It was great fun getting my little shop ready for the book business. I took the advice of my friends the Wright-Worthings, who had the antique shop Aladdin’s Lamp in the rue des Saints Peres, and covered the rather damp walls with sackcloth. A humpbacked upholsterer did this for me, and was very proud of the fluting with which he finished off the corners. A carpenter put up shelves and made over the windows for the books to be displayed in, and a painter came to do the few feet of shop front. He called it the ‘facade’, and promised it would be as fine when he finished it as that of the Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville, his latest triumph. Then a “specialist” came and painted the name “Shakespeare and Company” across the front. That name came to me one night as I lay in bed. My ‘Partner Bill’ as my friend Penny O’Leary called him, was always, I felt, well disposed toward my undertaking; and besides, he was a best seller.
Charles Winzer, a Polish-English friend of Adrienne’s, made the signboard, a portrait of Shakespeare, to be hung outside. Adrienne didn’t approve of this idea, but I wanted it anyway. The signboard hung from a bar above the door. I took it down at night. Once, I forgot it, and it was stolen. Winzer made another, which also disappeared. Adrienne’s sister made a third one, a rather French-looking Shakespeare, which I still have.
Now perhaps some people wouldn’t know what a ‘Bookshop’ is. Well, that’s what the specialist carefully spelled out above the window at the right, opposite the words ‘Lending Library’. I let ‘Bookshop’ remain for a while. It quite described Shakespeare and Company making its debut in bookselling.
The books in my lending library, except for the latest, came from the well-stocked English secondhand bookstores in Paris. They, too, were antiques, some of them far too valuable to be circulated; and if the members of my library hadn’t been so honest, many, instead of a few, of the volumes would soon have been missing from the shelves. The fascinating bookshop near the Bourse, Boiveau and Chevillet, which has disappeared now, was a field of discovery for excavators who were willing to go down into the cellar, holding a lighted candle provided by dear old Monsieur Chevillet himself – what a risk!- and dig up the treasures buried under layers of stuff.
[…..] I went over to London and bought back two trunks full of English books, mostly poetry. [….] On the way to the boat train, I stopped in Cork Street at the little bookshop of the publisher and bookseller Elkin Mathews to order my Yeats, Joyce and Pound. He was sitting in a sort of gallery , with books surging around and creeping up almost to his feet. We had a pleasant talk, and he was quite friendly. I mentioned seeing some drawings by William Blake – if only I could have something of Blake’s in my shop! Thereupon he produced two beautiful original drawings, which he sold to me for a sum that, according to Blake experts who saw them later, was absurdly small.
[….] Another pleasant memory of my time in London was my visit to the Oxford University Press, where Mr. Humphrey Milford himself showed me the largest Bible in the world, made for Queen Victoria. It wasn’t a book you could read in bed.
Sylvia Beach, ‘Shakespeare and Company: Setting Up Shop’
I didn’t know Shakespeare and Co. had started out as a lending library, did you? And I found it fascinating to read of how Ms. Beach had gone about setting up her shop and the kind of people she encountered while sourcing for her book supplies. Also rather interesting to know, that there must have been some really serious Shakespeare fans lurking in Paris at that time, to want to steal those signboard heads of his, although they did leave his French-looking version alone! :p