The word bouquiniste means secondhand bookseller. The origin of the word is from the German word “buch”. One of the most fascinating places in Paris to experience book joy is along the Seine where you’ll find the second hand booksellers with their beautiful, green book boxes…
There are two tales that claim to be the origin of these famous booksellers’ boxes that you will find lining the road along the River Seine and no one knows for sure what is the true history of Paris bouquinistes.
Boat sinks, book shops are born
Some claim that several centuries ago, a boat transporting books, was sunk in the river near the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The sailors of the ship threw themselves into the water to save as many books as possible. Those they salvaged, were sold to passersby as the sailors tried to recuperate some of their lost wages. Apparently, it turned out to be a lucrative ploy. But there’s no real evidence to back this lovely story up.
A 500 year old market
Most likely this tradition started around the 16th century when market peddlers started to sell books. In 1649, a decree was passed prohibiting the display of books on the Pont Neuf, influenced by disgruntled book store owners. The law was later revoked and since 1859 the bouquinistes have been allowed to sell their books and other goods at fixed points along the river. The opening hours were set from sunrise to sunset and continue to be the same to this day.
There are a few rules to set up a box. You have to apply for a stall and may install up to four boxes, they must all be painted green, a colour known as vert wagon, the colour of old train carriages.
The bouquinistes have grown to be one of the most iconic symbols of the city. You can find the green boxes along the Seine from Quai de Louvre to Pont Marie and from the Quai Voltaire to the Quai de la Tournelle. Effectively they form a book shelf of three kilometers, managed by 240 sellers with 900 boxes. This is where you’ll find antiquarian books, old magazines, stamps, souvenirs, magnets, posters of old covers and Paris. Since 1991, the bouquinistes have been recognized as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
By Darina Nykl who lives in Holland where she works in a hospital and is an author. She blogs about the stories she is writing which are mostly set in Amsterdam, Paris, Provence and the Cote d’Azur, places that inspire her: darinanykl.com