New chez nous

Back-to-school season brings back memories of rentrée in Paris, and writing a similarly-timed blog post there last year. Now I’m writing from Philadelphia, PA, new home of Zoe Abrams Rare Books!

We moved back from Paris about a month ago and I just finished my next list of books for sale (stay tuned to the “shop” tab!), gathered from travels in France and further afield, all broadly concerning education: dictionaries, manuals, schools, etiquette, languages, and prize bookplates and bindings awarded to excellent students.

One of the most interesting items has to do with phys ed for 19th-century women and children. Here is the description with a photo I took (not the most graphically exciting, let’s admit it, so I’m adding a couple more photos of other items at the end):

[DAURIAT, Louise]. Discours prononcé par Madame Louise Dauriat, a la séance d’ouverture du Gymnase Civil et Orthopédique, le 6 Juillet 1834. [Paris]: Félix Malteste, [1834].

8vo, 20.4 x 12.8 cm. 16 pp. (small marginal waterstain on one page). Bound in recent marbled boards with printed label pasted onto front cover. Inscribed by the author on the title-page, “Á M. Guyot avocat, de la/ part de l’auteur.”

FIRST EDITION of this speech delivered by Louise Dauriat at the opening of a gymnasium founded by Spaniard Francisco Amoros (1770-1848), who was largely responsible for introducing children’s physical education in France. Mme. Dauriat advocates for the physical education of women as well as men, citing Spartan culture as an example and quoting Plutarch, “Elles faisaient connaître…qu’elles étaient capables de réussir aussie bien que les hommes…” (p. 5). She goes on to suggest that women’s moral education is way too limited, as is their instruction, or at least in extreme disproportion with their capabilities; and their physical education is totally “nulle.” One solution is for mothers to take responsibility for their children’s physical education. Most radically, Dauriat suggests young women should not marry until they have attained “toutes les forces dont elles sont capables” [all of the forces of which they are capable].


Discours prononcé par Madame Louise Dauriat, inscribed by her (Paris, 1834).

It turns out this pamphlet is not only avant-garde for its time but also quite rare. I was unable to trace it in any library at last search. I dare you to try (let me know)!

Here are some other items you can expect to find in my latest list (PS – in case it wasn’t obvious, EVERYTHING IS FOR SALE! Please write to for more information, pictures, or to sign up for the ZARB mailing list, delivering occasional micro-catalogues directly to your inbox).


Histoire de Pierre le Grand (Rouen, ca. 1895). Inscribed as being awarded to a student for first prize in arithmetic.


Not the most practical, but certainly the most handy French-English Dictionary (Glasgow, ca. 1900).

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Dernière minute

Yesterday we finally visited Giverny. It’s one of those places that’s been on our must-see list from the start, but we never found time until now, as time is running short. We booked our tickets home for mid-August.

It was a typical day in and outside Paris, rainy and sunny at short intervals. The leaves in Monet’s garden were big and green and the flowers were planted in lush processions and when we walked around the pond of waterlilies we realized that Monet must have been quite wealthy. (He was.)

The house was crowded with visitors snapping photos, mainly of the big sitting room with replicas of 59 paintings, and in the kitchen, with its blue tiles and long rows of copper pots. Something that didn’t get a lot of attentionIMG_5885 from visitors was the collection of Japanese woodblock prints lining the walls of the other rooms. I was reminded of an exhibit at the Musée Guimet – Miroir du désir – Images de femmes dans l’estampe japonaise – that I saw last week. (Looking for it on the temporary exhibit level of the museum I stumbled into a survey of Araki photographs. There is more than one temporary exhibition level at the Guimet.)

In our last month we’re squeezing in a lot of sightseeing and reading Hemingway, who at one time lived just around the corner from us, while trying to wrap up work obligations. I managed to bid successfully online at a country auction about a month ago but for weeks couldn’t get anyone on the phone who could accept payment or ship my lots to Paris.

Wednesday, June 29

Me [in French]: “Bonjour, I bid at auction on [date] and would like to pay for and collect my lots.”

Auction House: “The person you need to speak to is at an auction. Call back tomorrow.”

Thursday, June 30

Me [in French]: “Bonjour, I bid at auction on [date] and would like to pay for and collect my lots.”

Auction House: “The person you need to speak to is at an auction. Call back tomorrow.”

Me: “Excuse me, do you know what time? Because I tried yesterday and was told to call today.”

Auction House [disgruntled, in French]: “Madame, you can try in the afternoon after 3pm.”

[Another week of similar exchanges, then] Sometime around July 7

Me [in French]: “Bonjour, I bid at auction on [date] and would like to pay for and collect my lots. And I don’t want to pay for the storage fee because I’ve been trying to reach you about this for two weeks.”

Auction House: “You’re calling the wrong number. You need to call the billing department.”

After two or three more phone calls and email exchanges, and seriously considering renting a car to pay and collect in person, I finally telephoned at the right time on the right day and got the right person, who listened patiently to my largely incoherent French and took care of everything at once.

Still on the to-do list: packing. This has posed a particularly nightmarish conundrum. Question: If one wants to send four shelves of books home, wants to track them and receive them in the same condition, but doesn’t care so much about when they arrive, what is the best (cheapest, safest) option? Answer: forget shipping and buy another suitcase, which will cost much less in airline fees than sending five or six pre-paid or personally packed boxes via Colissimo International. The fabled M-bag apparently doesn’t exist anymore, or if it does, no one knows where to get it and more importantly no one knows how to ship it.

So onward we go, barreling back towards Philadelphia with all our accumulated belongings and hoping everything gets there, eventually.


Library at the Musée Guimet



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Friends in the Field

Just got a nice shout-out from my friend Dylan Rogers, classicist extraordinaire, on his blog

He writes, “I started the month in Paris. This was my first visit to this majestic city, and I explored it with an old friend, Zoe Abrams, who has been there this past year, working for her own bookselling company, Zoe Abrams Rare Books. We had an amazing time exploring book markets, gardens, churches, and food. At the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Fontaine de Medici (1630) was a wonderful way entrée into thinking about modern water-displays…” Indeed it was great to see my old friend and learn about his research (on fountains). Thanks, Dylan!

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Petit déjeuner

Early morning in Paris. Rainwater on little round tables sparkling in the sun at an outdoor cafe; an aproned young woman arranging bouquets of baguettes at the corner boulangerie; a crescendo of buzzing scooters and banging trash trucks (finally the latest strike is over).

In August we are going home to Philadelphia. I’m now working on what will probably be my last list of items for sale before we take off: albums and almanacs. These range from a 19th-century chronicle of a Belgian dining club to a collection of photographic postcards of actresses from the turn of the century. On my way to work this morning, via my kitchen, I began picturing our experience abroad as if I were already back in Philadelphia, sorting through a wunderkammer of memories. Behold the electric tea kettle on the white tile counter. Boil the water for the French press. Open the tiny refrigerator. Smell the leftover Époisse. Rush to the living room window facing the street. Sit at the desk with no drawers.

photo (1)There are many things we will import. The electric tea kettle, for one. My metric postage scale from the Office Depot on rue Monge and my rolling pin from Dehillerin, where Julia Child shopped. Lists of what cheeses and wines we like best, scribbled onto receipts from Androuet and into a booklet from this year’s Salon des vins at Champerret. Souvenir magnets and postcards from Stonehenge, Keukenhof, Lapland, etc. Paper directories for SLAM and ABA, and other ephemera collected at book fairs. A folding linen-backed map of Paris purchased at a flea market near the Opéra metro.

Our Paris has already acquired a mythic quality, like any absurdly great pause from “normal” life, and we haven’t even left yet! (Here’s one of my favorite recordings that perhaps best captures the nostalgic mood around the home office these days.)

Concerning ZARB, I’ve developed a routine suited particularly to life here, where the next bookseller is just around the corner and the next auction is in five minutes. Although the U.S. market is less concentrated, it’s there in force, bien sur — and anyway modern technology means the only real concern with buying internationally is condition and shipping — so ZARB will translate just fine. And, hopefully, we’ll be back someday.




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Well, you may have noticed the new social media icons on the ZARB sidebar. After resisting the internet for several months, this old-fashioned lady finally upgraded to an iPhone. Meaning you will now be inundated with photos of Paris and fantastic finds posted in real time. Pas mal! Find us on Facebook at Zoe Abrams Rare Books, and follow Zoe (and ZARB) @zoethebooksellr on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr for the latest!


That’s Zoe! Just kidding. Photo courtesy of Albertina Museum, Vienna.


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Lesson No. 1: Trust Your Instincts

When my parents bought our house, they were the second couple to see it. The first couple went home that night to mull over the work that needed to be done, the long-term costs, the imperfections. When they came back the next morning ready to dive in, they were the second couple to do so: my parents had decided to take it on the spot.

It’s a valuable lesson and one I’m still learning. Yesterday at the Bastille Brocante I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at one lovely book, weighing the cost, condition, imperfections. Today when I went back to buy it, cash in hand, someone (an American!) had beat me to it. Now I’ll have more in the coffers for the Olympia fair at the end of the month but I am sad. Whitney-Houston-singing-“I Will Always Love You”-sad. Why?

1. Wow, great book. Will be missed.

2. It was mine yesterday.

3. I let it get away.

A similar thing happened at auction about a month ago. I was previewing a sale at Drouot that turned out to be utterly boring save for one lot. It wasn’t in the group I went there to see, but the cataloguing was so enticingly brief that I decided to take a look while I was there. Reader, it was a treasure trove. I was lost in space leafing through it until I felt eyes behind me and turned around to face a dealer I see at Drouot ALL THE TIME looking over my shoulder. Right then I knew I had already lost. He could outbid me no problem. Long story short, day of sale, the price kept climbing and I gave up too soon. Always one bid behind. Is this not a metaphor for life?

On the bright side, it appears I am attracted to salable stuff. But the real point here is that the book business takes guts. Or trust. Or however you want to describe wanton spending of time and money with no guarantee of a sale. The risk-return tradeoff can be quite subjective.

So, lesson learned: as far as self-doubt goes, let’s stop that right now. (And, let’s always put things we want on hold.)


Shelves at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. Or, Aspirations.


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C’est ZARB!

A French friend told me that the acronym for Zoe Abrams Rare Books – “ZARB” – is verlan (slang formed by reversing syllables, e.g., l’envers) for “bizarre.” Fitting! The past six months have been a whirlwind of auctions, flea markets, brocantes, book fairs, dealer visits across Europe, and lots of exciting material coming and going here at ZARB, our bizarre little enterprise. With two lists down and a third in the works, I’ve learned a lot. For example, did you know cliché is a printing term? From clicher, to make a stereotype, which is also a printing term meaning a plate made from composed type. I’m not the type to go on pedantically so… never mind.

What is a typical ZARB day like? I go to the office as early as possible, meaning I make coffee in the kitchen and then shuffle to my desk a few feet away. With such a short commute, there’s more time for my favorite activities: searching sale catalogs and, if I find something for a client or inventory, or just if I think it’s worth going, visiting book venues across Paris. Depending on what’s in my email I could be out the door and off to an auction, fair, market, or shop, sometimes with very little notice. Or, I could be at my desk all day cataloguing the material I already have. When I’ve done enough writing and research at home, I take my laptop to the Bibliothèque Nationale, a research palace with excellent vending machines, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a forest in the center of the building, and a movie theater across the plaza.

Since almost the moment we arrived in Paris from New York, my husband and I have been traveling a lot. When we’re in a foreign city, I spend all day at local bookshops or markets. It is really fun but it is also real work! There’s a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time; I try to look at everything but I buy very selectively. Clothes get dirty, occupational hazard. At the end of each trip, I enter my new inventory in my database and calculate costs. When inventory reaches critical mass, I make a list of items to sell. Of course there are also special books I’m saving on the shelf, but, as a wise colleague once said, “it isn’t a business if you aren’t selling.” To that end I also frequently make offers hors serie.

Most of my routine I learned from working with and watching other dealers, to whom I owe a lot. However every small business is different and I love being on my own schedule. À Paris, mon rêve! The bibliosphere here is incredible. So many bookshops, you could barely visit them all in a year; so many sales, you wish you could be in three places at once; so many catalogs, you could spend days reading them. At some point you have to prioritize and actually sell something to fund the next adventure — which is exactly what I’ll be doing today!

I leave you with this rubber stamp wisdom:

“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.



Freud’s waiting room. Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna.



Inaccessible books in ready-to-wear. Le Bon Marché, Paris.

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