If anyone really needs an excuse to go to Paris, here’s one for you, bibliophiles: through January 31, The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is hosting an exhibition showcasing one hundred of its treasures. The world’s oldest national library is also one of the largest, with fourteen million items in its repository. Designating the most exceptional would be Sisyphean. Instead, curator Jean-Marc Chatelain limited his scope to the 11,000 materials that entered the Rare Book Reserve between 1994 to 2014. (In 1995, the BnF opened its massive Mitterrand location in the 13th arrondissement with 248 miles of storage space, giving the acquisitions department room to feather the nest.)
The displays, thirteen sections categorized by theme, are an attempt to help redefine what it means for a book to be considered ‘rare’ or ‘exceptional,’ and so the examples run the gamut, from incunables, children’s books, and contemporary artists’ books. An 1805 edition of Voltaire’s epic poem La Henriade, with engravings by draftsman Jean-Michel Moreau (Le Jeune) shares space with a pamphlet from the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition celebrating the opening of the #8 metro line. It’s not all French either; there’s a 1992 publication of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with etchings by artist Sean Scully.
The Éloge de la rareté is also a bid to educate the general public on the existence of the Reserve, which has, for over two hundred years, maintained and preserved France’s rich national patrimony. Vive la bibliothèque.
Éloge de la rareté: Cent trésors de la Réserve des livres rares runs from November 25, 2014 to January 31 2015 at the François-Mitterrand location. Galerie 2. http://www.bnf.fr/fr/acc/x.accueil.html
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Reprinted with permission from Fine Books & Collections, Barbara Richter Basbanes author
Rare Finds are a special feature from Biblio and the wonderful writers at Fine Books & Collections. Visit their site to see more about the rare book trade.