Mad dealers #7

There was only one dealer whose harsh words were like a slap in the face and made me cry. That man, who I still know today, closed his book shop in Paris, La poussiere du temps in Saint Germain two years ago and, like most dealers these days, went online.  His name is Francis Teboul now aged about 72 or 74. I know not which as age is just a number.

I began to buy and sell in Paris in 1978 through HappenStance. At first it was bric-a-brac before I became a specialist in games, puzzles, optical toys and the performing arts which overlapped into paper items. Ephemera was an important printed bygone which excluded books, prints, postcards and posters but was everything else made out of paper. Ephemera was packaging and social history through consumer advertising. I was hooked, joining The British Ephemera Society which was originally founded in 1975, in 1978 and was once called the Guru of Ephemera by a client!

I was known in London and Paris, having clients in both cities who were desperate for documentation from both sides of La Manche. Labels were my passion. Alcohol, perfume, soap, cigars, bale, fez, hotels, airlines and shipping. Labels could be from 1860-1960. 100 years of graphics. The graphics, lettering and the embossing fascinated me. How could I know that in 1985 I would set up a prestigious archive and photo library called Retrograph Archive and curate it for 20 years!

However, I could only think of business shmizness. Buying as cheaply as I could and selling for as much as I could because the client could not get the item or article from anyone else! I was the Queen and everyone knew it. I was a workaholic too. In Paris I thought of collectors in London and elsewhere and in London thought of the collectors in Paris. This went on with no competition for 15 years, 24/7.  

But I digress. One day I encountered a serious 'unfriendly' book dealer called Francis Teboul, casually dressed with long brown wavy hair who looked as if he had travelled in the 70s to Asia or India. He was in his mid 30s and spoke excellent English as most French dealers, especially the older ones, did not.

In my early dealing days, it was buy, buy, buy at markets and fairs for cash. I did not engage dealers in conversation to find out who they were and why they had chosen our marginal profession, I just wanted to get the item as cheaply as possible for cash and move on to the next dealer. No eye contact, no kind words, no 'How are you today?' just buy and that was it until the following week.

In Paris, because I spoke French and business was slow or it was the end of the tax year or the elections, it was never the right moment and so dealers would give me my price with a bit of charisma and a smile. 'On coupe la Poire en Deux' I would say and they always gave in. Until I came up against Teboul the book dealer!

I met him at La Villette, in the north of Paris which used to be the old abattoir district and staged a massive exciting brocante fair twice a year. He had a series of printers sample catalogues for paper seals. There were four and he did not, bien sur, want to split them. These were rare and unique French sample presentation catalogues in mint condition. The seals were eventually stuck on packets of bonbons, chocolates and gastronomic confiserie sold in cellophane packets. But his price! E600 was a lot of money in 1978, more than E100 a catalogue. Mon Dieu!  He came down the usual 10% but was firm on price. I could not look him in the eye and use my charm. He was too shrewd for my game! I walked away dolefully.

In the trade, I always maintained if you forgot about an item, then it was not to be. But the following day when I returned to La Villette, I was still thinking about those catalogues. Finally I approached this surly individual and began yet again to haggle. As he sensed I was serious and was there to sell, he had reconsidered his price and gave me 20% off. However, I did not have enough cash on me and so I suggested he came to my flat at 28 Rue Bobillot in the 13em for 'le 5 o'clock'  plus, cheeky me, I said he had to bring the pastries! Quel culot!

I lived in a tiny chambre de bonne owned by the formidable American patchwork quilter Sophie Campbell on the 7th floor, thankfully with an old rickety lift. On the dot of 5.00, Monsieur arrived carrying the packaged pastries and the catalogues. We sat down at the table by the window that overlooked the red rooftops and I gave him the cash. No receipt was given. Then he looked at me sternly, mentally undressing me.

   'How dare you speak to me, the way you did at the beginning!'
   I was in shock by his words. It was as if he had wrenched my mask off.
   'How dare you not look me in the eye when talking to me,'
   I was horrified, my eyes misting over.
   'Who do you think you are? A Russian Jewish princess?'
   With that I burst into tears choking on my strawberry pastry.

Getting the anger off his chest, he softened and smiled knowingly. I dried my tears and nodded. Yes he was right. I was a bitch. After that electric episode, we became colleagues, friends and more. I got to know Teboul well over 15 years but that is for another story. He taught me to consider other dealers, like myself, had to also make a profit and be rewarded for their efforts. Not to take them for granted. To look them in the eye and smile. The French, in fact, are not smiley people because they are discerning. Vive la difference! I have always got on well with the French! Ooh la la, did I learn the art of communication at that 5 o'clock encounter! Almost 40 years later I have never forgotten my wise and shrewd Mentor, Francis Teboul.

Written in the Shakespeare Hotel in the Thomas Hardy room, Vilnius, Lithuania on 24/6/17.


The Ephemera Society -
La poussiere du temps - [email protected]
Quel culot - what cheek!
Abe books - Patchworks de Sophie Campbell 1991.
Quilting in France - A revival of interest - History of Quilts.
Le Rouvray - Paris - Sophie Campbell
On coupe la poire en deux - split the difference