The rich dossier of Isaac-Pierre Rigaud shows how a veteran bookseller dominated the trade from a strategic position in the provinces. His letters—99 of them spread out over 17 years—give the impression of a tough businessman who bargained hard, avoided risk, and never took his eye off the bottom line. Although Rigaud did everything possible to crush his competitors, he never resorted to the duplicity and cheating that were common among less respectable dealers, who could always find a pretext to avoid paying their debts. Rigaud protested at every malfunction in the services of his suppliers, and he pushed hard whenever he saw an opportunity to cut costs, but he always paid his bills on time. He epitomized the characteristics most valued in the book industry: honnêteté and solidité.
Although Languedoc in general had a low rate of literacy, Montpellier was an important cultural capital. As the seat of an intendancy, a university with a famous medical faculty, and several high courts (but not the provincial parlement, which was located in Toulouse), it had a dense population of administrative officials, lawyers, professors, students, and other potential customers for its bookshops. They also included a large number of clergymen, who were connected with its archbishopric, and soldiers, who were stationed in its garrison. Protestants, like cathedral canons and army officers, tended to be avid readers; and Montpellier had a large Protestant and crypto-Protestant population—perhaps half of its 31,000 inhabitants in 1780. Thanks to its geographic location—connections with the Mediterranean and the Rhône through the port of Sète and with the Atlantic through the Canal du Midi and Bordeaux—Montpellier was an important hub of international commerce. Local businesses—mainly in wine, textiles, and verdigris—contributed to its economic growth during the mid-century years. By 1780, a cultivated urban elite patronized its concerts and theater, attended meetings of its academy, and subscribed to its cabinet littéraire (commercial book club) and its newspaper. (For further details and references to sources, click on to the button labeled Download Full Research Background.)
In short, Montpellier was good book territory. Its booksellers could draw cheap supplies from Avignon, a papal enclave that had developed a booming trade in pirate publishing, and they dealt extensively with publishers in Switzerland, who sent shipments down the Rhône or occasionally overland via Turin, Nice (also a foreign enclave, which then belonged to the kingdom of Savoy), and Marseille. Given such advantages, one would expect the seven local booksellers listed in the Almanach de la librairie of 1777 and 1781 to enjoying a thriving trade. But seen from their dossiers in the archives of the STN, they had difficulty surviving—in part because of mistakes in their commercial strategy, in part because of Rigaud. Like powerful dealers in other provincial centers, he did everything possible to crush the competition, and by 1782 he had established a virtual monopoly.
When Favarger inspected their ranks in 1778, he dismissed two of Montpellier’s booksellers as insignificant: “Bascou, Tournel ne valent rien. Je ne les ai pas vus.” A third, J. B. Faure who managed the shop of widow Gonthier, did not want to do any business. A fourth, Abraham Fontanel, dealt mainly in art works and sold books only as a sideline. Cézary, the fifth bookseller, was considered honest but poor. And two printers, Martel and Picot, did nothing aside from producing ephemera and religious tracts. That left Rigaud—or Rigaud, Pons & Compagnie as the firm was known, because Rigaud had absorbed the small business of Albert Pons, who was little more than a “brocanteur,” in 1770. Rigaud gave Favarger a fairly large order, and Favarger put him down in his diary as enjoying “un très bon crédit” without describing him in detail.
For a full description, it is necessary to consult the 1764 survey of the book trade conducted for the government by all the intendants of the kingdom. Rigaud was certainly the most important bookseller in Montpellier, according to the report from the intendant for Languedoc, but no one could estimate his wealth. Some put it at 50 or 60 thousand livres, others at more than 150 thousand. It was hard to judge, because his assets were tied up in his business rather than in real estate, and “il est fort secret dans ses affaires.” Still,
Ce libraire fait son commerce avec beaucoup d’intelligence. Il est protestant et passe pour fort honnête homme, quoiqu’on l’accuse d’avoir beaucoup de livres de sa religion et d’autres prohibés. Il a rapporté un certificat de catholicité lors de sa réception et a fait depuis quelques fonctions de catholique.
That diagnosis was confirmed by reports that the STN received about Rigaud’s relations with two of the other booksellers in Montpellier, Cézary and Fontanel. After sounding local opinion, Favarger assessed Cézary as a “fort honnête homme” and sent an order from him back to the STN. It contained 23 titles, many of them medical treatises in Latin, which must have been intended for the doctors and students in the university’s faculty of medicine. Most of the others were Protestant works and history books.
But before he could develop his trade with the STN any further, Cézary ran into a disaster. He drew much of his stock from the printers in nearby Avignon, but he ordered more books than he could sell—that is, the bills of exchange that he sent for the accumulated shipments became due before he had acquired enough cash to honor them. Three Avignonese publishers pressed him hard for payment, and he persuaded one of them, J.-J. Niel, to take a selection of books from his stock in exchange for writing off a debt of 1,400 livres. But Niel chose the best-selling books, an assortment worth 3,000 livres, according to a letter that Cézary sent to the STN in an attempt to persuade it to accept a delay in the payment of its own bills. Cézary refused to give up the books; Niel had them seized and carted off in seven crates by Montpellier’s bailiffs; Cézary went into hiding to escape debtors’ prison; his mother got a court to seal off the bookshop in order to prevent more raids on the stock; and then Cézary attempted to negotiate a settlement with all of his creditors. He had enough assets to pay them all if given enough time, he assured the STN. But first he needed to get a safe conduct from the authorities so that he could deliver installments of the Encyclopédie to customers who had subscribed to it through him.
In order to decide how to respond to Cézary’s plea, Ostervald of the STN contacted an attorney in Montpellier and also a local merchant named Vialars, who was a fellow Protestant and a friend. The attorney confirmed that although Cézary remained in hiding, he should eventually be able to pay back his debts. He had declared himself insolvent by submitting a balance sheet, which showed that his debts came to 64,410 livres and his stock was worth 42,668 livres; but he also owned two houses worth a total of 30,000 livres. It would be better, the attorney advised, to grant him enough time to resume business and sell off his stock at reasonable prices than to force an immediate sale, which would ruin him and produce relatively little in the way of repayment.
Vialars confirmed this assessment, and the creditors or their representatives met on June 24, 1781 to discuss a possible settlement. Cézary himself reported the result in a letter to the STN on the following day. Rigaud had done the evaluation of his stock, he explained, and now was attempting to persuade the other creditors to force him out of business. His only hope of survival was to get the creditors to write off half of his debts and to give him six months to pay the other half. “Je suis honnête homme et d’une exacte probité,” he insisted. « Tous mes désirs dans ce monde seront de travailler jour et nuit pour pouvoir vous solder en plein par la suite. » But he faced a formidable enemy :
Il est bien douloureux pour moi d’apprendre qu’un certain Monsieur de cette ville [later he mentioned Rigaud by name], dirigé par la cupidité et voulant me perdre absolument dans la vue de diminuer le nombre des libraires de Montpellier et d’avoir mes livres pour rien, a écrit à quelques uns de mes créanciers pour les dissuader de cet arrangement.
That was the last the STN heard from him. Vialars later reported that the creditors had indeed decided to sacrifice half of the debt and that they had appointed an agent named Luc Biron to pay off the assessed value of the other half over a period of three years while disposing of Cézary’s entire stock. Vialars suspected that Biron was a straw man, but there was nothing the STN could do. In March 1784, it received 142 livres, half the money owed to it. By then, Rigaud probably had acquired most of Cézary’s inventory at a bargain price, and Cézary had disappeared from the book trade. [The above account is based on the dossiers in the STN archives of Cézary, ms. 1132, ff 267-273; Vialars, ms. 1228, ff. 42-76; and the attorney Chiraud, ms. 1135, ff. 219-220.]
There was nothing personal about this feud. Rigaud merely sought to eliminate a competitor and did the same in his relations with the other bookseller whom Favarger recommended to the STN, Abraham Fontanel. As an outsider who dealt mainly in prints, Fontanel thought at first that the STN could send its small shipments to him most efficiently by including them in the bales that it sent to Rigaud. But Rigaud held on to his books for several weeks, thereby delaying their sale; and, before releasing them, he removed the STN’s catalogues and prospectuses to make it difficult for Fontanel to send more orders. Rigaud also used his power over the only available binder in Montpellier to prevent Fontanel from being able to offer his books for sale with their sheets folded and stitched. Therefore, Fontanel asked the STN to take the unusual step of sending him copies already stitched rather than in loose sheets, and he warned it to avoid any arrangement that might let his shipments fall into Rigaud’s hands. Having watched Rigaud destroy Cézary and marginalize the other booksellers, he worried about his own survival. But he remained hopeful, as he indicated in a letter to the STN of May 18, 1781: “Ma librairie va s’étendre, attendu que je me vois seul avec M. Rigaud ici, les autres ne paraissant pas continuer—ce qui excite diablement la jalousie du sieur Rigaud, que voudrait être seul et qui me témoigne sa haine journellement. »
None of this animosity appeared in Rigaud’s letters. They remained strictly professional, although in his first letter he sent a personal greeting to Ostervald. Indeed, their relentlessly business-like character is what makes them interesting, because they show how a successful bookseller managed his affairs. Rigaud followed a clear pattern in placing his orders. A typical order contained between a dozen and two dozen titles but only a small number of copies per title so that, on the one hand, he minimized the risk of failing to sell all the copies of a particular work, and, on the other, the shipment would be heavy enough for him to pay for it at the cheaper, bulk rates. The shipping costs were such an important factor that they outweighed another key consideration that he also stressed in his letters: speed. Like all booksellers, he wanted to receive his books, especially topical works or “nouveautés,” in time to beat his competitors to the market. Nonetheless, he instructed the STN to delay filling an order if it did not have some books in stock rather than to send the others in a small package that would incur heavy charges: “Ne nous envoyez point de petits paquets. Le port en est ruineux. Attendez d’avoir ramassé de quoi fournir un ballot d’un certain poids.”
The order that Rigaud gave to Favarger in August, 1778 typified the way he built up his stock. It included 18 titles. Of them, he ordered between two and four copies of eleven works, six copies of seven works, and a dozen copies of only one: Les Plans et les statuts des différents établissements ordonnés par S.M. impériale Cathérine II pour l’éducation de la jeunesse et l’utilité générale de son empire. By being so cautious, he avoided clogging up his warehouse with unsold books. And if his customers kept asking for a particular title, he could always order more, adjusting supply to demand as he went.
As can be seen from the dates on the list of all the 291 works that he ordered, the pattern of repeated orders shows sustained demand for certain works and, at the same time, Rigaud’s conservatism in stocking them. For example, when the STN published a pirated edition of Baculard d’Arnaud’s popular, sentimental novel, Epreuves du sentiment in 1773, he ordered six copies; and then he renewed his orders as follows:
July 21, 1773 (initial order)….6 copies
September 20, 1773…………12 copies
March 19, 1777……….………2 copies
September 26, 1777…….…….3 copies
November 22, 1779….……….4 copies
A similar pattern of moderate but continuous demand for light fiction can be seen in his orders for the works of Mme Riccoboni, Mme de Genlis, and Claude-Joseph Dorat. The book that he ordered most repeatedly was the one that topped the list of his “best-sellers” or most frequently ordered books: Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s utopian fantasy, L’An deux mille quatre cent quarante. The sequence went as follows:
September 21, 1772………12 copies
September 29, 1773………50 copies
March 23, 1774…………...12 copies
October 14, 1774………….60 copies
August 16, 1775…………...25 copies
June 2, 1777………………..20 copies
November 22, 1779………..12 copies
September 8, 1780…………13 copies
September 13, 1780………..12 copies
January 17, 1781…………...12 copies
November 7, 1783………….26 copies
Had Rigaud ordered 100 or more copies all at once, as occasionally happened when booksellers took chances on making a “coup,” as they called it, his speculation might be considered something of a gamble. But the repeated orders over a period of eleven years demonstrates that L’An deux mille quatre cent quarante was a great favorite of the reading public in Montpellier—as it was, in fact, everywhere else in France.
To some extent, the demand as measured in Rigaud’s orders expressed the supply of what the STN had to offer. In several letters, Rigaud noted that he selected books from the STN’s catalogues and its prospectuses for new editions: “Nous avons relu votre catalogue imprimé et la liste à la main [that is, the manuscript catalogue of “livres philosophiques” or forbidden books] après quoi nous avons fait le choix dont vous trouverez la note ci-après.” But on several occasions, he asked the STN to procure works that it did not have in stock. The references in his letters indicate that he had many suppliers and that they often offered to provide him with the same books, which were available simultaneously from several publishers, owing to the trade among publishers in exchanges. Rigaud understood the operations of the exchange system. He dealt in it himself, using medical works, which he had printed in Montpellier. Therefore, he instructed the STN not to ship him any books that it had procured in Lyon, Avignon, and Rouen, where he apparently did much of his own exchanging. When the STN could not provide a particular book on time, he went elsewhere, usually to another Swiss wholesaler-publisher. He did not play them off against one another, because, as he put it, he did not care to “marchander.” But he sometimes ordered the same work from several suppliers so that he would be sure of receiving it on time. He also drove hard bargains. Sometimes he asked not merely for a baker’s dozen but for a free seventh copy if he bought a half dozen. He also requested free copies for his personal library. He was always looking for the best-selling books at the lowest prices and the quickest, cheapest delivery.
The endless quest for bargains did not exclude a concern for quality—of the physical aspects of books as well as their contents. Whenever he found fault in the STN’s editions, Rigaud sent blistering criticism. He abhorred inferior paper, not simply because it offended his professional eye, but because it hurt sales. In the age of hand-made paper, consumers were conscious about the qualities that Rigaud stressed in his letters: degrees of whiteness, evenness in hue, strength, and weight. The STN had difficulty in producing well-made books when it first set up its printing shop, and Rigaud shot off complaints about the use of worn-out type, typographical errors, poor corrections, mistakes in the assemblage of sheets, unseemly margins, and inappropriate formats (the Bible, he insisted, should be in quarto rather than folio.)
Whenever possible, Rigaud wanted to inspect books for their physical qualities: “Il n’est pas prudent d’acheter sans voir.” He often asked the STN to send him one or two copies of a work “pour essai.” But these trial shipments served above all as a way for him to test demand, because if a book did not sell, he would not order it again. He relied on his professional judgment, of course, and he seems to have been especially astute as a middleman mediating supply and demand. Yet he admitted that he sometimes got things wrong. L’Anarchie médicale, for example, a polemical tract about the ill effects of common medical practices, seemed destined to sell well in Montpellier, where the faculty of medicine played such an important part in the city’s intellectual life. Rigaud (who published the dissertations defended in the faculty and specialized somewhat in medical literature) sent a trial order as soon as he learned that it had been published: “Nous prendrons pour essai 3 ou 4 exemplaires de L’Anarchie médicale pour faire connaître cet ouvrage et pour établir ensuite une demande considérable si le cas le requiert.” But the book did not take, for he sent in only one more order, for a mere two copies.
The only case in which Rigaud seemed to go out on a limb concerned a frothy book about theater life in Paris, Supplément au roman comique ou mémoire pour servir à la vie de Jean Monnet. He sent an initial order for two dozen copies. They evidently sold well enough for him to ask for 100 more four months later. When this unusually large order finally reached him after a delay of two months, he seemed to regret his decision: “Nous venons enfin de recevoir les Mémoires de Jean Monnet, ouvrage tant désiré mais bien peu désirable, car c’est une véritable rapsodie. Nous ne pouvons pas comprendre comment un pareil ouvrage a pu faire sensation parmi les gens de goût. » He never ordered any more copies, nor did other customers of the STN.
Rigaud asked the STN to supplement the main fare of his orders with “quelques nouveautés piquantes.” But when it began to insert short, topical works into his shipments, he objected: “Cela n’est bon que pour de colporteurs.” He preferred solid works, including several that ran to many volumes such as Histoire de France depuis l’établissement de la monarchie jusqu’au règne de Louis XIV by Paul-François Velly: “Nous prendrons pour essai deux exemplaires de L’Histoire de France de Velly, 20 volumes in-12, et nous nous déciderons pour un plus grand nombre si l’exécution de l’ouvrage est à la satisfaction du public.” Two years later, he ordered 2 more sets; and three years after that, he ordered four. Ten copies of a 20 volume work, though a small, duodecimo edition, represented more of an investment than 100 copies of the Supplément au Roman comique.
In assessing demand as refracted through Rigaud’s orders, it is therefore important to consider the size and character of the books as well as the number of copies ordered. In the statistical table of the “books in greatest demand” compiled from the orders, the Supplément au roman comique stands out as second on the list, although it does not really deserve to be considered a best-seller; and the Histoire de France does not appear at all, although it eventually filled a lot of space in the shelves of his customers. Allowing for such peculiarities, one can distinguish two main tendencies in the table: first, a demand for the sentimental fiction already mentioned, as in the works of Mme de Genlis, Mme Riccoboni, and Baculard d’Arnaud; second, a demand for works of the Enlightenment, especially those by Mercier, Condorcet, and Voltaire.
The Enlightenment strain in Rigaud’s business stands out even more clearly in his correspondence. He ordered 25 copies of the STN’s edition of the atheistic Système de la nature and said that he would have asked for 100 if it had been able to get them to him safely and on time: “C’est un coup manqué,” he wrote regretfully. He collected a great many subscriptions, 84 in all, to the quarto edition of the Encyclopédie; and in November, 1779 when he learned that Rousseau’s Confessions were being printed somewhere in Switzerland, he urged the STN to send him a sizeable shipment. In the end, he received his supply from another publisher, probably the Société typographique de Genève, which published the first posthumous edition of Rousseau’s complete works, including the first part of the Confessions, in 1782. During the previous ten years, Rigaud had ordered 21 sets of the works in editions that varied from 11 volumes in-octavo to 21 volumes in-duodecimo. Some individual titles, such as Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques, did not sell well, he observed, but so much Rousseau had appeared by July 1782, that the market was flooded.
Rigaud was equally interested in everything by Voltaire and for the same reason—its sales potential. In 1770, the STN informed him that Voltaire was writing an ambitious new work, Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, and that the STN would publish it by a special arrangement with him. In fact, the STN edition was a pirated version of the original, produced by Gabriel Cramer, Voltaire’s publisher in Geneva. With the help of an introduction from a friendly intermediary, Ostervald had visited Ferney and had persuaded Voltaire to provide the STN with copies of the proofs, corrected and augmented with new material. Voltaire, who was then 76, did not attempt to make money from his books, but he understood all the tricks of the publishing trade and used them for his own purposes. He knew that the pirates would reprint the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie as soon as it came out, and he was willing to cooperate with a pirated edition behind Cramer’s back, provided that he could dictate the terms. The operation would have to be kept secret, and he could touch up the text with audacious new remarks, which if necessary he could later disavow. By working with a friendly house (Ostervald had also offered to produce a new edition of his complete works), he could reinforced the diffusion of his ideas and, at least to some extent, take charge of the process. But Ostervald touted Voltaire’s patronage in circular letters to the STN’s customers, giving the impression that it was publishing an original work. Word soon reached Cramer through the professional grapevine. He complained to Voltaire; Voltaire denied all complicity; and Voltaire’s secretaries stopped sending the proofs to the STN after Cramer had reached the third volume of what eventually turned into a nine-volume work.
In fact, Cramer had expected to be pirated, and he had already taken measures to mitigate the damage to his edition by issuing several volumes at once, thereby creaming off the demand before the pirates could print fast enough to reach the market with their cheaper books. But he, too, found it difficult to manage his relations with Voltaire. At this time he was also printing a folio edition of the Encyclopédie, and that enterprise got in the way of an edition of Voltaire’s works, which he had promised to produce. It also made him neglect the printing of the Questions, at least in the view of Voltaire, who was a stickler for typographical excellence and rapid service. Therefore, after a great deal of solicitation from the STN, Voltaire agreed to lift the embargo on the texts being sent to Neuchâtel, and the STN resumed production of its edition, but only after a damaging delay. (For a detailed account of this affair, see my essay, “La science de la contrefaçon” posted with my other publications on this website.)
Rigaud’s correspondence with the STN shows how this imbroglio was seen from the perspective of a veteran book dealer. He ordered 30 copies of the Questions in August, 1770 and 50 more in September, but he was disappointed when he learned that the volumes would be published in successive installments rather than all at once. The STN reassured him that the book was sure to sell, and to help in the marketing, it sent him the article Dieu, which it had printed as a separate brochure. Rigaud was unimpressed. Voltaire’s name, he replied, « …est assez célèbre sans qu’il fût nécessaire qu’il tentât le gout du public par un article qui ne contiendra, dites-vous, que 2 feuilles sur le format in-octavo et qui deviendra inutile pour les particuliers qui acheteront dans la suite l’ouvrage entière.” On November 8, he received a letter from Cramer, who said he had sent a shipment to another bookseller in Montpellier and was surprised that Rigaud had not ordered any copies. At this point, Rigaud realized that the STN was producing a pirated edition--improved, it claimed, by Voltaire’s additions.
He did not find the piracy objectionable in itself, because his two main concerns were price and the speed of delivery. The STN’s price was certainly cheaper: 23 sous 6 deniers for volume I as opposed to 35 sous charged by Cramer. But it had great difficulty in getting its shipments to him. At this time it did not have a trustworthy agent who could clear its shipments past inspection at the chambre syndicale in Lyon and forward them down the Rhône. Therefore, it sent the first bale by the slow and expensive overland route through Turin, Nice, and Marseille to Sète. On March 11, 1771, Rigaud complained that he had not yet received the first volume, which the STN had shipped on December 9, whereas his competitors were already selling volumes 1 through 3, which they had received from Cramer. Four months later, he acknowledged the arrival of the first three volumes, but found the shipping charges much too expensive. Moreover, he had compared the STN’s edition with Cramer’s and failed to detect a single change in the text. The STN replied by explaining the difficulties it had encountered in keeping up the supply of the copy. Rigaud then answered with a letter that revealed what a bookseller located at a key point in the distribution system thought about Europe’s most famous writer:
Il est étonnant que sur la fin de sa course M. de Voltaire ne puisse pas encore se dispenser de tromper les libraires. Ce ne serait rien si toutes ces petites ruses, fraudes et supercheries ne retombaient que sur leur auteur. Mais malheureusement on en accuse ordinairement les imprimeurs et encore plus les libraires débitants.
But disgust with Voltaire did nothing to repair the delays in the STN’s shipments. Rigaud complained bitterly that he wished he had ordered his Questions from Cramer, because his customers, discontented after months of waiting, had begun to favor other book shops. In self-defense, the STN directors wrote in September, 1771 that they had opened up the Rhône route by engaging an agent in Lyons, but he had gone bankrupt, and therefore their main supply line had ceased to function. By the end of the year, they had repaired it, and Rigaud had received volume 5, but the other booksellers in Montpellier had volumes 6 and 7 of Cramer’s edition. The STN’s volume 7 arrived in February, 1772, but volume 6 was delayed until April, when it came in a shipment with volume 8. The STN finally sent off volume 9 in May, but Rigaud remained discontented until the end. In his last letters about the STN’s Questions, he complained that he found many imperfectly printed sheets (“défets”) in the shipments; that the differences between the STN and the Cramer editions were so unimportant that they meant nothing to readers; and above all, that the delays had made him lose customers. He may have been less unhappy than he sounded, however, because he ordered another dozen copies in June, 1772; an additional copy in June, 1773; and two more in November, 1774, making a total of 95 copies—quite a lot for a nine-volume work.
Nothing in Rigaud’s correspondence suggests that he felt committed to the Enlightenment as a cause or that he subscribed to its ideals. Perhaps like many Protestants he sympathized with the Voltairean values of tolerance and reason, but one cannot tell by reading his letters. Their main theme was the need to make money. On the rare occasions when he inserted personal comments into his discussion of business, they sounded disabused. The book trade, he noted, “…approche beaucoup de celui des bijoutiers, c’est-à-dire que la mode une fois passée, on ne trouve à vendre à aucun prix. » Books were luxury goods, « une denrée lente dans la consommation….Les livres ne sont pas comme la viande et le pain. » Yet he expressed respect for a few classics : « Le Molière est un ouvrage qui se vendra en tout temps et en tout lieu. » And he was interested in the fate of contemporary authors, especially those whose works sold best: Mercier, Linguet, and above all Raynal. Raynal inspired more gossip in the correspondence of booksellers than any other author after the death of Rousseau and Voltaire in 1778. Was it true as rumored, Rigaud asked the STN, that the old abbé, having been driven out of France after the condemnation of his Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements des Européens dans les deux Indes, planned to settle in Switzerland and marry “une jeune et aimable Suissesse”? “Vous devez comprendre que tout le monde en général et les libraires en particulier doivent s’intéresser au sort d’un homme aussi célèbre. »
Political issues did not come up in Rigaud’s correspondence, except in relation to government policies on the book trade. He did, however, order some of the radical attacks against the Maupeou ministry of 1771-1774, which were published after Louis XVI ascended the throne in May 1744 and the fall of Maupeou in August. As soon as he learned about the publication of Maupeouana ou correspondance secrète et familière du chancelier Maupeou avec son coeur Sorhouet in April, 1775, Rigaud asked the STN to rush 100 copies to him. This two-volume satire was such a hot seller that the STN was unable at first to procure it from other publishers, and therefore Rigaud sent his order elsewhere. But he successfully placed an order with the STN for 28 copies of a similar and equally popular work, Journal historique de la révolution opérée dans la constitution de la monarchie française par M. de Maupeou. Although this hard-hitting political literature was aimed at a government that no longer existed, it was treated as highly seditious by the authorities under Louis XVI—and understandably so, because in regaling readers with anecdotes and scandals, it conveyed the idea that the Bourbon monarchy had degenerated into a despotism. Rigaud ordered it under the proviso that the STN would assume all risks. “Point de risque” was his refrain. Unlike marginal booksellers, he never dealt heavily in forbidden books. He sold some of them, as the intendant noted in the report of 1764, but he refused to expose himself to any danger. Whatever his personal views, which he kept to himself, his business practices were profoundly conservative.
Rigaud’s unwillingness to take risks can be seen in his reaction to the government’s attempts to impose a duty on the imports of books. In fact, his letters provide one of the best sources for studying the book taxes of the 1770s, which have never been noticed by historians. In letters of September 28 and October 15, 1771, the STN informed him that it had just learned about the government’s intention, announced in an edict of September 14, to impose a duty of 60 livres per quintal (a hundredweight measured in standard pounds or livres, poids de marc) on all imports of books. How should they adjust to this threat? The STN could get its bales as far as Nice by the overland route for 15 livres per quintal, if he could smuggle them the rest of the way to Montpellier. “Prudence” was the main theme of Rigaud’s answer. The tax was so drastic that he had decided to suspend all orders from his foreign suppliers, and the STN must stop all shipments to him as soon as it heard that the tax was being collected: “Il faut savoir céder au temps et aux circonstances.”
The duty was indeed prohibitive. I would estimate that it came to about a third of the wholesale value of most shipments. The government reduced it to 26 livres per quintal in December, perhaps in response to protests from French booksellers. Even so, Rigaud considered it very heavy, and to continue trade with his foreign suppliers, he offered to pay a third of it if they would pay two-thirds. The STN agreed, but it ran into difficulties with its supply lines, because the Turin-Nice route proved too expensive, and it could not find a competent agent to handle its shipments through Lyon. Ostervald finally traveled to Lyon and resolved the problem in 1772. A year later the STN arranged a smuggling operation and offered to get Rigaud’s books across the border by charging only 12 percent of their value as “insurance.” But Rigaud preferred to pay the tax and have them shipped through Lyon. In June, 1773, he reported a rumor that the government had reduced the duty to 7 percent, and offered to pay half of it if the STN would cover all costs as far as Lyon. The rumor turned out to be false, however, and so did another, which claimed the reduction would be as low as 6 percent. In reporting them, Rigaud tried to force the STN to give him better terms: 10 percent off the wholesale price and free transport as far as Lyon. “Sans ces conditions il nous serait impossible de tirer de la marchandise de chez vous, à moins que nous ne voulions [sic] prendre le chemin de l’hôpital, et c’est ce que nous voulons éviter. » The STN did not accept those conditions, and its trade with Rigaud slackened in 1774, but it picked up a year later, partly in response to another shift in French policy, which transformed the situation: on June 21, 1775, Rigaud wrote that at last the government had rescinded its duty on imports of books.
For some reason, Rigaud’s letters from 1776 are missing from his dossier. (The STN’s account books indicate that he continued to do business with the STN throughout that year.) His correspondence throughout the next decade shows the same preoccupations as those in his early letters. He bargained hard, complained about delays, and insisted on avoiding risks. After the government issued new edicts governing the book trade on August 30, 1777, he worried that its campaign against piracy would create a new barrier between him and his Swiss suppliers. But the edicts were not applied until well into 1779, and as far as one can tell from Rigaud’s occasional remarks, they were never very effective. Rigaud’s trade with the STN declined after 1783, when its financial crisis forced it to cut back on its publishing. But he, too, faced increasingly difficult conditions in the late 1780s. He paid his last bill to the STN in February 1786—as always without raising the slightest difficulty, a rarity in an industry that suffered from cheating and bad faith. And his last letter, dated July 27, 1787, indicated that times were hard everywhere: “Ce n’est pas ma faute si je ne vous fais pas de fréquentes demandes; c’est celle du public, qui paraît peu empressé de faire des achats de livres. » Of course, Montpellier might have been a special case. As Rigaud observed in one of his first letters to the STN, « Vous savez aussi bien que nous, que tels ouvrages qui sont bons pour un pays ne le sont pas pour un autre. » But other booksellers echoed his observations. His experience suggests that the book trade went into a severe decline on the eve of the French Revolution.