The Fortsas Bibliohoax

Posted by Shannon

Jean Nepomucene Auguste Pichauld, Comte de Fortsas, was a man with a singular passion. He collected books of which only one copy was known to exist. If he ever discovered that one of the volumes in his library had a duplicate anywhere in the world, he would immediately dispose of it. So when he died on September 1, 1839 he possessed only fifty-two books, but each of them was absolutely unique.

His heir, not sharing the old man’s passion for book collecting, arranged for an auction to sell off the library, and so a catalog of this small but highly unusual collection was mailed to bibliophiles throughout Europe. The auction, the collectors were told, was to be held in the offices of Mâitre Mourlon, notary, 9 rue de l’Église, in Binche, Belgium on August 10, 1840.

Unfortunately for those collectors, neither Comte de Fortsas nor the collection existed.

The man behind the hoax was a local antiquarian named Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon (1802-1889). The planning that had gone into the deception was incredible. He had carefully researched the interests of all the major bibliophiles in Europe in order to ensure that they would make the long and fruitless trek to Binche. And he had done all this merely for the sake of a practical joke.

The hoax proved not to be a total loss for its victims. The catalog they had received itself became a highly coveted collector’s item. Within a few decades it had more than quadrupled in price.

Librarian and bibliophile Jeremy Dibbell has posted the contents of said catalog to LibraryThing. You can also view scans of it on Google Books.

[via ZPi]

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