Anyone meandering along the banks of the Seine in central Paris will come across the dark green boxes of the bouquinistes affixed to the top of the low walls along the river, a Paris sight almost as iconic as the Eiffel Tower. Over 200 used and antiquarian book sellers operate concessions of usually four boxes each; the 900 total boxes are estimated to contain over 300,000 volumes (mostly in French). There are also vintage prints, magazines and journals; rare engravings, collectible stamps and old postcards.
Spanning stretches along both the Right and Left Banks of the river, you can enjoy a total of about 3km of browsing–but please ask permission to touch! Casually pawing through the offerings just for fun is frowned upon.
While book-selling has been an activity along this stretch of the river since at least the mid-16th century, it wasn’t until 1891 that the city allowed thebouquinistes to attach permanent boxes to the tops of the stone walls. There is a waiting list for available boxes and a hopeful bookseller might be on the list for several years before any become available.
Lost Generation writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald browsed the offerings in boxes very similar to these, and one of the earliest “Americans in Paris” bought books here, too. While US Ambassador to France at the end of the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson purchased numerous books from bouquinistes which eventually ended up in the early collection of the US Library of Congress, where they remain today.