Tag Archives: prospectuses

Judging a book by its cover

With support from the Florence Gould Foundation and the Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal Fund, the Newberry Library recently acquired a French pamphlet that is ostensibly a  duplicate copy of a pamphlet in the Library’s French Revolution Collection. But as Shawn’s previous post “‘Lecteur, prenez-garde’, or, Some duplicates do more than duplicate” indicates, a copy may have a rich history of usage specific only to that particular copy.

Procès-verbal de la Conféderation des François, a Paris (Case folio DC169.07 .P76 1790)

Issued in 1790, Procès-verbal de la Conféderation des François, a Paris (Case folio DC169.07 .P76 1790) contains proceedings, decrees, and letters dated July 10-24, 1790, regarding planned festivities for the Fête de la Féderation. This official festival was a series of celebrations throughout France in support of the new (but short-lived) constitutional monarchy. An official ceremony took place on July 14, 1790, the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, on the Champ de Mars (at the time just outside of Paris). During this ceremony,  King Louis XVI pledged his loyalty to the National Assembly and his commitment to upholding the Constitution (although not ratified until 1791) and the laws issued by this elected body.

Unlike the Newberry’s copy of these proceedings in its French Revolution Collection, which does not have a cover, the newly acquired copy of the Procès-verbal is bound in contemporary paper wrappers printed in the familiar red, white, and blue vertical stripes of the Tricolore, which was adopted as the national flag of France in 1790. The wrappers are printed using the technique known as papier peint, a printing technique of the period used for making wallpaper.

Cover of Procès-verbal de la Conféderation des François, a Paris (Case folio DC169.07 .P76 1790)

The name of the  intended recipient of this copy is handwritten on the paper label pasted to the front cover: A Monsieur, a Carbier, colonel de la garde nationale du district de Castres, departement du Tarn [To Mr. Carbier, colonel of the National Guard in the district of Castres, department of Tarn]. A cursory search for Colonel Carbier did not yield any additional information about this guardsman.

Materials bound in at the beginning of Procès-verbal de la Conféderation des François, a Paris (Case folio DC169.07 .P76 1790)

Pasted to the inside front cover is a notice to the members of the local National Guard units (akin to local militias) who participated in the festivities of the Fête de la Féderation. Also bound in at the beginning are a letter of transmittal signed by member of the Assemblée-Fédérative (responsible for the planning of the Fête) and a prospectus advertising the forthcoming Essai historique sur les gardes nationales, a history of the French National Guard by Pierre Vaqué, a colonel in the National Guard of Calonges and secretary of the Assemblée-Fédérative. This book appears never to have been published.

While the content of a primary source like this pamphlet is always important for scholarship, the provenance of source materials and the vestiges of how they were used at the time they were issued provide important contextual information and open new avenues of scholarly inquiry. The burn mark on the title page of this copy of the Procès-verbal further reveals that this pamphlet was indeed used and has its own stories to tell.

Dictionnaire de Trévoux

While many book prospectuses, considering their ephemeral nature, are little more than simply printed single-sheet advertisements, some are rather lushly printed to showcase the beauty and importance of the book they are advertising.

Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1a no. 109

One such example from the Newberry’s Collection of publishers’ prospectuses, catalogs, and other materials is a prospectus for the 1771 edition of the Dictionnaire universel françois et latin, commonly known as the Dictionnaire de Trévoux after the French city in which it was first published in 1704.

The Dictionnaire de Trévoux was a much-published encyclopedia during the Enlightenment, and precedes Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s famous Encyclopédie, first published in 1751.  The title page of the prospectus more or less reproduces that of the 1771 Trévoux.  Measuring 36 cm. in height and printed in red and black ink, this prospectus was likely expensive to produce.

Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1a no. 109 (title page verso)

On the verso of the title page is a list of 15 booksellers who comprise the Libraires associés, the publisher of Trévoux.  Considering the expense of printing an illustrated folio 8-volume work, it is likely that pooling resources among several booksellers was the only way to realize this undertaking.

This uncommonly beautiful piece of ephemera showcases the importance placed on reason, learning, and scholarship in 18th-century France and underscores the mounting interest in the encyclopedia as a literary genre during this time.

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.