Monday, July 27, 2009

A Few of My Favourite Things
On a recent trip to Paris, I visited the incredible Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, a market that was seemingly never-ending. Towards the end of the day I found a beautiful little stall selling the kind of books you'd find in a movie. Every turn revealed a new treasure. And then I found this, complete with gilded pages and gold fastenings...

As an avid fan of monograms, I was spellbound by this comprehensive collection - all together in the one book. The book's owner had collected monograms from letterheads and envelopes and catalogued them, adding hand-written notes to some.

I knew the value of this book as I had seen one very similar in the archives of our State Library. My heart was pounding as I asked the price in my best basic French. 450 euros. Gulp. Did I hear right? Yep, 450 euros. Ok, I had to have this so I made him an offer. We bantered a little until we agreed on a price, ok, done deal - I just had to pop over to the cash machine to get some money. When I returned he had it all wrapped for me and handed it over in exchange for the large wad of notes ('don't think about it' I was telling myself - 'you'll never find another' etc etc).

Upon arrival back at our hotel, I opened it up and started to flip through. There were pages missing. There were torn out pages. A whole section of red wax seals had been removed. About 40 pages I estimated had been torn out. I was totally and utterly devastated. I was leaving the next day and couldn't have returned to the seller even if I was brave enough to confront him. I felt deflated and disappointed that he could have abused my trust. Still a lesson learned I suppose.

I didn't look at the book again until I arrived home, but having forgotten some of the hurt, I was again enthralled with what I had and am still to this day, overwhelmed by the intricacy and workmanship required to produce some of these pieces. Even with its missing pages, the book is still an incredibly comprehensive collection of monograms from the 1700s to early 1900s - around 200 examples I am guessing. It is a constant source of inspiration and pleasure to me as I try to imagine the lives and stories of the people behind the ciphers.

I hope you too enjoy the beauty of this book.

Posted by Jane Cameron
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