La Gazette Drouot
Enchères - La Collection Bérès
The Berès saga
The six sales of bookseller Pierre Berès' collections totalled €35.3 M, constituting a pantheon for booklovers in hard cash.
No introduction is needed for Pierre Berès, the prince of booksellers, who during a career spanning eighty years has seen many treasures – in printed or autograph versions – belonging not only to the history of world literature, but also more broadly to that of human thinking. While he traded a great deal with great collectors and famous institutions, no small quantity remained in his hands. After he decided to take a well-earned retirement, the six sales of his bookshop collection and his "cabinet of curiosities", staged between July 2005 and December 2007, totalled €35.3 M, thus more than doubling the total of low estimates. Precociously gifted, he conducted his first sale as an expert at the age of seventeen. An erudite man with an unfailing eye, Pierre Berès remained a tireless scout with an international reputation – he could content himself in the famous Book Collector of London with the succinct "The World’s fine books, Pierre Berès, Paris", as an advertisement... Booklovers' appetites were tickled by an exhibition organised in 2004 at the Château de Chantilly, "Livres du cabinet de Pierre Berès", bringing together the treasures hidden safe from prying eyes in his personal collection, most of which were described in the catalogue for the sale of 20 June 2006. This marked the high point of all the sales, garnering €14.24 M alone. For this occasion, specialist Jean-Baptiste de Proyart had adopted a policy of estimates as close as possible to international prices. "Estimates of the collections were deliberately unaggressive, because most of the books had been offered in the market at one time or another," he explains,  "but a collection of this calibre only appears once every ten or fifteen years." And he adds, "The only rivals for the Berès sales were those of the library of the Earls of Macclesfield at Sotheby’s, and those of Estelle Doheny at Christie’s." The latter, staged between 1987 and 1989, totalled $37.8 M (the equivalent of €50 M today) while the former– ten sales, from March 2004 to October 2007 – fetched a total of £22.4 M (€32.4 M at the exchange rate of October 2007). We should also mention the Marcel Jeansson sales, but their dispersion in time and space makes any accurate assessment difficult. 
€1 422 244
A collection of 60 watercolour drawings of birds attributed to Pierre Gourdelle
Tuesday 20 June 2006, room 5-6
Pierre Bergé & Associés auction house. M. de Proyart.
Among the achievements of the Berès sale, the accursed poets of the 19th century occupied a very special place. A world record was obtained for a first French edition, with the €440,000 fetched by Paul Verlaine's copy of Une saison en enfer by Arthur Rimbaud (Brussels, Alliance Typographique, 1873). In 1936, Pierre Berès bought half the manuscript of Rimbaud's Les Illuminations from Gustave Kahn – one of the legendary Berès "coups". Kahn, Director of La Vogue, was the first publisher, first in the review then in the form of a book with a presentation by Verlaine, of the incandescent poems written by the poet between 1873 and 1875. And as it happens, a letter sent by Paul Verlaine on 3 February1888 to Léon Vanier, in which the poet mentions his copy of Une saison en enfer lent to Gustave Kahn and not returned, like the manuscript of Les Illuminations, went for €20,000. These two lots were part of the twelve from the "Cabinet des livres" concerning the star-struck Rimbaud-Verlaine couple, which went under the hammer for €2,141,000. In the same sale, €260,000 went to the autograph manuscript of the poem composed by Rimbaud in 1822, La Rivière de Cassis, a strange, dark work. There was also much competition for two manuscripts by Rimbaud that had belonged to Louis Forain: €250,000 went to the oldest known manuscript of Larme (one page) and €240,000 to the autograph manuscript of La Bonne Pensée du matin (one page). Both poems dated from May 1872. During the last sale, it was Charles Baudelaire's turn to take the spotlight, with the €375,000 obtained for his copy of Les Paradis artificiels. Opium et haschisch (Paris, Poulet-Malassis et de Brise, 1860), annotated for a conference he gave in Brussels in 1864.

Humanistic inventory
The encyclopaedic culture of Pierre Berès was reflected in the finest items in the auctions. The scientific and religious revolution induced by De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI (Nuremberg, Johannes Petreius, 1543) by Nicolas Copernicus (€710,000), was followed by the great discoveries of De insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis (Basle, 1494) by Christopher Colombus (€523,000), and continued with the Reformation, with the first edition (Basle, 1536) of Christianae religionis institutio by Jean Calvin (€470,000). Needless to say, these three works are of exceptional rarity... In the realm of the natural sciences, the four volumes of Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri by Albert Seba (Amsterdam, 1734-1765) fetched €400,000, and as for geography, €340,000 went to a coloured illuminated copy of the period of Abraham Ortelius's famous atlas, Theatrum orbis terrarum (Antwerp, 1573), magnificently bound to boot. And in terms of bindings, we can cite the €180,000 for the one produced for Claude III de L’Aubespine in olive morocco, with its decoration known as "à la fanfare à compartiments vides". It covers the first edition of Xenophon by the Estiennes (Geneva, 1561), which here only contains the Latin part of the edition. One of the largest artistic bindings (40.6 x 26.3 cm) listed for the Renaissance, executed in around 1550 for Thomas Mahieu, doubled its estimate at €105,000. In brown calfskin with interlacing gilded and painted decoration, some of it delineating reserves with stippling, it protects the Historiarum sui temporis tomus primus (Florence, Laurentius Torrentinus, 1550) by Paulo Giovio. As regards emblazoned bindings, we can cite the €300,000 fetched by one with the arms of William the Silent of Orange, the hero of Dutch Independence, covering the Discours du songe de Poliphile, déduisant comme Amour le combat à l’occasion de Polia (Paris, Jacques Kerver, 1554) by Francesco Colonna (see photo above), and the €210,000 obtained by a copy with the arms of Louis XV for Choisy-le-Roi of the original edition (Amsterdam, Marc Michel Rey, 1755) of the Discours sur l’origine et les fondemens de l’inégalité parmi les hommes by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
However, the highest bid, €1,220,000, did not go to a literary, philosophical, religious or scientific work, but to a collection of 60 watercolour drawings of birds attributed to Pierre Gourdelle (see photo page 28). This artist worked for Catherine de Medici and the Houses of Guise and Clèves. These "volatils" were probably executed for a rich patron – a flyleaf bears the arms of Richoufftz, a family allied to the Gueldre and Clèves families –, and the Bibliothèque Nationale has a twin collection by the same artist, although with some differences (see page 38 of Gazette 2006 no. 24). These illustrations were probably used for the engravings in the book by Pierre Belon published in 1555, L’Histoire de la nature et des oiseaux. In addition, our collection is magnificently bound with a gilt-painted decoration: a masterpiece of the Renaissance. Pierre Berès acquired this work in New York in 1949 from one of his colleagues, H. P. Kraus. The inside cover bears the coded amount of the transaction, Berès being well-known for his love of secrecy. A drawing by Piranesi of c. 1775, with autograph notes by the artist on the back, fetched €390,000. Pierre Berès had bought it for FF130,000 (the equivalent of €60,750 today) on 21 November 1978 in a sale at the Palais d’Orsay. The notes consist of comments on Roman architecture and decoration.
Printed illustrations were also in the limelight. Here, Goya was one of the stars in the "Cabinet des livres". €260,000 went to the first edition of the Tauromaquia (see photo page 29), Madrid, 1816, featuring 33 etchings, aquatints and dry-points, while €200,000 went to the first edition of the Caprichos (1799), containing 80 etchings and aquatints, and €95,000 to the first edition of Los Desastres de la guerra (Madrid, Academy of San Fernando, 1863). Antonio Canaletto, meanwhile, raised €220,000 with the 31 etchings of Vedute altre prese da i luoghi... ([Venice], [after June 1744]). The artist in fact began his career as an engraver towards the end of his life, probably at the instigation of the Consul, Smith, who held this post in Venice as from 6 June 1744. We can remember the sale of the  collection of Japanese prints by gallery owner Huguette Berès, one of the bookseller's wives, at Sotheby’s in Paris, totalling €4.29 M, on 27 November 2002 (see Gazette 2002 no. 44, page 69) and €1.75 M on 25 November 2003 (see Gazette 2003 no. 43, page 58). Her husband possessed a first edition (Edo, 1788) of the Uta Makura by Utamaro, considered one of the finest erotic books ever published. This "Pillow Poem" fetched €180,000. In 1947, Matisse chose Pierre Berès' bookshop to exhibit the only work of which he was both author and artist, Jazz, which had just been published by Tériade. In 2006, the copy given by the artist to his daughter-in-law, Louise, fetched €230,000. However, the price of the Berès copy was beaten in November 2007 by the €360,000 fetched at Christie’s in Paris by one of the 205 copies on Arches vellum, here bound by Creuzevault in morocco with mosaic decoration. 

In terms of pre-emptive purchases, the State exercised its right on twenty-two occasions. However, the finest operation involved no sale, as Pierre Berès having donated his copy of La Chartreuse de Parme by Stendhal, revised and corrected by the author in view of a new edition. It was estimated as being worth between €400,000 and €700,000. Stendhal had had this copy interleaved so that he could rework it according to advice from Balzac: a project that he began, but in the end abandoned after seventeen pages. The finest pre-emption, €800,000 was exercised on behalf of the Grenoble Library Stendhal collection for the Journal d’Henry Beyle – in other words, the diary of Stendhal himself – covering the years 1805 to 1814 (see page 169 of Gazette no. 37). The library possesses all the other years of the writer's diary. Édouard Champion had acquired the diary at the sale of the Chéramy estate in April 1913, for FF1,850 (the equivalent of €2,450 today). Pierre Berès later bought the entire Champion collection, knowing that it contained these precious documents. The State also pre-empted, at €305,000, on behalf of the Musée Balzac at the Château de Saché in Indre-et-Loire, the 370 pages of the corrected autograph proofs of Le Lys dans la Vallée, i.e. the entire text of the novel. Balzac had given this copy to his friend and confidant, Dr. Nacquart, the dedicatee of Le Lys dans la Vallée. Two poetry manuscripts were pre-empted for the Bibliothèque Nationale: the first set of proofs for Le Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard by Stéphane Mallarmé (€185,000) and the 68 leaves, 39 autograph and 34 printed, of Apollinaire's anthology Alcools (€130,000). Not featuring in the catalogue devoted to the bookseller's personal collection, a French version of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (Geneva, Jacques Bourgeois, 1562), annotated by Sully, was pre-empted at €95,000.

La Gazette Drouot N°2 - 18 janvier 2008 - Sylvain Alliod
Francesco Colonna, Discours du songe de Poliphile..., Paris, Jacques Kerver, 1554,
in-folio, binding of the period in brown calfskin with the painted arms of William of Orange.

Tuesday 20 June 2006,
room 5-6 Pierre Bergé & Associés auction house. M. de Proyart.
Hubert Robert, autograph manuscript and original drawings,
63 pages, Paris, 1797-1806, in octavo.
Wednesday 13 December 2006, room 7. Pierre Bergé & Associés auction house. M. de Proyart

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, La Tauromaquia, Madrid, 1816, in-folio.
Tuesday 20 June 2006,
room 5-6 Pierre Bergé & Associés auction house. M. de Proyart.
Three questions for book specialist Jean-Baptiste de Proyart

Did you expect a result like this?

We were expecting a success, but not a triumph. Pierre Berès has such a well-established reputation that it was obvious that professional, booklovers and institutions would respond to the offer. In addition, high quality books are so rare today that the whole collection presented was sure to arouse the most lively interest. But what really surprised us was the keen attention given to each of the lots, right up to the last box sold. I must confess that at the beginning, we had no idea that there were so many books. These sales were also a fascinating story, because Pierre Berès had kept many of his discoveries secret for a very long time. It all had a great aura of mystery. 

From the market point of view, what was significant about the Berès sales?
They enhanced the supremacy of the Paris market in the international market.  Paris used to be the uncontested capital of French books. It is now the capital for any kind of foreign publication. For instance, a book in Spanish for the Guarani Indians published in 1724 in the Jesuit missions in Paraguay went for €50,000! The universal nature of Berès' taste enabled Drouot to show its ability to sell the most unusual books at international prices. This “Berès universality” also sets an example for all booklovers and sellers in terms of both criteria and variety of choice. We need professionals like Berès, otherwise bookshops can't exist!

What was your favourite item?
The Copernicus, without any doubt at all. The copy transcends all standards, it's in the condition of the period, and it's so mysterious! In terms of manuscripts, Stendhal was my favourite, with his diary and the corrected copy of La Chartreuse de Parme donated to the Bibliothèque Nationale. But I must stress that there were a huge number of remarkable books. I was lucky enough to have temporary enjoyment of them!