisi della Cina et Giapone…, FIRST EDITIONS, Rome. £1,000 to £1,500
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Plutarch & Probus (Aemilius). <i>Plutarchi Cheronei et Aemilii Probi Illustrium,</i> folio, Nicolas de Pratis for Jean-Petit, Paris, 1521. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Bible.- English. <i>The Byble in Englyshe of the Largest and Greatest volume,</i> elaborate woodcut border, text vignettes, folio, 1541. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Fore-edge Painting.- Lord George Byron, The Giaour, a Fragment of a Turkish Tale, bound with 10 other titles, 4 plates marked 'Proof.', 1813. £800 to £1,200
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Manson (John). Twelve by Sixteen Papers of John Mason, a collection of 50 sheets of paper, some watermarked, 12 x 16”, c.1978. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Fleming (Ian). <i>Dr. No,</i> FIRST EDITION, original boards, dust-jacket, 8vo, 1958. £700 to £900
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Eliot (T.S.) <i>Four Quartets,</i> NUMBER 121 of 290 COPIES, signed by author, 1960. £400 to £600
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.

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