Le Livre à la Mode. 

‘A Verte-Feuille, de l’Imprimerie du Printems, au Perroquet’ [?Liège, Jean-François Bassompierre, 1759]. 

[offered with:]

[—.]  Le Livre à la mode.  ‘A Verte-Feuille, de l’Imprimerie du Printemps, au Perroquet’ [?Paris, Duchesne, 1759]. 

Two issues of the same work, 12mo, 1: pp. xxii, 86; printed in muted olive green, with woodcut parrot ornament to title, typographic headpieces and factotum initials; a very good, crisp copy in contemporary mottled sheep, spine gilt in compartments with gilt red morocco lettering-piece, edges stained red, marbled endpapers; a few scuffs to sides, slight dampstain to upper board, headcap chipped; 2: pp. xx, 79, [1 (blank)]; printed in bright emerald green, with woodcut parrot ornament to title, typographic headpieces and factotum initials; a very good, crisp copy in contemporary mottled sheep, spine gilt in compartments, with gilt red morocco lettering-piece, all edges speckled red, preserving green silk placemarker; a little rubbed, corners lightly bumped; modern private collector’s bookplate to upper pastedown.


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First and second issues, rarely obtainable as a pair, of this renowned experiment in ‘concept’ book design, printed wholly in green – with different degrees of success. 

A social satire of the ages and fashions cherished by ladies, clerics, and gentlemen, the Livre à la mode is headed by a preface which declares the author’s plan: why should books appear lugubrious? why should their appearance not be vibrant and joyous when this liveliness matches the mood of the content?  The printing press is able to produce books that depart from the standard black lines of text: why is this ability not exploited?  Caraccioli asks what it means to be a modern printer in the Age of Enlightenment, how to decline the dynamics between writing and printing, and how these elements influence design.  Of ‘all of Newton’s seven colours’, Caraccioli claims, green is unsurpassed in pleasing the eye, as the mark of spring and symbol of hope, unsuited to vice or ambition – circumstances which he proceeds to explore with a light trait.  Swift success amongst courtiers led to a second edition, in red (or pink), and a third in yellow – followed by the Livre de quatre couleurs in 1760. 

Although sometimes described as two issues of the same book, with the second edition generally assumed to be the one printed in entirely red in 1760, the two issues printed in green merit to be considered two different edition, as printed by two separate booksellers, with the text totally reset, different collation, and, most notably, the colour of the ink remarkably different.  Such colour difference is explained in the preface to the red book, where the author explains that there was a problem with the green inks used in the first, which, initially bright, changed to a muted olive green after only eight days, ironically ‘just as quick as every fashion’ (‘La couleur verte n’ayant duré que huit jours, ainsi que toutes les modes’). 

Barbier II, p. 1321; Brunet, Imprimeurs imaginaires, p. 268; Weller, Falsche Druckorte, p. 154; Maggs, ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’: A Catalogue of Strange Books and Curious Titles (1932), no. 324. 

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