Thursday, April 14, 2011

Brentano's, the American Bookstore in Paris

The above bookseller label is affixed to the bottom of the inside back cover of an extremely tattered1 1925 copy of The Blue Guides' "Muirhead's Southern Italy." The yellow label is one inch wide and three-eighths of an inch deep.

Brentano's had multiple American locations and a bookstore that was located on the famous Avenue de l'Opéra in Paris for more than 100 years.

The first Brentano's opened in New York City in 1853. The Paris location opened in 1895. According to Wikipedia: "From its headquarters at 586 Fifth Avenue [in New York City], Brentano's became a publisher, with a specialization in French literature that led it to publish under the imprint 'Éditions Brentano's' many titles by French writers in exile during the Vichy France period."

But many good things come to an end. For Brentano's, the end was particularly depressing. In 1984, Kmart Corporation purchased Waldenbooks, and Waldenbooks purchased Brentano's.2 Then, in 1992, Brentano's and Waldenbooks were merged into Kmart's other book subsidiary, Borders. In 1995, Borders Group Inc. was spun off of Kmart as an independent company.3

Meanwhile, the Paris store in which this travel book sat on the shelves many decades ago was officially closed and then liquidated in June 2009. Its owners sent out the following news release at that time:
Paris, June 15, 2009

Dear Friends,

It is with sadness, and astonishment - despite the prolonged agony of these last months - that we inform you of the official closing of Brentano's Bookstore - Paris, Monday, June 15, 2009. We who remained for the final voyage are a skeleton crew. Along with the many cherished former colleagues you have known, we thank you for your vital collaboration and consideration throughout the years. It has been our privilege to be a part of the special world of books and bookselling and a bridge between cultures.

After 114 years at the same address Brentano's - the American Bookstore in Paris, will no longer welcome the curious passer-by and the faithful regular. In these final days many, many customers have expressed sincere disbelief and genuine anguish upon learning that this institution (in their minds invincible) will cease to exist. This testimony to our combined efforts, yours and ours, we take to heart and share with you.

We will miss our unique universe. We are thankful to have had the rare opportunity to know so many good and talented people from many nations and to have lived and worked in the world of books.

Best wishes, Susan Rosenberg and Alain Queval for Brentano's - Paris
And so Brentano's, which once spanned two continents, is just a memory now.

But we still have these tiny and wonderful bookseller labels to remind us of places that once existed. If you want to get lost for a while in the world of bookstores and graphic design, I heartily recommend you check out the following websites:

1. It's a shame, too. The travel-guide content inside -- including about a dozen detailed fold-out maps -- is intact and in acceptable shape. But the binding is completely pulled off the spine and is only attached by about one inch of material. Still, if anyone is interested in this book for its content, email me.
2. Source: Borders' history page
3. And we know how well that's been going lately. For background, see The New York Times' "Borders’ Bankruptcy Shakes Industry" and Crain's "Borders goes bankrupt, ending 3 NYC stores".


  1. You can also browse over 1300 book trade labels at the Seven Roads Flickr group-- feel free to add your own!

  2. For more information on bookseller labels, visit We'll be adding this post to our links pages. Thanks, Gabe