The picturesque booksellers–les bouquinistes–along the Seine seem familiar even when laying eyes upon them for the first time. No wonder since many movies show them to establish Paris as a setting. They are also an iconic image on local postcards, second only to Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower.
If the booksellers and their dark green boxes seem like a wrinkle in time, indeed they are. They date back to the 16th century when booksellers first set up stands on the bridges. The sellers were required to obtain a royal patent, which was basically a ruse to prevent them from selling forbidden Protestant pamphlets. Following the Revolution of 1789, numerous library collections seized from aristocratic families and the clergy ended up for sale on the bridges of Paris. In the late 1800s, the government granted booksellers permission to hang permanent boxes along the sidewalks bordering the Seine. Now the licenses to sell are much prized and can take years to come by.
Today these “markets” sell used books, old magazines, posters, trinkets, and more. Secondhand books are a mainstay, although they might be losing ground to postcards and brightly painted Eiffel Tower key rings. While some stalls cater to tourists seeking cheap souvenirs, others reward those who are willing to search for a unique item amid the collections.
Every stand is different. I recommend taking a look at each seller’s goods and not writing off the whole breed as uninteresting tourist traps.
One of my favorite sellers of food and cooking-related books and posters is located on the quai de Conti on the Left Bank. I bought several botanical and food-related prints which I framed.
From quai du Louvre to quai des Célestins in the 4th arr; from quai Voltaire to quai de la Tournelle in the 6th arr.
Open (roughly) Tuesday to Friday 2 pm – 6 pm; weekends 11 am – 6 pm, but hours vary with the season.