Saturday, December 3, 2011

For Sale: L'Art Du Menuisier

A few weeks ago I located and purchased a copy of L'Art du Menuisier. This was a purchase that took a lot of thought, consideration, and frankly, money.

I've been itching to lay my hands on a copy of this work since I first saw Roubo's Plate 11 in Scott Landis' "The Workbench Book." But it's not exactly the type of book they have at Barnes and Noble. And my public library could not get a copy by inter-library loan. One event nailed the lid in the coffin for me to search out a copy of this book: Don William's presentation at this year's meeting of the "Roubo Society" at Woodworking In America.

But I have to back up a little bit more to complete the story. A couple nights before Don's presentation I was at a gathering at a friend's house with Louis Bois (the expert draftsman who does all of our bench plans), who had acquired a set of the modern, small format, softbound Roubo volumes. As we were struggling with carrying the books (and some others Louis had in tow) I mentioned to Louis that we needed to get together and peruse the books before the end of the weekend and all of us parted ways.

The next night Louis and I met in his hotel room, cracked open some Creemore Springs Premium Lager that Louis had brought from Canada, and proceeded to plunder the pages of Roubo into the wee hours of the night.

Louis is a native French speaker, so sitting down with Roubo was a unique experience for a monoglot like me.

I took volume four (L'Art du Menuisier Ebeniste) and opened a random page, plate 289 appeared. I had never seen this plate before. But something about it clicked. I started looking at the different processes presented in the engravings, the various workpieces, the jigs and tools. And it hit me. They were making furniture-scale parquetry. Something I am quite into. In fact, just last year I wrote an article for Popular Woodoworking Magazine on the subject.

As I turned the page and examined plate 290, my interest peaked. There in the engraving was a parquetry pattern quite reminiscent of a design I made about six years ago (above.) I turned to Louis, who was looking through his own volume, and asked him to translate the text for both plates. What a fascinating moment.

I returned to my room and thought about getting myself a copy of L'Art du Menuisier. But what really clinched the deal happened two days later at Don's presentation at the "Roubo dinner." As the meal was finishing up I was leaning back listening to Roy Underhill go over his speech (in French) with Louis, who were both sitting directly to my left. Don Williams, who was my host for the evening, (thanks again Don) began to speak softly and more seriously. I could tell he had switched gears and was mentally preparing for his presentation. I decided to make myself as invisible as possible and let Don concentrate on his presentation while I concentrated on my dessert.

Don began his presentation on the latest progress of the Lost Art Press Roubo translation, and as he moved further into the detailed (and funny) presentation he brought up a plate from Roubo on the slide projector. It was plate 289! It was at that very moment that I knew I had to have a copy of L'Art du Menuisier. After Don's presentation I mentioned to him what an amazing coincidence had taken place. It was an evening to remember.

So after returning home from WIA I spent the next couple weeks searching out a copy of the three huge volumes of L'Art du Menuisier. Some of you may know that a more modern version of these volumes is currently available in five separate softbound books. These are the volumes that Louis and I had read from at WIA. But these are a far cry from the original large format reprint that I found in a Paris bookstore in October. The large format volumes are rare (I was fortunate when I found mine), plus, they are positively Roubo-esque in size: 17" x 12" and over 10" thick over the three volumes, which together weigh almost 40 pounds. The large format volumes also feature numerous gatefolds: pages which fold out to two or three times normal size to reveal large, beautiful full-page engravings. They are simply magical to look at. I am inspired every time I open these volumes.

So here's the amazing part. When I found my set, I found another one too, in great condition. In the interest of making this set available to other Roubo fans here in America, I took a risk and bought it. Who knows how long these will be available? It shipped from France and arrived at my doorstep just a few days after my set. This is the original Paris reprint from 1976 (as is my copy), and not an original 1775 first edition. The latter goes for upwards of five figures. The 1976 version is decidedly less expensive.  If you are interested in owning not only a piece of history, but a source of unending creative inspiration, please drop me an email (jameel at benchcrafted dot com) and we can discuss the particulars.

These books are sold. 

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