Pierre Bergé, the French industrialist and co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent Couture House, is auctioning his collection of rare books and manuscripts beginning this December. Assembled over the course of fifty years, 1,600 items known as La Bibliothèque de Pierre Bergé will be brought to auction between now and 2017, and these sales, conducted by Pierre Bergé & Associés in collaboration with Sotheby’s, will go down as some of the most important of the 21st century.
Collecting for Mr. Bergé has always been a highly personal affair, and being French with a passion for literature, his collection has a strong component of it from his country. As his wealth and means for collecting grew, so did his eye for special copies and connections. Many items are signed, belonged to important people, or possess other unique properties. As stated at the end of one of the video interviews available online, he believes that book collecting is like psychoanalysis—“for it to work, you must pay.” And pay he did. Estimates for the entire collection total nearly $30 million, making this one of the most valuable private collections ever assembled. This first sale focuses on items of literary interest, with future sales containing botany, gardening, music, philosophy, and politics.
Serious collectors of French literature are probably salivating at the prospect of obtaining some of the material. However, the collection has no borders, and his favorite authors were often sought in their native tongues. Much more than simply French literature is for sale, and all of it is superb. One such example is lot 79, being a copy of The Personal History of David Copperfield, and includes a signed letter from Dickens to the original owner. Mr. Bergé notes in the catalogue’s opening statement that this is the first “true” book he ever read. Other titans on offer include Dostoievski (lot 94), Robert Louis Stevenson (lot 100), Oscar Wilde (lot 108), and Robert Frost (lot 141).
The scale of this first auction is not huge—188 lots—yet it still spans six centuries, from lot 1, St. Augustine’s Confessions, printed in Strasbourg circa 1470, to lot 188, William Burroughs’ Scrap Book 3, published in New York in 1979. Four video conversations are available online between Mr. Bergé and several literary figures (authors, publishers, and professors), and I highly recommend viewing them; they will be linked at the end of this article. Mr. Bergé discusses his personal philosophy for collecting, as well as some of his favorite books and authors. He reveals in these conversations that very rarely was anything obtained by accident. That in these 188 lots, though they are spread over a large swath of time, each item meant something special to the purchaser and were sought out specifically.
This first sale of La Bibliothèque de Pierre Bergé takes place December 11, 2015 at 3:00 PM CET at Hôtel Drouot in Paris. The auction catalog can be viewed in its entirety here.