When did you first fall in love with antique books?
I was 16 when I became interested in one of my ancestors, who wrote most of the law articles in Diderot and d'Alembert’s Encyclopédie.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I studied at the École des Chartes, a French 'grande école' specialising in history where museum, archive and library curators train. There I earnt the title of 'archiviste-paléographe'. My thesis was about censorship and printers’ control in the first half of the 19th century.
I also published extensively on the subjects of bibliophily, bookbindings and Renaissance and 17th century collectors, including Grolier, Laubespine, Mazarin and la Vieuville and his ‘reliures archaïsantes’.
Where did you work before coming to Christie’s?
I held three main positions. For four years I was Head of the ‘Bureau du patrimoine des bibliothèques’ in the Ministère de la Culture, in charge of the very rich collections of books and manuscripts in provincial French libraries.
I then spent 12 years at the Bibliothèque nationale (now the BnF) as curator in the Rare Books department, followed by 15 years as curator of the historic collections in the Bibliothèque Mazarine, founded by Cardinal Mazarin and Gabriel Naudé in 1643.
Cureau de la Chambre, Marin (1594–1675). Nouvelles observations et coniectures sur l'iris; par le Sr de La Chambre, Conseiller du Roy en ses Conseils & son Medecin Ordinaire. Paris: Jacques Langlois pour Pierre Rocolet, 1650. Presentation copy to Cardinal Mazarin
Sold for: €29,375
Christie’s Paris, 8 November 2014
What is the most memorable moment of your career?
My discovery of the Renaissance library of Claude de Laubespine.
In 1993 I threw myself into compiling a census of the decorated French bindings in the Rare Books Reserve of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Shortly after I began perusing the stacks, I noticed two folio 16th century books on architecture with very fine bindings executed at the end of the 1560s, but with no indication of whom they had belonged to – no ex-libris or coat of arms. They each bore on their fly-leaf an old shelf-mark in brown ink, a number in a large end 16th century hand between two parallel strokes. I went on searching and finally found in the BnF 40 volumes in extraordinary bindings, all bearing the same shelf-marks which I called the 'cotes brunes'. I continued my search in other Parisian libraries (where I found about 40 more volumes, revealing nothing about their original owner except for the mysterious 'cotes brunes'), in British and American libraries, and in a few private collections, most of them outside France. To date I have discovered about 120 such volumes.
It was in a literary manuscript that I finally picked up the trail. Finely bound with a double C repeated, the manuscript was believed to be a King Charles IX copy. Upon opening it I was surprised to find my 'cote brune' written on the fly-leaf. This early luxury calligraphic edition of the love poems of the French court poet Philippe Desportes, published in 1573, contains a final sonnet about the year 1570. In it Desportes mourns his ‘wise, happy, and perfect’ friend, Claude de Laubespine. This brilliant Secretary of State, who died at the age of 25 in September 1570 having grown up at court a friend of the young King Charles IX, was the patron who commissioned this great Renaissance library. I am planning a book and an exhibition with my friend Pascal Ract-Madoux about this discovery.
How did you come to join Christie’s?
I was offered the position and I was very happy to accept this challenge, to see new books and make new friends among bibliophiles.
Why is Christie’s the best place to buy and sell books?
Because they have the best experts in illuminated manuscripts, early printed and illustrated books, and of course artistic and historical bookbindings!
What advice would you give to new collectors in this category?
Read, read, read, books (and catalogues), handle them, and keep asking questions about condition.
And never buy a book purely as an investment. If you know and love them, you will be rewarded.
Main Image:A ‘cote brune Laubespine’