The Expert’s Choice
Messrs Fourgeot, Bodin and Quentin conscientiously built up a 344-page long in-4° catalogue, carefully choosing the author of the preface—Claude Rouiller, former President of the Switzerland Federal Tribunal—and an epigraph: It is to give these conjectures a high price to burn a man alive because of them (Montaigne). And when asked about his favourite items, M Fourgeot first pointed out a collection of 46 sentences rendered in the 17th and 18th centuries. “These are no philosophical reflexions, but the concrete consequences of justice as applied to the man of the street. Some sentences seem justified, as in the case of one Louis-Marlin who was sent to the galleys because he had “sexually abused (...) a young girl of seven”. But what about Pierrette Occard, a knitter by trade, sent for three years to prison for “acting as a fortune-teller?” It’s also interesting to note that in the middle of the Siècle des Lumières, one Jacques Riguet was hung for uttering “seditious words against the King.” On another level, one Estienne Benjamin Deschauffours was simply burnt alive for sodomy. (Appraisal: 3 to 4,000 euros—sold for 4,300 euros before commission).
Henri-Désiré Landru was another dangerous man who, reads the catalogue, “abducted some 280 women in the early 20th century; 10 of them he eventually murdered.” He seduced his victims, took them to the countryside and murdered them before burning their corpses in a domestic boiler. During his sensational trial, Landru tried to exonerate himself through fiery speeches, but was beheaded (guillotiné) the following year. Item 334 is an incredible album containing dozens of black and white photographs taken during the trial—we can see Landru’s dreadful look as he talks to the Court, as well as the incriminating boiler. Several wonderful professional drawings of Landru appearing on the first pages of the album tend to confirm that these were journalistic illustrations. “I wonder...” said M Fourgeot as if speaking to himself while staring at Landru. “How did this man seduce so many women?” (Appraisal: 2 to 2,500 euros—sold for 6,000 euros to the Archives of the French department Les Yvelines.)
Post Tenebras Lux
Broken on the wheel, burnt alive, put to the question, all these sentences are from another time. Everything didn’t happen overnight but attitudes towards criminals started to change in the 1820s. “Mainly at the instigation of the Protestants,” explained the expert, “who wanted to reform justice—though only to make it more efficient. Nonetheless, no longer were criminals treated as beasts. They were men who needed to be cured and rehabilitated.” The penal system was then questioned as a whole. Item 235, a modest leaflet of 8 pages printed in Geneva in 1826 by Jean-Jacques de Sellon, is the perfect illustration of this crucial turning point. Sellon had set up a plea contest, and the lawyer Charles Lucas made an acknowledged miscarriage of justice—the Stagecoach of Lyon case—the starting point of his plea for the abolition of the death penalty. On April 27th, 1796, the stagecoach from Lyon was attacked, its driver killed and the money it carried stolen. Because he physically resembled one of the bandits (who was wearing a wig), M Lesurques was executed; and later cleared by the real culprits! This brilliant demonstration of Charles Lucas won the contest, therefore it was published by Sellon. This modest document was ravalé (not sold) despite a low appraisal (100-200 euros).