Tag Archives: bookselling

The trial and execution of Louis XVI dramatized

Frontispiece of Case Wing DC137.08 .F73 v. 8 no. 27

While the Louis XVI Trial and Execution Collection does contain many factual source documents, such as the opinions of the deputies of the Convention nationale on whether the king could be tried for treason and what punishment he should receive, the collection also contains a number of satires and works of drama and poetry on Louis XVI, his family, and the politics of Revolutionary-era France.  Noteworthy in the collection are several editions of the drama La Mort de Louis XVI: tragédie, written anonymously by Étienne Aignan and Jules-Julien-Gabriel Berthevin.  This tragedy dramatizes the trial and execution of Louis XVI and includes such characters as the king, Marie Antoinette, their defense lawyers, and various deputies of the Convention nationale like Maximilien Robespierre and Jean-Paul Marat.  Many editions also contain the text of Louis XVI’s will.

The 1797 Paris edition published by Élion (Case Wing DC137.08 .F73 v. 8 no. 27) also ends with two pages describing the 1795 acquittal of bookseller Antoinette-Emilie Durand and 16-year-old colporteur Jacques Igonnette of the charges that they sold anonymously authored and published works, including La mort de Louis XVI, that provoke the “dissolution de la réprésentation nationale” and the “meurtre de tous les membres qui la composent.”

Notaries and the book trade

When 18th-century booksellers and publishers in France planned to publish a new title, it was not uncommon for them to request in prospectuses or advertisements for the proposed work that subscribers mail their subscription fee to a notary, who acted as an agent for the bookseller or publisher.

Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1a no. 111

Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1a no. 111

Many of these notaries aren’t listed in standard bibliographies or in lists of authorized name headings that we commonly use when making catalog records.  But I still wanted to include the names of these notaries in our records to make them accessible to researchers.  In my efforts to find a helpful reference resource, I stumbled upon ETANOT (ETAt des NOTaires de Paris).  Compiled by the Centre historique des Archives nationales, ETANOT is a database containing biographical and professional information on more than 3,000 notaries operating in Paris from the 15th to the mid-19thcentury.  In addition to full-text searching, you can browse by name, neighborhood, street name, and time period.

What is a book prospectus?

The Collection of publishers’ prospectuses, catalogs, and other materials at the Newberry Library contains, not unsurprisingly, a large number of book prospectuses.  A book prospectus is a description or advertisement with which a bookseller or publisher hopes to generate interest in a book that he or she proposes to publish.

The Newberry’s collection is comprised mostly of 18th-century French prospectuses, published during a time in which many booksellers and publishers offered books via subscription.  In some cases, the proposed work was never published, whether because of lack of interest or insufficient funds, or simply because it was never written.

Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1a no. 6

Jean Bouillet’s Histoire generale des maladies, described in a 1737 prospectus entitled Plan d’une Histoire generale des maladies (Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1a no. 6), is one such example of a work never completed by its author.  (Cf. Michaud, J.F. Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne (Nouv. éd), V, p. 216.)


Some prospectuses have become complete works in themselves.  French geologist, diplomat, and historian Jean-Louis Soulavie published his Histoire philosophique du progrès des sciences en France (Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1c no. 69) in 1783.

Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1c no. 69

Intended to be a somewhat lengthy (37 p.) prospectus for a work that was eventually never published, it contains an introduction and summaries of the three parts of the proposed work.  A cursory Google search reveals that this prospectus has been cited many times, both in bibliographies on the Enlightenment and in scholarly works on the history or science in 18th-century France.

Time to get ephemeral

This month I joined the French pamphlet project, where I will be principally responsible for cataloging the Newberry‘s Collection of publishers’ prospectuses, catalogs, and other materials.  I have worked as a Cataloging Project Librarian at the Newberry Library since 2008.  I am adding this collection to two others that I am currently working on, one mostly cartographic and the other mostly theological.

Case Wing Z 45 .18

This collection consists of several hundred pieces of ephemera (prospectuses, catalogs, manuscripts, etc.) related to bookselling and publishing, mostly in 18th-century France. Cataloging such ephemeral objects is a special challenge. Authorship and publication information are not always readily apparent. I have been investigating the online catalogs of a few special collections libraries like the American Antiquarian Society to see how other libraries handle the subject analysis of publishers’ catalogs and prospectuses.  Once I have drafted a workflow and template records for myself, I will meet with curatorial staff specializing in printing history to ensure that I’m capturing information that will be useful to users of our collections and online catalog.