Let this miniature book transport you to 1820s Paris
I’ve spent the day investigating my newest mini thing, the “Oeuvres de Madame de Staël”, published in 1820. I bought it from Bromer Booksellers on a whim, falling in love with its Frenchness, its oldness, and its teeny tiny-ness.
The author, Madame de Staël, was a gutsy character. A political and literary figure in Paris, she won the distinguished title of “Napoleon’s most hated woman” for her writings on political issues, including Protestantism, nationalism, and the place of women in society. She spent much of her life in exile, where she organized intellectual gatherings and tried her best to evade Napoleon’s spies.
But why is the book so tiny? Who decided to make it in 1820, three years after her death? I was curious, so I began googling.
I searched for the publisher “Marquis”, but that turned out useless, as “Marquis” wasn’t a major book publisher and it’s a common French name. So I turned to the experts at Bromer Booksellers. They informed me that my tiny book is one of five in a series called the “Petite Bibliothèque des Dames Françaises” (Little Library of French Ladies), containing quotations from French women writers. I learned that this “feminist” series may have been associated with the purchase of chocolates.
Chocolates? This time I noticed that “Passage des Panoramas” appearing under “Marquis” on the first page was an address (duh). I searched again and found this blog entry about “la Maison Francois Marquis”, a fabricant of chocolate founded in 1818 and originally located at 57-59 Passage des Panoramas, Paris.
Here it was, the original seller of my tiny artifact!
Maison F. Marquis seemed to have established itself as a reputable chocolatière for high society Paris in the mid 19th century. It published postcards, chocolate boxes, and other small items bearing its name.
This is what the entrance to the passage looks like today:
La Maison Marquis survived all the way into the 1960s but eventually shut its doors. Today, the space is occupied by a restaurant called Canard & Champagne, where you can still see the original ornate wooden façade of the chocolate shop.
According to my research, it wasn’t unheard of for luxury shops in the 1800s to publish tiny books or leaflets for their clients as publicity, mostly in the form of little calendars and almanacs. But a tiny book series of women writers? A “feminist” chocolatier, if you will? Pretty extraordinary.
I’m on the hunt for the other books in this collection. If anyone has any clues as to where they are, please contact me! firstname.lastname@example.org
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Via Chocolat François Marquis (in French)