Second-hand Bookstalls in Paris (1890s)

From Dickens's Dictionary of Paris. The book is anonymous but a note in an old bookseller's hand informs us that it was written (partly) by the son of Anthony Trollope. This edition  was published about 1896 and there are advertisements for hotels giving their phone numbers.The book is listed at the British Library as being by Charles Dickens jnr.,

The bookstalls by the Seine are still much in evidence and an occasional source of rare finds. The other stalls dotted around Paris have mostly gone but many lingered on into the 1960s and some may still be there.

The only mention of English books is a stall at Rue Daunou. This street was shortly to have other English language associations - as in 1911 (at number 5)  it became the site of Harry's New York Bar where famously James Bond went on his first visit to Paris aged 16. Ian Fleming writes (possibly this happened to him?) "..he followed the instructions in Harry's advertisement in the Continental Daily Mail, and told his taxi driver 'Sank Roo Doe Noo'...that had started one of the memorable evenings of his life, culminating in the loss, almost simultaneous, of his virginity and his notecase".

The genuine book-collector is he who buys his books gradually, one or two volumes at a time,not the rich man who can afford to go to a bookseller and demand to be supplied with so many feet of the standard authors. The man who has not much money to spend, but who likes to ferret out for himself his treasures, having about him something of the book-grubber, is a much more interesting individual. He may waste many small quarters of an hour here and there in turning over semi-worthless volumes, but usually his mind is intellectually bent. He enjoys his occupation, and in the long run derives some profit from it. His time might perhaps be better spent, but before we throw stones at him let us see if there be no glass roof over our own heads. Industrious French authors have written books upon the pleasures of buying second-hand literature, and this would seem to show that the practice in Paris was a common one.

Nearly all the way on the quay, on the left bank of the river[the southern side], from the Pont St. Michel, near Notre Dame, down to the Pont Royal, maybe seen, on the parapet by the side of the river, boxes well filled with second-hand books. As a rule, these boxes are open from eight or nine o'clock in the morning till dusk.Passers-by may look at the wares thus exposed for sale; they may examine them with such knowledge as they possess ; and buy them or reject them as they choose. The market is fair and open. In nearly all cases the prices are marked in one way or the other; generally all the books in one box are to be sold at a stated price. The usual plan is to divide the volumes, according to their value,into boxes; and each box will contain books varying in price from 25c. to 3 francs. The books that are sold for 3f. and upwards are, as a rule, classed under the heading, "Prix divers," and the sum to be charged is or is not stated at the beginning or at he end of the work. No doubt much trash is here collected, but a little experience will soon enable one to make certain broad divisions between what may be of use and that which may be passed over without thought. Books that are at all expensive are rarely exposed for sale upon the quays. The best of those that are so sold will usually be found on the Quai Voltaire between the Pont Royal and the Pont des Saints Peres. Also on this quay, upon the other side of the road, there are bookstalls affixed to the house facing the river. 

Besides those on the quays, open stalls for the sale of second-hand books may be found in other parts of Paris, viz. Rue Volney, at the comer of the Rue de Daunou (there many English books are exposed for sale);Rue Chateaudun, in front of No.28; Rue Chateaudun, near where the Rue St.Georges comes into that street;Boulevard Haussmann, at the corner of the Rue du Helder; Rue Ste. Cecile, at the comer of the Faubourg Poissoniere;Rue de Rome,at the comer of the Rue St.Lazare; Rue de la Sorbonne;Rue St. Jacques, facing the College de France ; Place de la Sorbonne ; at one side of the Boulevard St. Michel;Rue Victor Cousin;Rue Soufflot;Rue Casimir Delavigne. There are doubtless many others, but among the above mentioned the ardent pilgrim will be able to find a reward for his labours.

One thought on “Second-hand Bookstalls in Paris (1890s)

  1. James

    Nowadays, rather too many of the bouquinistes pad their wares out with Eiffel Tower keyrings and Jim Morrison posters and the like, although I believe the percentage of their boxes that they can devote to tourist stuff is limited by some sort of statute or agreement. They are still worth a browse but I rarely find anything of note.


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