New York, March 19, 2019
The Grolier Club has acquired an important archive documenting the development of Jacques-Charles Brunet’s Manuel du libraire et de l’amateur des livres in its later editions, consisting of Brunet’s own interleaved and heavily annotated copy of the fourth edition; publisher Ambroise Firmin-Didot’s own copy of the fifth edition, with notes by Brunet, Léon Scott de Martinville, Olivier Barbier, and Didot himself; Olivier Barbier’s copy of the fifth edition, again with many corrections and additions in preparation for the (never realized) sixth edition; Barbier’s autograph manuscript of the first 2500 numbers of the Table or index for the sixth edition; along with six boxes of manuscript contracts, woodcut illustration proofs, letters, etc. regarding the final editions of the Manuel.
Jacques-Charles Brunet’s Manuel du libraire (five editions beginning in 1810; final edition: 1860-65) was perhaps the most important bibliographical reference tool of the 19th century. It remains an essential guide for scholars, librarians and collectors to this day, and is constantly cited. As Breslauer and Folter state in the Grolier Club’s 1984 publication Bibliography: “Brunet’s annotations about the scholarly and commercial value of the books he listed are often still unsurpassed.” The Manuel du libraire is thus a landmark, not only in the history of bibliography broadly speaking, but also in the history of book collecting, charting as it does, over five editions and more than fifty years, the evolution of the rare book market, and the parallel development of bibliophile taste, into something like their modern forms. The archive charts that evolution, and provides a highly detailed roadmap of Brunet’s unique contribution to book history.
The archive, which was purchased through the Grolier Club’s Mary Young Fund, represents a significant addition to the Club’s scholarly holdings in French bibliography and bibliophily, strengthening a world-class collection of resources that includes, aside from America’s largest assembly of French book dealer and book auction catalogues, Louis M. Polain’s archive concerning his Catalogue des livres imprimés au quinzième siècle des bibliothèques de Belgique, the business papers of Edouard Rahir et cie, as well as printed and manuscript material by nineteenth-century French book figures of equal stature. The archive, which was held by the Didot firm until its dissolution in the 1960s, and has since been the property of an eminent French antiquarian bookdealer, has never been widely researched, nor referred to in print in any detail. The Club will shortly make the Brunet archive available for study, and is already exploring selective digitization, as well as other means of making this extraordinary body of material available to scholars worldwide.