Good things come in threes: A volume of unique texts from provincial France

By Ann-Marie Hansen |

All good things, as they say, come in threes. One modest volume found in the special collections of the Université Rennes 2, one of our Preserving the World’s Rarest Books partners, shows that this adage holds true in the library. The early modern practice of binding separately printed works together generally makes for unique combinations of imprints. In the case of this volume, the uniqueness is even more remarkable as the three titles bound together were previously unknown.

The Reigles de s. Augustin, a l’usage des religieuses de sainte Ursule (1625), Reigles des vierges religieuses de s. Ursule (1625) and a Latin-French edition of a papal bull on the monastic rules of the Ursulines (1629) were all issued in the Breton town of Saint-Brieuc by the then newly established printer Guillaume Doublet (Shelfmarks 56661, 56662, 56663). While he was not the first printer to work in Saint-Brieuc, Doublet was the first to stay on in the small coastal centre. How he managed to do so is suggested by the thematic unity of this trio: the titles he produced answered to a local demand.

The region’s bishop, Monseigneur André Le Porc de la Porte, had supported the establishment of Doublet’s typographic workshop in 1620, together with municipal authorities. Having a printer in the area made it possible to produce projects without sending them off to Rennes, Rouen or Paris. De la Porte was also responsible for the establishment of a community of Ursulines in Saint-Brieuc in 1624, and this created both a need for texts to be produced and a market that would acquire them once available. Doublet was well placed then to furnish the new market with the texts it required: the relatively simple editions that he printed, with minimal decorations, were sold in his bookshop. As the trio of titles reveals, the rules of the Ursuline order and justifications for the order’s characteristics were valuable reading for the local community.

Bound-with volume from Rennes
The three works were printed in 24o (Bibliothèques de l’Université Rennes 2, 56661, 56662, 56663).

Like much provincial print, the Doublet editions will have had limited print runs, and circulated in a limited geographic sphere. The three editions bound together are in the diminutive 24o format (here a mere 12 cm tall and 7 cm wide), and range in length from 12 to 95 leaves. The texts were intended for regular use and careful study. None of these factors were particularly conducive to their survival. An early owner – possibly the ‘Marie’ who signed the first title page – created a coherent unit by having the three texts bound together. This assembly was also made structurally more robust in a simple calf binding. It is in this form that the volume eventually made its way to the regional capital of Rennes, and into an institutional library ensuring its recent discovery.

In recording the titles in this Sammelband volume, the number of 17th century works known to have been published in Saint-Brieuc rose from 21 to 24. Doublet and his family were responsible for all but one, and the majority were works related to local religious policy or proceedings. The number of Saint-Brieuc imprints is sure to grow further as PWRB sifts through the holdings of its partner libraries, though it may be a while until another triple-unicum is uncovered.


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Ann-Marie Hansen is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Researcher at the Université Rennes 2 and a graduate of McGill University. Her research focuses on contemporary reader interactions with early French-language print. She is currently the Editor of Livre – Revue historique, the bilingual journal of the Société bibliographique de France. You can find her on Twitter at @AMHansen22 and

Photos by Malcolm Walsby.

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