Honoré de Balzac rare books and memorabilia



2015-06-26 11:03:17

Honoré de Balzac rare books and memorabilia are collectible items relating to French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). He is best known for his La Comédie Humaine, a panoramic selection of short stories and novels portraying French life and society during the Restoration and the July Monarchy, after the 1815 fall of Napoleon.

Brief History/biography

Balzac is considered one of the founders of realism in European literature, renowned for the complexity and depth of his characters. He attempted several failed careers in his early life, including law, publishing, printing, business, criticism and politics, and his experiences of the difficulties and inhumanity he experienced in these situations fed directly into the novels that composed his magnum opus, La Comédie Humaine. Balzac was a prolific writer, producing nine novels and several plays by 1826, but it was with the multi-volumes of La Comédie Humaine (1815-1848) that he achieved success and fame. The whole consists of 91 finished works and 46 unfinished works. Balzac conceived the idea of this vast collection after writing a few novels, and grouping them into multiple series, the first of which were Scenes de la vie privée, Scenes de la vie de province, and Scenes de la vie Parisienne. Later came Scenes de la vie politique, Scenes de la vie militaire, Scenes de la vie campagne, Etudes philosophiques and Etudes analytiques. His works were published under the collective title ‘La Comédie Humaine for the first time in 1842, though Balzac continued to write works for it until his death, and left many unfinished.

Balzac’s complete works were not translated into English until the 1890s, as they were considered unsuitable for English women to read.

Types of rare books and memorabilia


Bloomsbury Auctions

  • La Belle Imperia (1913), one of 12 copies on Japon vellum, sold for £3,500 in October 2008.
  • La Comedie Humaine (1895-98), 40 volumes, sold for $2,000 in November 2007.


  • Works, 53 volumes (1885-1900 George Barrie and Son), sold for $3,883 in February 2007.


  • La Peau de chagrin, roman philosophique. First edition (1831), sold for 12,500 euros in June 2009.
  • Le Pere Goriot. Histoire Parisienne. First edition (1835), sold for 9,375 euros in June 2009.


  • 47 volumes of first editions of Balzac’s works, sold for £32,450 in June 2011.
  • 12 volumes of Balzac’s works, 1835-1837, sold for £3,250 in June 2011.
  • Complete works (1855), sold for £2,400 in March 2007.

Documents, Autographs and Photographs


  • Notes remises a Messieurs les deputes composant la commission de la loi sur la propriete litteraire. Brochure by Balzac, previously owned by Victor Hugo. Sold for 25,000 euros in April 2012.
  • Important unpublished autograph letter signed, dated 1831. Sold for £8,050 in June 1995.


  • Statues of Balzac by Auguste Rodin sold for $362,500 in May 2010 and $769,000 in November 2007.
  • Contract for Illusion Perdues, signed by Balzac, dated 1838, sold for 17,400 Euros in March 2007.

Guide for collectors

Balzac’s works are troublesome in many ways. To collect every first edition of each story and novel is a vast project, and many of these are not particularly valuable is isolation. To own a complete set printed later, much simpler. Each grouping (Scenes de la vie privée, Scenes de la vie de province etc) can be considered a collection in itself, yet should the incomplete works be included or not? These are questions for the collector of Balzac to decide. It is apparent, however, that as such an important literary figure, both in France and worldwide, Balzac’s works are held in high regard by collectors and bibliophiles alike, and certain editions as well as items relating to his life can be extremely valuable.

Any of the editions of Balzac including Pablo Picasso’s illustrations are very valuable.

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