The Bibliophile

The Book Collector

Books were always Calouste Gulbenkianís lifetime companions, which he cherished with the care and dedication of a true bibliophile. They were simultaneously aesthetically cherished and esteemed objects, and research and study tools. The most treasured books, i.e., the ones with grand patrimonial and cultural value, are part of the Gulbenkian Museumís collection. This section comprises manuscripts and other published works which are illustrative of the Art of the Book in both Western and Eastern cultures, between the 12th and the first decades of the 20th century. The rest of the books, which form a distinct section, consist of several kinds of publications such as museum and auction catalogues, monographs and periodicals. They were regularly used by Calouste Gulbenkian to serve the purpose of satisfying his broad intellectual curiosity. Indeed, the books contained in this section cover a vast array of fields of knowledge intrinsically related to the Collectorís personal and professional interests. As a whole, Calouste Gulbenkianís personal library is a key resource to unveil the Collectorís intellectual path, his aesthetic preferences and his study and research methods.

Calouste Gulbenkian looked after his personal library with the care and dedication of a true bibliophile. He personally supervised and intervened in all cataloguing and storing activities. Some of the booksí shelfmark labels evidence the Collectorís personal commitment in organizing his library. The labels read “File”, “Documentation”, “A Garder” and “Mme Theiss”, named after one of his personal assistants. His dedication even led him to purchase books on book collecting, such as How to catalogue a library and How to make an index. Other titles relate to bookbinding and book preservation like Connaissances nécessaires à un bibliophile and Manuel historique et bibliographique de l’amateur de reliures. A great amount of books contained in his personal library have exceptional covers, bound by some of the best professional binders at the time, namely Zaehnsdorf and brothers Lortic and Henri Noulhac. In fact, Joseph Zaehnsdorf was the author of the seminal work on the art of bookbinding, The art of bookbinding: a practical treatise, which was published in 1897. Being a bibliophile, Calouste Gulbenkian, was also fond of illustrated books that contained original watercolours, lithographs and aquatints. For instance, he acquired Le dernier chapitre de mon roman (1895), written by Charles Nodier and watercolour illustrated by Louis Morin; Aquarelles et dessins par Hervier (1876); and Un coeur simple (1913), which contains several aquatints.

As far as rare and valuable books are concerned, Calouste Gulbenkianís personal library comprises an important section consisting of catalogues of personal library auctions and sales, which were often alluded to in his correspondence. It is worth mentioning the Catalogue des beaux livres et manuscrits provenant de la bibliothèque de Madame Poullier-Ketele, regarding its 1924 sale, and the Bibliothèque de M. René Descamps-Scrive, in which respective sale, held in March and November of 1925, Calouste Gulbenkian purchased a total of 61 books. In addition, the Collector acquired a significant number of books, which belonged to The Holford Collection.

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