Libraries & Culture 38.4 (2003) 410-412
[Access article in PDF]
Mélanges autour de l'histoire des livres imprimés et périodiques. Edited by Bruno Blasselle and Laurent Portes. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1998. 369 pp. 24.39 (paper). ISBN 2-7177-2063-4.
This splendid collection of sixteen articles by the erudite staff of the Bibliothèque nationale was published on the occasion of the library's renaming as the Bibliothèque nationale de France and its move to the present Tolbiac site in late 1998.
The volume opens with Bruno Blasselle's engaging five-century overview of the library's buildings, directors, departments, catalogs, and readership, an account punctuated with lively anecdotes from the early history.
Three articles in the collection will prove indispensable to researchers who study the material aspects of manuscripts or books. Ursula Baurmeister and Marie-Pierre Laffitte bring together meticulously documented information from primary and secondary sources and draw generously from decades of their own research, summarizing just about everything that can be known about the formation and early organization of the royal collection between 1518 and 1645. Rare illustrations of shelf marks from the libraries of Charles VIII and Francis I will be especially appreciated by scholars encountering them for the first time.
The richly illustrated article by Jeanne-Marie Métivier examines in minute detail the work of twelve bookbinders or groups of binders between 1672 and 1786, beginning with the anonymous artisans who executed the elaborate "Louvre borders" commissioned by Colbert. With the aid of sixteen detailed plates, half of them in color, Métivier acquaints the reader with the hallmarks of the work of each crafts[wo]man or group.
The third article related to the material history of codices is coauthored by Jean-Dominique Mellot and Elisabeth Queval, who reexamine with respect to the BN the fascinating story—first told by Dawson and Boës—of the 1777 imprimatur granted supposed millions of pirated books. Most often bearing the imprint of Paris, The Hague, or Amsterdam and a 1777 stamp from Rouen, Lyons, or Marseilles, these piracies entered the Bibliothèque nationale in increasing numbers, as the authors document, after the confiscations of the Revolutionary period.
Two articles focus on the growth of the royal collection. Françoise Pélisson-Karro relates in detail the royal library's acquisition, via the Jesuits, of one of the greatest seventeenth-century collections, that of Pierre-Daniel Huet, bishop of Avranches, following the expulsion of the Jesuit order in 1763. Appendices provide fascinating views on the collection (which Catherine of Russia was keen to own) as well as excerpts from the sales catalogs.
Luigi Gino Greco reconstructs the efforts of Delaunay, the late-eighteenth-century director of the Department of Printed Books, to fill lacunae and enhance the library's prestige through the acquisition of rare books. While gifts (including some from the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson) and selective [End Page 410] purchases were not negligible, the main gains were made through the auspices of three purveyors who specialized in foreign books: Barrois, Molini, and Debure.
The greatest number of articles focus on various aspects of the Bibliothèque nationale's intellectual and physical organization. Laurent Portes's contribution analyzes the system Nicolas Clément developed for classifying books between 1675 and 1697—a system that remained largely operative until the end of the twentieth century. Portes situates his analysis against the backdrop of the great seventeenth-century intellectual debates and demonstrates both the secularizing tendency and political considerations that shaped Clément's efforts.
Bernard Vouillot recounts 160 years of BN cataloging history, the most notable achievement being the 232-volume alphabetical author catalog published between 1897 and 1981 in the face of a chronic shortage of personnel. Vouillot traces more briefly the construction of various on-line catalogs of anonymous works through 1997 and provides an appendix that pays homage to librarians from the end of the eighteenth century to our day.
Françoise Bléchet chronicles, from a BN manuscript she discovered, the biggest previous move of...