Paris bouquinistes (booksellers) in the art of engraving

Paris bouquinistes (booksellers) in the art of engraving.

The iconic bouquinistes (booksellers) along the river Seine in Paris have long been depicted in artwork and photography.

“The booksellers of the quays of Paris in contemporary printmaking” (“Les bouquinistes des quais de Paris dans l’estampe contemporaine”) exhibition will be held in the Paris Town Hall of the 6th arrondissement from 21 May to 13 June 2020. This exhibition is part of the Fête de l’Estampe – the Festival of Print.

Classified as French Intangible Cultural Heritage since February 2019, the bouquinistes have inspired more than 65 engraving artists in this exhibition over the past five years.

The exhibition is a complete panorama of the different engraving techniques gathered at the instigation of the cultural association of booksellers of Paris.

In colour or black and white, small and large, the works in this exhibition illustrate the many facets of this polymorphic engraving art that highlights this last small specifically Parisian craft still in activity.

Along the banks of the river Seine in Paris, the bouquinistes continue to sell second-hand books, just as they have done since the 19th century when the city permitted booksellers to have a permanent location.

Closed and locked at night, the typically green boxes sit on top of the parapet along a portion of the Right Bank and the Left Bank of the river for a length of about three kilometres. Open during the day, the boxes contain books, posters, cards, magazines, comics, prints, stamps, and papers. Their owners can choose when to open, because there are no specific ‘open’ hours – they can be open anytime from sunrise to sunset.

Since 1930, the government set strict regulations about the size, colour, and weight of the bouquiniste boxes. Each bouquiniste has a length of less than 9 metres for which they pay an annual fee to the city. Each box is identical and green. The length is 2 metres and the width is 0.75 metres to enable pedestrian access to the pavement. When open the upper edge of the box should not be more than 2 metres above the ground.

There are about 240 registered bouquinistes with 900 bouquiniste boxes. The bouquinistes of the Seine are now a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

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