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Originally published as the preface of the catalogue of the exhibition held in the Cambridge University Library, 2014

Michael Dawson, the Los Angeles antiquarian bookseller sold me a copy of À Paris sous la botte des Nazis for my photographic books collection. Published a few weeks after the Liberation of Paris no book could have been a more appropriate starting point for this collection. I was impressed not only by the photographs but also by the quality of the design and printing of the book that had been published under such exceptional circumstances and I started to buy more photo books from this period. A week spent in the Bibliothèque Nationale convinced me that I should not confine myself to photo books but try to collect everything published in French, primarily in France, on the subjects of the war, the occupation and the Liberation. The starting date was the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 and, since I was most interested in the immediate response in France to the cataclysmic events of the previous five years as expressed in books, I chose the end of 1946 as the cut-off date, which happens to coincide with the end of the Third Republic. The purpose of the collection is to enable us to understand how the French used the medium of the book to express their feelings about these events which had affected the lives of every French man and woman. The collection is confined to books and to omit newspapers and runs of magazines though many single issue magazines published to commemorate a particular event are included.

I was most interested in the immediate response in France to the cataclysmic events of the previous five years as expressed in books

Even though access to booksellers’ lists through the internet is essential in building such a collection, the books that form the foundation of the collection have been bought from a handful of Paris book dealers; most notably, M. Lanoux at l'Art Privat le Voir which sadly has now closed. Several times a year I would  visit his magnificent premises in the Boulevard Haussmann, more a temple to the illustrated book than a shop and he would have waiting a pile of material brought in by his runners, always of excellent quality, and full of ephemeral gems which are harder to find now. There was something every month in Picard’s emailed lists, and more recently Henri Vignes whose knowledge of clandestine publishing and its aftermath is unrivalled has been helping to build the collection and has contributed to this catalogue. At the same time Clio and other specialist dealers who regularly publish catalogues of Second World War material have provided the titles that now make up a large part of the collection. It is intended as a research collection and for this reason I have donated it to Cambridge University Library so that students and scholars can have access to it.  We have two objectives: to build as large and comprehensive collection as possible and to publish an online bibliography which we hope will be enriched by contributions and corrections from other people. The collection is now over 400 books but there are many more books to be found and as the collection grows it will be possible to analyse patterns in the books published and in the physical aspects of book production during this period – the papers used, names and addresses of printers, and dates of printing (which is conveniently given in most books).

There are books by Camus, Cocteau, Giraudoux and Sartre

The collection is not confined to works of literary merit or importance as historical sources. There are books by Camus, Cocteau, Giraudoux and Sartre but the majority of books are by French men and women about whom little is known with a surprisingly high number of self-published books. Nor is this collection intended to provide new historical sources for researchers of this period. Even apparently factual accounts are often works of the imagination by people justifying or even celebrating their experiences by writing the stories they wanted to believe in, and how they used the medium of the book to reposition themselves in the new, liberated France. The book has always been central to French culture, and in this exhibition it is possible to see the extraordinarily beautiful and well produced books that were published in France at a time of enormous difficulty when the country was in chaos.