…assuming you’re not looking for Voltaire, or any other work of French fiction.
Traveling east on the mellifluous sounding rue Saint-André-des-Arts, one reaches a lock (read: door) at No. 70 , which leads to a small, shallow tributary of red carpet wide enough for one small- to medium-sized American to navigate. On either side, there are canyon walls filled with books, the more esoteric the better.
For 35 years, Françoise Cogan has been running the Librairie du Camée, all 129 square feet of it. However, if you need a book on lace-making, anvils, or champagne taps, she’s sure to have it. In fact, this small gem of a shop holds roughly 4,000 tomes on subjects ranging from folk art and fashion to jewelry and clocks.
The storefront, which dates to the early 17th century, stands in the heart of Saint Germain des Près, a neighborhood steeped in the tradition of arts & crafts and decorative arts.
When I cross her threshold, Francoise greets me warmly before showing me her newest acquisitions on topics she knows will interest me. There’s the latest dictionary of French tools by Daniel Boucard edited by Françoise’s husband, Jean Cyrille Godefroy; a book on lace making from the time of Colbert, Louis XIV’s finance minister; and a book entirely devoted to pastry crimpers. I settle on a beautiful hardcover about French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet, a gift for my daughter so please don’t tell her.
When asked if she has a favorite book, Françoise replies, “I love all these books because I bought them,” adding, “They’re mine first.” Over the years, her tastes have changed, sometimes by necessity to satisfy customer demand. Where once she favored books on folk art, now she carries more titles dealing with medieval sculpture and Renaissance art. That doesn’t mean she can’t procure a 19th century product catalog of Peugeot tools if required. And she stashes a few folk art pieces and paintings here and there, some of which are for sale.
In an increasingly competitive environment, Françoise continues to forge her way. “Be sure to tell your customers that we’re the only bookstore in Paris with three anvils,” she says, pointing to three behemoths that weigh 100, 70, and 60 kilos respectively.