Monday, November 14, 2016

Mini-Catalogue 166: A dozen French Items, 1379-1974.

Le Petit Almanach des Dames, 1813.
Slipcase on the left
I was chatting with a friend recently, and I described the most interesting part of my stock as "oddball items." For good or for bad, it's largely true: I am always attracted to unusual things, or things that seem unusual to me. Sometimes, it's just an illusion: what seems unusual to me isn't really all that unusual after all. And sometimes, I think, the truly oddball stuff is the hardest to sell at all: it doesn't fit into any reasonable collecting category.

That, too, is a kind of comforting illusion: all the stuff I buy that I can't sell will end up being a collection all its own: stuff so unusual no one wants it.

This week, I am posting a small mini-catalogue or list of items that come under the general heading of French: all twelve items were either made in France or written in French. Sometimes both.

Interested parties can follow this link, I believe, to the catalogue itself.

Title page
Two of these books I am especially pleased to have because of their oddball nature: two little early nineteenth century "almanacs" for lack of a better word, both in their original cardboard slip cases.

If one can judge a genre from two examples, these French examples are almanacs in that they include calendars for the year, but unlike the American almanacs of the period, which I've handled a number of, they use that calendrical material almost entirely as an excuse to present readers with a collection of poems and a few small engravings. American almanacs frequently have room for agricultural notes: when the corn got planted, when the first frost took place. The calendars are the hearts of those books.

These French almanacs have the opposite effect: the literary, poetic content is at the heart of these little books.

For me, as a person who is always fascinated with the materiality of books and texts, it is the original slipcases on these books that have as much appeal for me as anything. The books are interesting in their own right (and both are scarce in institutional collections, if OCLC/WorldCat is to be believed), but the original slipcases put them into my "oddball" area of interest. In the case of Le Petit Almanach des Dames, where the title of the book is present on the spine of the slipcase, but not present on the spine of the book, there can be no doubt that the case is original to the book. 

Le Petit Nain Rose, Chansonnier Caustique et Joyeux
(undated, probably 1818 or 1819)
But one suspects that this second item, Le Petit Nain Rose, would be oddball enough for me, regardless. Who couldn't love a songbook that describes itself as "Caustic and Joyous" in the subtitle?

In the case of this book, both the slipcase and the book itself have completely undecorated exteriors: there is no printing or writing of any sort on the outsides. Yet both case and book match perfectly; there doesn't seem to be any reason to imagine they are not original.

Because these slipcases are constructed from cardboard, rather than printed paper, they are more likely to survive than a printed dust jacket would have. Even so, for these books and their cases to have remained together for these past two centuries seems remarkable to me, and it's been a pleasure to find them.

And of course, seeing the two books together tells us something: such slipcases were seen as useful or appropriate for these almanacs. And further, they came in a variety of degrees of adornment, from the basic to the elaborate. 

Slipcase and book: Petit Nain Rose (ca. 1818)

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