Librairie Galignani

Authored By: Chloe Rendall

Edited By: Nicola Wilson

By Chloe Rendall

Librairie Galignani was founded by Giovanni Antonio Galignani in 1800 as a circulating library and bookshop in Paris, France. Galignani came from a family of printers in Italy, dating back as far as Simone Galignani of the sixteenth century. Galignani left his native Italy in the late eighteenth century, and in England he met the daughter of an English printer, who would become his wife. They had three children, and in 1800 the family relocated to France, where the bookshop began life as Parsons and Galignani. It is considered to be the oldest English language bookshop in mainland Europe, and therefore played an integral role in not only the relationship between foreign and native culture in France, but also the publishing laws both home and away. It quickly became a city favourite, providing international literature and daily newspapers from England which enabled expatriates to keep up to date with current affairs back home. An arrivals book in the library allowed visitors to see who else, particularly distinguished guests, was currently staying in the city.

Galignani began to publish original material, including a monthly publication, the Repertory of English Literature, in 1808. In 1814 Galignani’s Messenger began and, with its combination of English, American and European news, was a huge success. By 1830 two editions were produced daily, a morning and an evening issue, and the newspaper continued for the rest of the century (it became the Daily Messenger in 1884, and was later discontinued in 1904). Another of the business’s lucrative exploits was to be found in their production of pirated texts. In France, Librairie Galignani avoided the strict guidelines of publishing English texts and so was able to provide the public with editions of popular texts for much less than their counterparts in England might pay. Such ventures earned the business the title ‘old pirate Galignani’ (Giles Barber, p. 276) which was used fondly by Byron and Scott. Wordsworth was concerned by an 1828 Galignani pirated edition of his Poetical Works, believing it to be negatively impacting on his sales in England, despite the positive exposure it afforded him on the Continent. The profitable activities of Galignani’s firm, along with other French publishers who capitalised on piracy, eventually led to considerable reform of copyright laws.

Upon Galignani’s death in 1821, the business was passed to his two sons, John Anthony and William, who continued the work they inherited. When William died in 1882, his nephew Charles Jeancourt-Galignani took ownership. By the first half of the twentieth century Librairie Galignani was one of four bookshops in Paris selling English language books (the other three were Shakespeare and Company, W. H. Smith and Brentano's). Three of the four were run by British managers (W. H. Smith, Brentano’s and Librairie Galignani). The manager at Librairie Galignani was F. Moulder, who was imprisoned during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Upon his release he was banned from selling books published after 1870, an instruction that he ignored as he continued to sell them under the counter. Ownership of the company remained in the Galignani family until the end of the twentieth century. It is still in business two centuries after it began.