1,000 “boxes” and their 30,000 old or contemporary books line the quays of the Seine.
In the early 16th century, peddlers known as ‘libraires forains’ wandered along the river Seine’s banks selling their wares. However, these traveling booksellers were soon banned after accusations that they sold pamphlets from the Protestants targeting the church and the government. Later on, some of them were reinstated under approval, and allowed to display books in allocated stalls on the Pont Neuf – and that’s when the tradition of second-hand booksellers in France began.
At the origin of second-hand booksellers, there is the word bouquin, a familiar form of a book. Printed for the first time in 1459, it was then called a “boucquain” and became a “bouquin” towards the end of the 16th century. It comes from the Flemish word "boeckin" meaning small book (in the sense of a book of little value or little esteem), itself derived from the medieval Middle Dutch "boek": book.
Today, the stretch of land where the booksellers are located has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can find them along large sections of the banks of the Seine: on the right bank from the Pont Marie to the Quai du Louvre, and on the left bank from the Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire. The Seine is thus described as 'the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves'.
You become a bookseller out of passion, because the working conditions are rather precarious.Booksellers are often experts in their fields.For example, there are specialists in detective novels, comics, science fiction, the culinary arts, but also the arts of books, philosophy, history and old posters.It is therefore to a meeting with real personalities that those who stroll along the boxes are invited and the discussion with the booksellers is often fascinating.
Booksellers do not pay tax or rent but must comply with strict regulations concerning their business. Vacant locations are allocated and regulated by the City of Paris. Occupancy authorizations are for a period of 5 years. Booksellers must open their location at least four days a week except bad weather. It is up to the bookseller to maintain the four boxes that he can use. The only authorized trade is that of old books, second-hand books, old papers, engravings. Accessorily and inside a single box, he can sell coins, medals, old stamps, postcards, objects from small flea markets or souvenirs from Paris. We can recall here that the credo of the bookseller who "is and must remain fundamentally a bookseller."