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  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

Les Bouquinistes de Paris...


image: https://www.cntraveler.com/

Les Bouquinistes de Paris are the iconic booksellers that line the River Seine - making way for romantic walks, intellectual conversations, and picturesque Parisian scenery. There is quite a bit of discussion about these green boxes for the upcoming Olympic Games, so let's take a ride in our Time Travel Machine and take a P'Niche peek to learn more about them...


image: lacuisineparis.com

Legend states - in the mid 1400s, several boats, which were transporting books to La Sorbonne, were sunk in the Seine River, just near the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Wishing to save whatever possible, the sailors swam to the shore, with as many books in their arms as they could mange, selling them to anyone who wanted, in an effort to gain back at least some of the lost wages. A tradition was born...


image: http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com

More likely closer to the true story, let's say the 1600s, a law was passed forbidding the display / sale of books (on blankets and small tables) near the newly constructed Pont Neuf, led by a group of book store owners, who felt that these booksellers were taking away from their personal trade. Even severe threats of imprisonment would not deter our literary "agents."


Don't worry, that law got revoked (phew!)


image: leatherbooks.com

But what about the actual word bouquiniste? So glad you asked, inquisitive P'Nicher!


We've arrived in 1762, with the official acknowledgment of the word of the day - "bouquiniste," when it appears in the dictionary of the Académie Française.


The word itself stems from the Flemish language with "boeckijn" (little book), but got Frenchified to bouqin and "iste" added on, to note the sale of books and literature.



image: https://www.historyofinformation.com

Arriving at the French Revolution (1789-1799), we find that the bouquinistes were thriving as, notably, many anti-monarchy pamphlets, brochures and newspapers were distributed and discussed here.


Not only that, but many of the aristocratic mansions were robbed and looted during this period, with many of those very books landing here for resale, made much more affordable and accessible for the common local citizen "citoyen / citoyenne."



image: en.wikipedia.org

The bouquinistes were bustling through the early 1800s, when Napoléon's reign saw many upgrades to the kiosks. Many would meet, discuss, and share an overall enjoyment of the literature and other various oddities found therein.


I just love this delightful artwork - engraving by Jean Henry Marley after Adrien Victor Auger of a bouquiniste with

some patrons on the quai Voltaire in 1821.



image: en.wikipedia.org

However, as we have arrived at Napoléon III's reign, and the dreams of Baron Haussmann, we learn that our beloved bouquinistes were under true threat of extinction for the grand modernization projects of the time.


Thankfully, that particular project was abandoned and, in 1859, the City of Paris decreed that the bouquinistes could be established at fixed points, (within certain parameters, of course). Yay!



image: francetoday.com

The legally approved dimensions of any licensed Parisian bouquiniste box are:

  • Length: 2 meters

  • Width: 0.75 meters

  • Height:

    • Seine side: 0.6 meters

    • Shore side: 0.35 meters

  • (These dimensions are for closed boxes, lids included).

  • During use, the upper edge of the opened box should not reach over 2.1 meters above the ground.

Color wise, all boxes must be painted and maintained in the "vert wagon" paint, referring to the dark green of old train carriages. (This is also the color of the iconic Parisian park benches we all so adore)...


image: https://www.unjourdeplusaparis.com

Moving to the 1940s and World War II, we learn that the bouquiniste stalls were strategically used in order to send and receive correspondences by the French Resistance. How clever/awesome is that?!


"Who? Moi, a spy? As you can see, I am merely picking up an antique copy of the Count of Monte Cristo. Good Day, Sir. I said Good Day!"


image: pocketmags.org

Today, there are approximately 200 bouquinistes lining the River Seine, selling books, vintage magazine and literature, paintings, and a limited amount (up to 25% of their allotted space) of tourist trinkets, postcards, and souvenirs.


Most are specialized to a type of literature or even author, often with items offered in English, for your ease. So iconic are the boxes, that they were declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1992!


Currently, there is debate on moving the bouquinistes to a temporary location during the 2024 Olympics Games, which are to be hosted in Paris. While meant to be a short term relocation, these very special vendeurs count on the tourist market for their "baguette and butter," so P'Niche (personally) hopes they can stay put.


image: bonjourparis.com

In Paris and wish to check out these historic boxes for yourself? Wonderful!


Head to the River Seine (on both banks) between Notre Dame and le Louvre


Métro Stops: St Michel, Cité, Pont Neuf


Most bouquinistes open at around 11am and remain open through sunset.



What do you think, P'Nicher? Ready for a stroll along the Seine to enjoy these wonderful booksellers, most Parisian? Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!


image: Chrissy Consolé
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