June 2012 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Justin Croft's La Fin Des Livres

Catalogue Review: La fin des Livres?

Screen shot 2012-06-15 at 9.58.28 AM.pngIs this a catalogue review? Yes and no. But the list of ten books circulated this week by Justin Croft Antiquarian Books of Kent, England, deserves a closer look. I love the idea behind this list of books by the late nineteenth-century Parisian publisher Octave Uzanne, "a bibliophile who foresaw the potential of electronic publishing. But he also saw that printed books could survive in the coming era by becoming objects of desire." So he created beautiful books with well-designed covers, color plates, embroidered silk jackets, ribbons, and thick paper; the material artifact spoke volumes.

Here Justin Croft has curated a collection of ten books, not only for the collector of Uzanne or fin-de-siecle Paris, but also for those of us interested in this ongoing 'death of the book' narrative -- it is one of the consuming narratives of the current media landscape, and yet, as these books remind us, it has a much longer history. Croft explores the topic not by subject matter, but by the materiality of the books' production, which is a very cool concept.

To read these descriptions, it seems as if Uzanne's books were often delicate, with heavy paper and silk chemises. La femme a Paris, from 1894, is seen here in its scarce original pictorial and embroidered silk chemise, for example (£500). A study of women in 'nineties Paris, it contains twenty hard-colored engraved plates, plus other illustrations, on floral paper. A fine copy of Son Altesse la Femme, from 1885, likewise appears in its original blue paper chemise with broad silk ribbon ties (£800). La nouvelle bibliopolis, "a plea for a new bibliophily" from 1897, was another fragile production, and in this case, the former owner pasted the publisher's gilt wrappers to heavy boards to preserve them (£1000).   

With only ten books, the list is short and sweet. Don't miss it -- download it here