A recent post's musings on the long-term commitment of taking in new books - like adopting a puppy or having a kid - were perhaps sparked by the combined weight of a two-volume set recently carried home: Louis Le Clert's monumental Le Papier. Had to restack a bunch of books to accommodate the set. To give a sense of scale, here they are beside Everson's Psalter (left), and one of Nash's folios (second to right).
The books are the culmination of 40 years of research by Le Clert (credited as honorary conservator at the Troyes museum) into the history of papermaking in the Troyes region of France. The first papermill in France is believed to have been established in Troyes in 1348. The books have been described as the French version of Dard Hunter's Mountain House volumes, and if they were in English they would command the same prices. But because they're in French - and 20th century books produced in France are some of the best bargains to be found in North America - the set can be had for a fraction of a Hunter volume.
Maybe not a set exactly like this: most copies currently listed are in traditional printed paper wraps (like the set shown at the top of this post), which for a book this size is not ideal. (These are the books that the bookdealer who posted them described as "the size of a small sheep.") They really need a proper binding to provide support and protection, and the set we found seems to be a variant in an original (publisher's) quarter vellum and buckram binding.
Whether you can read French or not, just flipping through the books is an education in history, papermaking, and most especially book production. (And if you have high school French, you can muddle through; it's not Proust.) The scope and depth of the book not only provides a comprehensive study of the making of paper, but also an broader & engaging survey of French history during the period. Being lazy sods, we lift verbatim the Veatchs' description of the book:
"Volume one covers technical considerations including watermarks, size & format, and social and economic conditions. It discusses some 30 paper mills in the area. Volume Two is devoted to all known artisans who worked in the mills, plus apprentices and paper merchants. The fifteen folding plates are watermarks formed in the paper. Wood engravings in the text are by Burnot. Color plates after watercolors were printed by Jacomet. Printed by Protat in a re-casting of Deberny types on Canson et Mongolfier paper handmade for this edition. Headpiece borders and tailpieces are combinations of Garamond ornaments (each a variation on a theme) composed at Lanston Monotype"
Le Clert and his publisher did not stint on including illustrations of all kinds, starting with the hand-colored frontis reproducing the coat of arms of Troyes from a 17th century stained glass window...
Several maps of the region, also hand colored:
In addition to the watermarks formed in fold-out sheets (vol. 2), dozens also are reproduced both within the text and as plates printed in yellow ink...
Half-tone reproductions of historical documents, maps and plans...
Another hand-colored reproduction of a stained glass window, this one from the Arquebusiers Hotel in that town and exhibited today in the grand room of the Municipal Library.
An oddity we haven't encountered previously: the colophon states the edition is 675 numbered copies, but the number actually appears at the end of the Table of Contents.
It's a spectacular example from the height of printing and book design during the wave of bibliophilia that surfed into the start of the last century. It's the kind of production, in ambition and execution, we really haven't seen in 50 years or more. (There certainly are outlier exceptions; Robert Reid's Lande Bibliography of Canadiana would be one fine example.) Plus, Le Clert is packed with information about paper, which is totally HM's thing.
To conclude, an attempt at translating the colophon:
"This work, the result of 40 years of research, may not have been possible without the initiative of Mr. Georges Mennesson, who had specially made by the famous Manufactures Royales Canson and Montgolfier, at Vidalon-lès-Annoyay, a pure rag paper. The typographical execution is by the famous printing firm [of Jules] Protat, which cast for this volume for this character called "Deberny old [style]." The headbands and tail-pieces were composed from sketches of the sixteenth century revived by the Lanston Monotype Corporation. The wood engravings were cut by Mr. Burnot of Lyon. The watermarks reproduced [cast] in plates LXIII to LXVIII were executed by Rai-Tillières in Paris. The collotype plates, facsimiles and reproductions after watercolors by Mr. Joseph Sima, have been printed under the direction of Mr. Henri Stein, honorary curator at the National Archives, teacher the Ecole des Chartes; by Mr Louis Morin, City Archivist, [deputy] librarian at Troyes; Mr Pierre Pietresson of Saint-Aubin, departmental archivist of [at] Aube, and Mr. Jean Latour. The index was prepared by Mrs. Blake-Bucquet under the direction of Ernest Coyecque, Honorary inspector of libraries for the city of Paris and the Seine. 675 numbered copies book are offered for sale, published in Paris by The Sign of Pegasus, Mr. J Holroyd-Reece proprietor. Printing was completed 30 November 1926, the day the author went into his ninety-second year.
Interesting that it's the same publisher who issued one of HM's cornerstone handpress books, The Officina Bodoni - The Operation of a Hand-press during the first six years of its work (1929).