Save the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal

In 1989 the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal in Paris welcomed and supported the only exhibition of all-North American bookbinding to be held in Paris. Now it is our turn to support them.

The Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal is being threatened with closure. Its collections would be scattered in the old building of the Bibliothèque Nationale when the latter moves to its new quarters. The building of the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal would be used for the diplomatic archives of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. (nb: Its name derives from the fact that it was built on the site of an arsenal.)

Even if it were simply a matter of cultural heritage, the fight to keep the Bibliothèque de l' Arsenal intact would be worth fighting. For all bookbinders, however, there is a personal interest since this library houses bookbinding history. While still a private library, a bookbinding journal was kept for the years 1770-1787, first for the work of Anguerrand, later for the work of Bradel, part of the bookbinding family whose next generation would produce the work for which the Bradel binding is named.

The Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal was founded by Antoine Renè d'Argenson, Marquis de Paulmy. It is the only library in France still housed in the same place where it was begun, and it contains not only manuscripts and books, but prints, maps, musical scores, and extremely precious furniture, many pieces from the Marquis himself. It was sold to the Count d'Artois on the eve of the French Revolution. It was confiscated and became a public library in April 1797. The books and manuscripts from the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal library of the Bastille were sent here, and it has had donations since of several important private collections and papers. Included in this group was a binding with metal covers. Upon much closer inspection it was discovered that the metal covers were hollow - this was a device to carry ink (which was forbidden) to one of the political prisoners.

The Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal has continually shown its interest in bindings, most recently for an exhibition of embroidered bindings from the Middle Ages to 1995, and which included bindings by GBW members Sün Evrard and Jill Tarlau.

You can help by joining the Société des Amis de la Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal (S.A.B.A.) , 1 rue de Sully, 75004 Paris. You can become a member for as little as F50 (about $10), or a benefactor F250 ($50) or more.

Joanne Sonnichsen
7 May 1996.