Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2008 Issue

Pierre Beres, Legendary French Bookseller, Dies at 95

Beres

Legendary French bookseller Pierre Beres.


By Michael Stillman

One of the giants of the 20th century book trade died on July 28 in Paris. Pierre Beres was a bookseller and collector for the latter 75 years of the 20th century, and the source for one of the most important sales so far of the 21st. Needless to say, Beres lived a very long and successful life, being 95 years of age when he passed on.

Beres was born in Stockholm in 1913, soon moved to Paris with his mother, and became interested in old books at the tender age of 13. He recalled a friend showing him a 17th century book the friend had purchased for a small amount. Beres was fascinated with the idea that he could own something that was witness to events 300 years in the past. He was hooked. Quickly, Beres would become particularly intrigued by the autographs and manuscripts of great writers and artists. However, an accident of birth set him off to his vocation at a most inopportune time. He began trading in the rare book field while still a minor, just as the era of great sales and prices came crashing down with the advent of the Depression. Somehow, he still managed to make his first sale in 1931, from his room in his mother's house, and by 1934 was able to open a bookshop in Paris. In 1937, he opened a branch in New York as well, for many years headed up by the great American bookseller Lucien Goldschmidt.

Beres had an eye for the unique, which enabled him to both trade in and collect rare manuscripts. In the 1930s, he had already acquired many important manuscripts, and began friendships with some of the greatest names in arts and literature, including Picasso, Gide, Sartre, Matisse and de Beauvoir. By the 1940s, he was a major figure in the bookselling world. While he spent most of his time in France, French works being his specialty, 1951 found Beres in New York for the Wilmerding sale at Parke-Bernet, the greatest sale of continental books in America since the Hoe sale 40 years earlier. This was the last great sale attended by the legendary Dr. Rosenbach. Beres was in the room to buy a book containing handwritten family records by the French essayist Montaigne. Bidding on behalf of the City of Bordeaux, he opened with a $10,000 bid, expecting to blow the competition away, only to watch, with growing unease, the price double before finally securing the item for $21,000. He had to borrow funds to meet the price.

Of course by now Beres was becoming wealthy, and was developing his own personal collection. He knew how to locate important items held by collectors who needed to move on. It is said he watched the obituaries, as he recognized who the wealthy collectors were, and whose families would likely want to dispose of a collection. Then, in 1956, Beres took over publisher Editions Hermann, which published science and mathematics works, to which he added fine arts books.

Pierre Beres continued in the publishing and bookselling fields for the remainder of the century. He published numerous catalogues, 93 in all. The final Beres catalogue, Six Centuries of Bindings, was released in 2004. After 70 years in the business, he even went online in 2000, although with a minimalist site that only offered print catalogues.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>Including Autographs & Memorabilia<br>31 March 2020</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Rackham (Arthur). The Old Hag Standing Outside a Cottage, original drawing, signed by the artist, [c.1909]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Rowling (J.K.) <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,</i> FIRST EDITION, first printing, signed by the author, original pictorial wrappers, 1997. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Castiglione (Giuseppe, after). Twelve plates from <i>Twenty views of the European Palaces of the Yuanming yuan,</i> 1783-1786. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>Including Autographs & Memorabilia<br>31 March 2020</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Spanish Antiphonal.- Antiphonal manuscript, [Spain], ca. 1650. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Almanach de Gotha.- Almost complete run 1769 to 1945, 12mo & 8vo, Gotha, C.W. Ettinger [- Justus Perthes]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Bible, Greek.- New Testament [Greek], Novum Iesu Christi D.N. testamentum, ex bibliotheca regia, 2 parts in one, Robert Estienne, Paris, 1550. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>Including Autographs & Memorabilia<br>31 March 2020</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Lithgow (William). <i>The Total Discourse of the rare Adventures… from Scotland, to the most famous kingdoms in Europe, Asia, and Affrica…,</i> woodcut illustrations, 4to, I. Oakes, 1640. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Spanish Interest.-16th -18th Century. Large collection of letters related to prominent members of the Spanish court and clergymen,; v.s., late 16th-mid 18th century. £1,800 to £2,200.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Darwin (Charles). <i>The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex,</i> 2 vol., FIRST EDITION, first issue8vo, John Murray, 1871. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>Including Autographs & Memorabilia<br>31 March 2020</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Loewy (Raymond) ARR. Mickey Mouse, original gouache and air brush illustration of Mickey Mouse, signed by artist., n.p. [1946]. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Potter (Beatrix) & Sendak (Maurice). <i>The Tale of Peter Rabbit,</i> NUMBER 2 OF 250 SIGNED COPIES, WITH AN ORIGINAL DRAWING BY SENDAK, New York, 1995. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Wolstenholm (Jonathan) ARR. Books on Books, original watercolor, signed and dated by the artist, 2005.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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