Catalogue des Livres en très petit Nombre qui composent la Bibliotheque de M. Mérard de S. Just, Ancien Maître-d'Hôtel de Monsieur, frere du Roi.
2 p.l., 164, 5 pp. 12mo, cont. polished calf by Derome, triple gilt fillet round sides with floral devices in each corner, flat spine gilt in a fish-scale pattern, black morocco lettering piece on spine, a.e.g. Paris: de l’Imprimerie de Didot l’Ainé, 1783.
Limited to 25 copies only, finely printed by Didot on Annonay paper and handsomely bound in contemporary polished calf by Derome; this is one of the rarest and oddest of all private library catalogues. It is also notable as the first bibliography or catalogue with a limitation statement and, very probably, the first catalogue to mention binders’ names. Mérard (1749-1812), man of letters, was born into a family of great wealth and, for a number of years, was in charge of the residence of the future Louis XVIII. After retiring from his public duties in 1782, he concentrated on his growing collection of books and on commissioning editions printed in severely limited numbers.
Guigard wrote (Vol. II, p. 351): “Sans l’amour des livres, Mérard de Saint-Just serait complètement oublié.” There is much truth in this but the catalogue is a fascinating and rare document which keeps Mérard’s name alive in the world of bibliophily. The catalogue is an odd combination of books which were present in his library, books no longer in his library, and books which he desired for his library (including some books which could be imaginary; see below).
His collection was not large but fine. Mérard did not have the taste for editio princeps (except for Aldines) but preferred the best editions with careful editing. The catalogue describes 513 items, each with details regarding binding and prices paid. In the Preface, which alone would justify reprinting for his extraordinary views on book collectors, and in his concluding remarks on pp. 161-163, he sets out his main interests, foremost among them fine bindings, listing eight binders whose works he had acquired or himself commissioned: Padeloup, Laferté, Derome le Jeune, Chamean, Chaumont, Roger Payne and Baumgarten. He enumerates sixteen sales at which he acquired books, including those of the Pompadour, Boze, Gaignat, Gouttard, Mac Carthy Reagh, and ‘Mylord Keri’ (i.e. Ker, Duke of Roxburghe) collections. His catalogue is the first in which the binders of the books, whenever known, are mentioned.
Mérard has been accused of including in his catalogue the description of books which never existed or which he never owned, but Escoffier convincingly defends him against that charge, though Barbier shows that six of his own works, described as printed editions, were, in fact, in MS.
Mérard suffered two major losses from his library which he recounts in this catalogue. During an absence, the pipes in the kitchen leaked, causing serious water damage to the library room below, irreparably destroying 200 of his most precious books. Then, on the 12th of December 1782, the English navy seized a French boat which was carrying 1000 books of Mérard’s — considered by Guigard to be the cream of his collection — which he had sent to a friend in America (why he had sent them he never explained). These volumes were never recovered.
A very fine copy. This copy has the five extra pages at end (often missing) which contain a description of one of the books in the catalogue, the Des Pierres Précieuses of Dutens. This was the first book printed by Didot l’ainé. Unidentified armorial book label on inside front cover: with coat-of-arms monogrammed with initials “C.R.L.” (or “R.L.C.”?), and motto “Vita sine litteris mors est.” Bookplate of A.R.A. Hobson.
❧ Brunet, III, 1643. Guigard, II, pp. 351-52. Houghton Library, Bibliotheca Chimaerica (1962), p. 7. Peignot, p. 113–“assez recherché à cause de sa rareté.” Taylor, Book Catalogues, p. 92.
Item ID: 5164