Maison Charavay

Maison Charavay was founded by Antoine Charavay, who came to bookselling late in life. After fighting under Napoleon in Egypt, he spent 30 years selling silk stockings like his father and grandfather before him. But after the workers’ revolts in 1831 and the death of his wife, he opened his first bookshop in Lyon on rue de l’Archevêché.

Antoine’s three oldest sons Jacques the Elder (1809-1867), Jean (1816-), and Gabriel (1818-1879) all helped their father run the shop, in addition to their own pursuits. Jacques the Elder originally studied law and became a bailiff, but the discovery in 1830 of a cache of old papers ignited his passion for books, historical documents, and autographs.

Gabriel was a political activist and communist, and the founder of the magazine L’Humanitaire, purportedly the first “libertarian communist” publication in France. Jean also worked on the magazine, and for their troubles they were arrested on September 12, 1841, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison.

The arrests triggered a change for the family. Jacques the Elder resigned from his position as bailiff in 1842, gave his book collection and his share of the Lyons bookshop to his brothers, and by 1845 had moved to Paris to focus exclusively on autographs. He established a firm on rue Gît-le-coeur and published the catalogs that would eventually be known as the Bulletin d’autographes.

When Gabriel was released from prison he resumed running the Lyons bookshop. He also resumed his political activities — he participated in the French Revolution of 1848, and was arrested and imprisoned again shortly before the Coup d’état of 1851 for opposing Napoleon III. When he was released in 1857 he moved to Paris and worked with Jacques the Elder for a while before opening his own shop on rue des Poitevins, specializing in autographs. He also published several periodicals, including “L’Amateur d’autographes” and “Revue des autographes” (distinct from the catalogs so titled), and collaborated with Pierre Larousse on his Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle. Upon Gabriel’s death, his son Eugene (also publisher of the newspaper L’Imprimerie), his widow Rose Tritz, and finally his daughter Gabrielle continued publishing catalogs.

Jean, meanwhile, retired to Marseilles after Napoleon III’s ascent.

The third generation of the Charavay family was just as active in bookselling and politics. Marin-Etienne (1848-1899), the son of Jacques the Elder, took over management of the family firm upon the death of his father, with help from his uncle Gabriel and the writer Julie Lavergne. Under his leadership the firm opened the bookshop at Rue de Furstenberg. His older son, Etienne, specialized in autographs, while his younger son Claudius focused on books. Shortly before Marin-Eteinne’s death the bookseller, who had gotten a degree as a archivist-paleographer in 1869, was called as an expert witness in the second Dreyfus trial.

Marin-Etienne had already passed the firm onto his younger brother Noël (-1932), who ran it from 1894 until his death, whereupon his widow took over.

Gabrielle would be the last Charavay bookseller; in 1945 Michel Castaing took over management of the firm.

By Janalyn Martínez

For further reading:

Histoire de la librairie française. Paris: Cercle de la librairie, 2008 (p. 133).

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Famille Charavay” (accessed October 4, 2018)

FranceArchives, Portail National des Archives, s.v. “Charavay/LibrairieCharavay 1” (accessed October 4, 2018)


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