The French book trade was centred on Paris, with Lyon in second place. Trailing far behind were Rouen, Caen, Toulouse, Rennes, Angers and Poitiers, whose administrative, legal and literary publications were of local interest. A few Parisian booksellers travelled to trade fairs in Lyon, Frankfurt and Antwerp, bringing with them their own publications and sometimes those of their colleagues. The main Paris bookshops were represented at these fairs by intermediaries and messengers who distributed catalogues and signed contracts. Parisian booksellers engaged in a sort of mail-order selling, maintaining regular contact with their foreign counterparts via commercial travellers. Starting in the 16th century, trade in books was carried out using efficient and well-tried distribution networks.
Between 1542 and 1547, the printer, editor and scholar Robert Estienne published a series of meticulously-realised catalogues. The books, along with their prices, were classified by category: dictionaries, grammar books and texts in various languages. Today, libraries all over Europe contain many books printed in Paris.
The printer, editor and scholar Robert Estienne published a series of catalogues of his publications, classified by category – dictionaries, grammar books and texts in various languages.
Paris booksellers also imported works from abroad. The books offered for sale in the Galerie de Palais or in the windows of the shops along the Rue Saint-Jacques were not all local productions. At a time when Latin was the cultural lingua franca of Europe, Paris offered a market for editions from the other great book publishing centres. Quantities of books, packed in bales and barrels, arrived by road and sea from Venice, Basel, Antwerp and Geneva.
Although they were sometimes bound, most books were sold en blanc, or unbound. Customers would then take their books to a bookbinder and have them bound according to their tastes and means – in parchment, basan (tanned sheepskin), calfskin or Morocco leather for the wealthiest clients. The skins would be stretched over ais, or wooden boards. For a long time, they bore blind-stamped decorations inherited from medieval manuscripts. Starting in the first third of the 16th century, Italian-inspired gilt and painted garland designs appeared. Bibliophiles such as Jean Grolier de Servières and Thomas Maioli played a key role in the spread of this style.