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René Cluzel

History of the SLAM : First Part (1914-1934)

History of the SLAM : First Part (1914-1934)

 

History of the SLAM

First Part (1914-1934)  by René Cluzel

(Published in ILAB Newlsetter 39 - June 1987, translation by Martin Hamlyn)


 


 

Retracing the history - not to mention the prehistory - of the Syndicat Français de la Librairie Ancienne et Moderne (SLAM) is not an easy task. The witnesses of the early days disappeared and the documents are often missing. As the archives were not kept with care, for want of fixed addresses (acquired only this year, in the rue Gît-le- Coeur) the traces we have managed to discover arc often faint, sometimes contradictory, and always inconsistent.

The "Bouquiniste Français", official organ of the SLAM, not having appeared till seven years after the Syndicat was founded (1920!) we find ourselves in a shadowy period from 1914 to 1920, under the presidency of Edouard Rahir. From 1920 to our own times, the Bouquiniste Français, acquired by the SLAM in 1945, which became the Bulletin de la Librairie Ancienne et Moderne in 1963, gives us a better insight into the problems, preoccupations and activities of the SLA M.

For the period before 1958 we have had to consult the available years in the Bibliothèque Nationale de Versailles (reference JO 82007). We may note that the SLAM has all the numbers appearing after 1958. We have also had recourse to various obituary notices; speeches and articles published on the occasion of Edouard Rahir’s death; President Dauthon's report on the Syndicat's activities from 1939-45; and reminiscences of some of our older colleagues at the time of the fiftieth anniversary in 1964.

We shall therefore seek to arrange our material around the Presidents who in the first instance have embodied the history of our association. We shall always try to underline the permanence and indeed the recurrence of the problems which exercised them and which remain with us today; relations, fiscal and otherwise, with government; customs and postal regulations: public sales; the status of ‘expert’: achievements of bookselling; the benevolent fund; etc.

 

The Foundation of SLAM

What strikes one most at first, from the beginnings of the SLAM, is the care with which not only the pioneers but their successors sought to 'spread the Book abroad' and also, of course, ideas about books. As Julien Cain, administrator of the Bibliothèque Nationale, stressed in 1958, this involved the 'Role and function of Bookselling, new and old'.

1914 saw the opening of a world tragedy, but likewise the end of a world distinguished by a certain life style - that of the 'Belle Epoque'. A certain manner of conducting antiquarian bookselling was similarly to be overturned.

23rd June 1914 saw the first sittings of the general constituting assembly of SLAM. And it was not perhaps by chance, goodwill, or simple love of genial fellowship that its founders decided to create it. With the First World War (the Second only speeded up the process) the quiet and peaceful years of a 'commerce', in the true and noble sense of the word, one which knew nothing of scarcities, crises, and administrative hassles, were to come to an end.

Who were the men who felt so keenly the need for a regrouping in the body of our profession? Jean Bergue (rue de Condé), Maurice Picard (rue Bonaparte), Auguste Blaizot, Henri Picard, Leon Carteret, Eugene Jorel (3 rue Bonaparte), Georges Chretien, Camille Bloch (146 boulevard St. Germain, later rue St. Honoré), Jean Rivière, Edouard Rahir, Jean Schemit, Charles Bosse, Emile Nourry... There were 29 founder-booksellers at the preparatory meeting and the first Syndicat had 44 members. All these men, like their predecessors Techener, Claudin, France, Morgand, were in the service of the Book. Having decided to form a great family, they proceeded to meet at a banquet at the beginning of July 1914 in a small room in the Palais d’Orsay.

No professional problem then arose in any acute fashion, but all felt the need to gather about a president, who was in this first instance Edouard Rahir, It was important to get to know each other better and strengthen bonds in a profession where independence was traditional, to be able to face the future of the world of books with confidence.

 

Edouard Rahir, president of SLAM, 1911-1922

Edouard Rahir seems one of the best servants of books, inasmuch as he came to bookselling very early. In fact, from the age of 16, in 1878, he was employed with Morgand and Fatout. On Fatout’s death he became Morgand's closest colleague whom he succeeded in 1897. He was essentially a specialist in the research, selection, and study of precious and rare books. He devoted much of his life to a great bibliographical work on the illustrated books of the 15th and 16th centuries. He was the author of the notes in the ten volumes of the Morgand Bulletin, published from 1876 to 1904 and the three catalogues of 1878, 1882.and 1893.He too drew up the Destailleurs (1875-91), Guyot de Villeneuve (1900-1), and unique Elzevir collection (1896) catalogues, as also of the Duruit (1899), Baillet, Henri Bordes (1902), Lantelme (1904), Montgermont (l903) and Henri Houssaye (1912) collections.

In 1907 he published the 'Bibliothèque de l'Amateur', a veritable monument of condensed bibliography, of which a second enlarged edition appeared in 1924. Such was the scholar, at the same time one of the best bibliographers of recent times, who was called to take on the first SLAM presidency in 1914. His vice-president was A. B1aizot, Georges Chretien was Secretary, and A. Besombes, L. Carteret, and E. Jorel committee members. As such he was above all concerned to maintain and continue the traditions of French bookselling. In accordance with the rules he was elected for three years, but remained in office for seven owing to the war and the calling up of numerous booksellers. After 1918 the SLAM returned to active life with all emphasis on a vigorous proselytism. It was important to grow and become a significant and well- structured organisation. The idea of a published Journal arose in this context.

Under the aegis of Ch. Bossc, E. Jorel, E. Nourry, J. Riviere and J. Schemit, the first number of the Bouquiniste Français appeared on 15 January 1920. At first twice- monthly, it became a weekly from No. 22, 1 December 1920. Its location was 31 rue Bonaparte, Paris 6eme. In their first editorial, the founder-booksellers thus justified the publication's raison d’être: 'The French antiquarian book trade, the antiquarian booksellers of France, have as yet no professional organ while the well-known English weekly The Clique and the daily Munich publication achieve considerable circulations' .

From its first number the Bouquiniste Français carried listings of works for sale and wanted at fair prices, but also professional information with calendars of sales, announcements of the appearance of catalogues, changes of ownership, opening and closing hours, postal charges, details as to carriage and transport. Regularly it raised certain thorny problems: the law of 25 June 1920 and the taxes which burdened commerce and industry (No. 13): the regulations of 29 August 1920 as to the tax on turnover (Nos. 16 &. 17): the luxury tax (No. 19). But luckily all this was diversified with little articles on bibliographic curiosities - Johann Faust; Where do old bindings go; Charles Sorel, on the knowledge of good books; book thieves; diary of a quayside stallholder. There were often reports or minutes of committees and general meetings. In No. 28 we learn that Messrs. Gougy, Paul and Rapilly have been appointed experts with the Administration of Customs. The reintroduction of the 10% discount between member-booksellers, modification of the luxury tax, and an open letter to the Under-Secretary of State for Posts and Telegraphs from J. Lebouc, on the slow arrival of catalogues (already!) - fill up other numbers.

The Bouquinistc Francais, 'weekly organ of the old and new book trade', appeared regularly until the Second World War, when it was replaced by duplicated sheets. It reappeared later, modified after its acquisition by SLAM in 1945.

Thus it was in Edouard Rahir’s presidency that took shape the first association, the first journal, and the first principles of the profession, drawn up in the framework of a Conference at the 'Cerclc de la Librairie' on 27 May 1924. It sought above all to perpetuate the high ideal of bookselling based on nobility, competence, and integrity, coupling it with all the vocations which fostered the birth of the book and stressing the role of booksellers in 'the propagation and making known of the great works of the human spirit'. And as it came to the point of declaring: 'Bookselling is not a calling, nor an art, it is a commerce'. An essential precept if one uses the term in its original sense of communication, exchange of ideas, social relations. As we shall see, the SLAM has held to this interpretation in seeking to stimulate between booksellers discussion on and in favour of the book.

Many ideas bore fruit and would come to be perpetuated by all the following presidents. A tradition was born.


History of the SLAM : First Part (1914-1934)

Auguste Blaizot, president of SLAM, 1922-1925

A year before Rahir, Auguste Blaizot was all of fifteen (he was born in 1874 at Blainvillc sur Mer) when he cut his bookselling teeth with his uncle Emile Lecampion, bookseller in the Passage du Saumon from 1840. On the latter's death in 1902, he succeeded him in the business, transferred to 22 rue Le Peleticr. There one found, besides 'novelties' and some modern and romantic works, New Year's gift books and - morning papers (!). His successive addresses at 26 rue Le Peletier. 21 boulevard Haussmann and finally in 1928 at the current address, 164 Faubourg St. Honoré, marked his rapid ascent.

At one time, when great dealers and great collectors were only interested in books published before 1900 and when the idea of a library of modern books was not taken seriously, Auguste Blaizot in spite of everything managed to draw attention to fine modern illustrated books. He was one of the first to point out the matchless originality of such works as Lepère’s A Rebours or Bonnard’s Daphnis et Chloe which now command high prices. Thanks to his faultless touch for the truly fine book outside current fashion, he very soon became the most acknowledged specialist for lovers of modern illustrated books of quality. Having boldly and ably defended, early in the century, the illustrated books of Lepere, Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Denis, Dufy, ete. he is the originator of the lustre now enjoyed by the art publication and the modern book trade. He was able to create a new generation of bibliophiles by sharing in the formation of prestigious libraries - Descamps-Scrive; Paul Voûtc; Barthou; Beraldi; Bordes; Villeboeuf; Latécoère, ete. His qualities as an enlightened 'amateur' (in the true sense) led him also to publish books illustrated by P. Vidal (Lcs Aventures du Roi Pausole); Kupka (Lysistraté et Prometheus);Jouas (La Cathédrale and La Cité des Eaux); Degas (La Famille Cardinale); Maurice Denis (L'Annonce faite à Marie); and Barbier (Le Centaure and La Bachante).

He was for the modern book what Edouard Rahir was at the same period for the old enthusiast and guide. It was thus quite natural for him to succeed to the presidency of SLAM in 1922, when he was elected with, at his side, L. Gougy (Vice-president),

Georges Chreticn (secretary), René Colas (treasurer), and Jorel, Lardanchet, Nourry, H. Picard, and Rapilly as committee members (the number growing from two to five). On his election at the General Assembly of 30 June 1922, Auguste Blaizot confirmed that the SLAM now had 94 members and asked everyone to propagandize actively by distributing the list of members. He charged a sub-committee to smooth out possible differences which could not fail to arise between some members. He took on the dilatoriness of the customs and postal administrations and demanded that people should make a point of complaining without delay. The following year he intervened himself in applying to the registry department to discover the correct procedures and the application of taxes and rights of export and import, with the object of publishing (January 1924) and circulating among our members a clear and full booklet on the subject.

To strengthen the bonds between booksellers affiliated to the association he proposed that the fraternal discount should be limited to SLAM members only. In the same spirit he inaugurated an association dinner. The first annual dinner was held on June 26, 1923 at the 'Sociétés Savantes, a tradition maintained to our own time. 54 booksellers were present at this first banquet (Bouquiniste Français, 7 July 1923). Two months earlier (14 April 1923), there had been a lunch at the Restaurant La Perouse on Blaizot's being made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. This gathering was presided over by Louis Barthou.

He was one of the first to dare to propose to his colleagues a scheme for the status of 'expert' with the ministerial officials in charge of public sales. Works offered for sale needed to be guaranteed and their possible defects noted. In a committee meeting of  27 June 1923, he in fact announced the official nomination of customs experts - Gougy, Emile Paul, Rapilly and Blaizot.

The new Rules, having been drawn up and printed with care, were deposited with the Prefecture of Police. Blaizot saw in this one of the best publicity arguments to bring to bear on booksellers starting in business to stress the necessity of the association. Moreover, he said, it is the best weapon we have to ensure the successful pursuit of our claims. Besides customs and postal problems, the SLAM's representations at that time related mainly to the suppression of the luxury tax which was a heavy burden on all old books and which was to plague all SLAM presidents until World War II.

At the general meeting of 6 May 1924 a membership of 231 had been achieved, and A. Blaizot declared 'We would like all booksellers to be of our number'. Again with a propaganda end in view it was decided to publish a brochure on the laws, decrees and regulations touching all taxes, and again the problem of the abolition of the luxury tax was attacked.

The Bouquiniste Français, the organ of SLAM, being still the property of some of the founder-booksellers, Messrs. Puzin and Quereuil proposed a scheme for its purchase, which however was not realised until twenty years later.

In this year Anatole France died. SLAM sent a wreath to the funeral of one whose father had been a bookseller and who had always shown a warm affection for our calling and those who pursued it.

A final anecdote. The first edition of Les Fleurs dn Mal was withdrawn from a public sale under a prohibition by the Tribunal of 10 December 1924 (!). The council of SLAM protested violently against this fatuous decision, sixty-seven years after the celebrated lawsuit of which Baudelairc had been victim. It took the occasion to warn members against the sale and the announcement of 'Special Books' in their catalogues.

So many plans and suggestions which all go to show how well A. Blaizot carried out his mandate with an effective authority. In these times of dangerous laxities, he was not backward in boldly denouncing inadmissible and notorious abuses. At the expiration of his term, he was named President of Honour. After a career of fifty-three years it must be recognised that his whole life was devoted to the service of the book.

 

 

History of the SLAM : First Part (1914-1934)

Emile Nourry , president, 1925-1928

Emile Nourry, bookseller-author, better known under his pseudonym 'Saintyvcs, began as a bookseller in Dijon (Place du Theatre). From there he set up in Paris, first in the rue des Saint-Pères, later in rue Notre Dame de Lorette. Finally in 1909 he settled definitely in 62 rue des Ecoles where he made his reputation as a specialist in religious questions and biblical studies and as publisher of the works of Alfred Loisy. He drew up numerous catalogues devoted mainly to folklore, hagiography, and the occult, with the help of his loyal colleague Jules Thiebaud who had started with him as an assistant. Thiebaud who produced the reference bibliography on hunting (Bibliographie des ouvrages français sur la Chasse, Paris, Nourry, 1934) succeeded him at the rue des Ecoles from 1935-64. As a writer. Nourry pursued the same subjects and published the following works:

1904: La Réforme intellectuelle du clergé et la Liberté d’enseignement

1907: Les Saints successeurs des Dieux

1908: Les Vierges Mères

1916: Les Mystères des Evangiles

These were works of religion and hagiography. As for occult sciences in connection with medicine and popular tradition, he published:

1912: La Simulation du Merveilleux

1913: De la Magie médicale à la psychothérapie. La Force Magique.

1921: L’éternuement et le baillement au Moyen-Age

1923: Les contes de Perrault et les récits parallèles.

1926: La légende du Docteur Faust; among other works.

This list is not exhaustive; it shows the range of his interests which stretched from the Bible to prehistory by way of folklore. It should be mentioned that he was director of the Revue du Folklore Français and of the Revue d'Anthropologie and that the frequency of appearance of his catalogues was every month!

His fame and his immense ability led him to the presidency of SLAM. He was elected on 26 May 1925 with G. Chretien as vice-president, M. Escoffier (secretary), René Colas (treasurer), and as committee members Francisque Le Francois, Mounastre Picamilh, H. Picard, M. Rivière, Sergent. The council thus constituted found itself having to face for the next three years a period of economic difficulty which went from bad to worse.

Nourry, already charged under Blaizot’s presidency with preparing a report on the export of valuable books, sought to achieve compromises. He believed that the huge existing movement in favour of the French language was not to be discouraged, and that this support for our language could be only proportionate to the importance of French currency to foreigners. Old books should therefore be exported while safe-guarding our cultural patrimony by prohibiting the export of books, documents or manuscripts either unique or believed to be such. He suggested the setting up of a commission, to consist of librarians, customs officers, and member-booksellers (of SLAM). However, the following year the general meeting decided that it was not necessary to seek a public administrative ruling provided that booksellers undertook to sell to a State library 'works of a capital importance'.

On January 28, 1926 the office was already concerned with stolen books, and recalled that the association had printed and made available to members forms for advising their colleagues of stolen works. It published the list of members, and mindful of the value of propaganda maintained that 'it is the duty of all who trade in books at second- hand to belong to our organisation'. But the greatest worry in mid-1926 was over the devaluation of the franc. The office came to publish two successive tables of price equivalents, having studied all the consequences of the depreciation of the franc against the pound sterling. It called for the greatest vigilance on the part of all colleagues if they wished to avoid real losses and find themselves buying clearer than they sold. The first table allowed for the re-pricing of books costed in old catalogues with an increase which went from 50% to 5% a year. The second table provided a key for modifying prices marked in volumes without having to erase them continually, the nine first letters of the alphabet representing the first nine numerals and the letter S zero. Thus the lettered price, unlike those of the figures, would not change in the books; but its conversion into francs would be related to each new table re-calculated by SLAM. And faced with the country's economic situation, the office declared: 'We cannot believe that our labours and our spirit, linked with the labour and spirit of the whole nation, will permit a catastrophe... We believe in the economic revival of France .. we must take part in the voluntary contribution scheme'. Despite this the annual dinners continued, in February 1920 at the Club de la Renaissance Françaisc. in May 1927 and March 1928. Each time Nourry showed his verve and wit when he spoke of 'the good and bad things booksellers say about women'. Often treating books as intrusive nuisances, they invariably show themselves to be devoted and efficient companions and colleagues. And he concluded with this twist: 'In fact, because booksellers know books they are able to speak of women'. Another time he developed this theme: 'Why are sad faces rare if not unknown among sellers of second-hand books". The menus of these dinners were designed and engraved sometimes by Jouas, master etcher, sometimes by Louis Jou. In 1926 the presence from abroad of the booksellers Maggs and Rau was recorded. In 1928 Maitre Maurice Garçon was invited to preside over the evening and delivered a speech on the special relations of booksellers and booklovers.

In the course of the meeting of 12 May 1926 the booksellers came to a 'modus vivendi' with the auctioneers after having protested that all books should be guaranteed and that faults and imperfections should be announced clearly and unambiguously. Taxes on sales were thus published: sales on commission, 2.5%; sales between booksellers, 2%; inland sales 12%; sales abroad 12%. In subsequent meetings of the committee, general conditions, as approved by SLAM were established, as to sales procedure, despatch of goods, methods of payment, and special arrangements for foreign buyers.

There were moves to propose an addition to the rules for the settlement of possible differences between members: 'The association should constitute itself a committee of arbitration to operate in all disputes or litigation arising between one member and another or between members and third parties... ruling as to the constitution and procedures of the arbitrating committee or committees to be drawn up by the office'.

In another context, the Bouqniniste Français of 19 March 1927 noted the appearance of an international directory of the antiquarian book trade with an analytical listing of dealers classified by country and speciality. The bookshop of Straubing and Muller published it from Weimar under the title Addressbuch der Antiquare.

The general meeting of 21 May 1928 saw the conclusion of Nourry’s term; his essential role was to have brought the notorious luxury tax down from 12%, to 6%, for books valued at over 300 francs, and from 6%, to 3% for the remainder. Proof of the effect of his constant propagandising was as reflected in the membership of SLAM, now standing at 315.

History of the SLAM : First Part (1914-1934)

Maurice Escoffier, president 1928-1931

A new committee was elected. as follows: Escoffier, President; H. Picard, vice-president; Briquet, Secretary; Quereuil, Treasurer; other members, Dosse, Dauthon, le Francois, Puzin, and Sergent.

Professor at the School of Political Sciences (Ecolc des Sciences Politiques) Maurice Escoffier was surely one of the most distinguished presidents we have known. He devoted himself to the service of the book not only as bookseller and SLAM president but also and above all as bibliographer. He compiled and published at great expense his Bibliography of the Romantic Movement (Paris, Giraud Badin, 1934) dedicating it to the members of SLAM; a work of reference which became an authoritative classic. He was one of the first to draw attention to the movements parallel to and on the fringes of Romanticism. He became also the titular bibliographer of those who came to be known as 'The Little Romantics' (Cahiers du Sud 1949). Further, it must be recorded that as a kind of offshoot to his work he attempted a definition of 'Edition Originale' in a text which has become famous: 'An edition is termed "originale" because it goes back to the origin of a right of ownership; it can be established as conforming to the manuscript or original text of the work which is the object of the right, and if this right has been ceded, it can have been only with the consent of its holder... An edition is "originale" because it is in opposition to the copy, that is to say the counterfeit: it is order as opposed to disorder.' These restatements were to modify the manner in which bibliographers saw such things in future - as also booksellers. A new light was thrown over a whole area of bibliophily.

Hitherto the membership had not ceased to grow and the subscription to increase. Escoffier was the first to require the removal of membership from those who would not pay their subscriptions after two registered letters. He rejected an imposing but artificial listing of members who would not conform to the spirit of the association. In consequence the number of booksellers affiliated to SLAM stabilised at about 300, striking a balance between the requests for admission and the expulsions. At the same time he for the first time reduced the membership fee so that entry could be wide open. He demanded that the association's booklet should appear every year and be kept regularly up-to-date. He made a special appeal to the spirit of the association in stressing that it was a collective influence which, more than any other, could watch over our special interests.

From 1928- 30 the committee sought specially to resolve three problems. First as to the luxury tax; it asked for a relaxation whereby the value at which a book became subject to tax should be raised from 300 to 1200 francs. Unfortunately, the law of 25 February 1Ç20 was passed in negation of this suggestion, subjecting all printed books of the 15th and 16th centuries, of whatever value (even below 300 francs) to a luxury tax of 12 %, as for art editions on special paper of which the edition did not exceed 300 copies. Our office protested vigorously against this arbitrary measure. Next it tried to find a solution to the problem of fake bindings. It set up a commission of enquiry on the falsification of bindings and the later superimposition of ancient and sought-after provenances. This commission consisted of Messrs. Besombes, Briquet, Le François and Roth. Finally, M. Puzin drew up a report on the application of the law affecting social insurance, seeing it as a humanitarian measure of much importance and asking each member to join the scheme immediately. He pointed out that it covered illness, disablement, old age, and death with provision for family and maternity expenses.

In the same area M.H. Picard reported on transportation insurance and the book trade.

From the beginning of his mandate, Escoffier had mooted the idea of the status of 'honorary bookseller' with the following conditions: retirement from business, at least 20 years of trading, membership of a corporate association, and merit. The status would be recognised by a diploma and a permanent card of admission to all general meetings and bookselling congresses. In the public domain, due homage was paid to Philippe Chabaneix, poet-bookseller who had just been awarded the Moreas prize, and to Edouard Rahir the first SLAM president, the dispersal of whose books in 1930 had met with resounding success. On that occasion Mme. Rahir made a presentation to the Bibliothèque Nationale of three precious works: the Opuscules of Marot, Rabelais's L'Isle Sonnante and Calvin's L'Institution Chrétienne with a dedication to Francois I.

The annual dinner on 10 May 1929 was honoured by Jean Giraudoux who announced himself as 'a modest collector of 17th century material'. That year the menu was engraved by René Sauvage. The following year, on 12 June 1930, the dinner was presided over by Tristan Dereme, and the menu planned and drawn by Dignimont. On this occasion Tristan Dereme pondered on 'the second hand book' ('Livre d’occasion'): 'What is an "occasion"?' will you allow me to play the pedant a little and remind you of the verb 'cadere' and its supine 'casum', and recall that the 'occasion', 'chance', 'accident' and 'echeance' (literally 'falling-due', 'due-date') are in a sense hatched from the same Latin nest. He left us to draw our own conclusion about these four terms whose connection is indeed perhaps not wholly fortuitous. Are they the four cardinal points of antiquarian bookselling? For a poet everything is possible.

History of the SLAM : First Part (1914-1934)

Henri Picard, president 1931-1934

Henri Picard was born at Sens on 26 February 1872 of parents who followed the modest calling of 'wigmakers'. Losing his father at the age of 13, he was forced to move to the capital to earn a living. His taste led him to rum at once towards bookselling. He started with his second cousin Alphonse Picard in the rue Bonaparte. A strenuous worker, he did several years there before going to Sirey (law bookseller) and then to Martin. There he was in charge of organising public sales held in the rooms of the Bons Enfants and Sylvestre. In 1893 he approached the bookshop of Flammarion and Vaillant who were looking for a competent person to draw up catalogues. He got the job and was engaged at the same time at the Galeries de L'Odeon. It was at this time that he met Auguste Blaizot who became his friend; he also met Rahir, Nourry, Besombes, Lemailler, G. Chretien, Cornuau and Margraff.

In 1902 his patron Lucicn Gougy took steps, without his knowledge, towards the purchase of the Fonds Martin, 126 rue du Faubourg Saint Honore (former house of Ronner founded in 1860).

Devoted to the cause of his profession, he accepted the mandate entrusted to him by the general meeting of 20 May 1931. He was elected President with Puzin as vice- president, Deruelle (secretary), Jacquenet (treasurer), and Bosse, Dauthon, Jammes, Quereuil and Siroux as committee members. His whole term was marked by the world economic crisis which struck France with full force. At the first dinner at which he presided (when the menu was illustrated by Falke) he declared: 'The economic crisis has reduced the buying power of our customers. We sell as many books but the transactions are at a lower level... We must all strive to maintain the confidence of our clientele and also to deserve'. Despite the crisis, he sought to promote books with the help of writers such as Emile Henriot and Gerard Bauer. 'Continue to love books and you will sell them all the better' he declared to the general meeting of 7 June 1932.

At the beginning of 1933 the crisis deepened, and SLAM decided to put out a propaganda booklet reproducing press articles which had appeared during 1932. They had been written in praise of second-hand books on the initiative of the association. Incidentally it may be noted that old books were at that time holding their own well both in public sales and in priced catalogues. An Economic and Customs Action Committee came to be set up to which the office gave its support, publishing a manifesto for 'customs demobilisation'.

However, Henry Picard confirmed that the French market continued fairly favourable to us, but that foreign markets were virtually closed to us because of the lack of currency and of the devaluation (A.G.M. of May 16, 1933).

And at the end of his term, when he came to draw up his balance-sheet as it were, he commented that throughout the world crisis, transactions in books had been those showing the least depreciation.

During his three presidential years Henri Picard sought above all to be at the head of the committee of the members, not of the membership. He strove to make himself useful, replying by return to information requested of him. He began by revising the conditions of sale, of despatch and of payment to make them more explicit. He too tackled the question of public sales in which he had brought to light abuses as to fallacious descriptions. He protested against the practice of some dealers who, to justify their own prices, did not hesitate to quote the comparative prices of other booksellers. In general terms, he sought to encourage and defend French trade against foreigners recently established in France (Committee, 17 April 1934).

In another sphere, it fell to him in April 1932 to deliver a funeral speech on the death of Noel Chavary 'last representative of a family of paleographers'. The next month the Bouquiniste Français offered the condolences of the association on the first page, following the report of the assassination to which Paul Doumer, President of the Republic, had fallen victim.

Finally he had the honour of presiding at the presentation of the Legion of Honour to Messrs. Blaizot and E. Nourry (Bouquiniste Français, 17 December 1932) in the presence of one of the greatest bibliophiles of the time, M. Louis Barthou, then President of the Council, who was to be assassinated two years later at Marseilles, at the same time as King Alexander I of Yugoslavia.

His presidency over, Picard was made a President of Honour and until 1957 rarely missed meetings. For long the doyen of the book trade, he offered a shining example of a life wholly devoted to books with 74 years of bookselling, 57 of them on his own account.

Translation: Martin Hamlyn

(....)

Published 23 May 2011

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