Year: 1993

Author: Michel Butor (1926 - 2016)

Artiste: Bertrand Dorny (1931 - 2015)

Publisher: Imprimerie nationale Éditions

Caractères, half-title and frontispiece: original collage by Bertrand Dorny

The French national printer, the Imprimerie nationale, publishes a series of books under the title 'Préference' to emphasize its vast collection of typefaces. This is usually merely a matter of typography and design, but author Michel Butor went one step further by writing a story that is bound together closely with a series of typefaces that are part of the illustrious history of the printer. This dates back to 1640, the year in which Louis XIII and Richelieu established the national printer establishment. A large number of typefaces was produced especially for this printer.

Butor describes a trip through time on the basis of the typefaces Garamont (1530/40), Jaugeon (1629/96), Grandjean (1693/1745), Luce (1740/70), Didot (1811), Marcellin-Legrand (1825-27) and Gauthier (1969/78). His poems tell of the discovery of new continents ('Nouveaux mondes nouveaux livres', new worlds, new books) and describe how Paris and France have changed. At the end, the twenty-first century is announced, and he proposes to design new typefaces for the new millennium 'to help our future move ahead'.

The copy in the Koopman Collection is number V of 5 special copies with an original collage by Bertrand Dorny. The book also contains six collages of pieces of text, a map and strips of velvet, and printed lines in colour. Dorny worked as a painter and engraver, always attempting to apply relief to his prints along with contrasts between bright colours. In this collage, the colours red and yellow stand out most.

Dorny used to work on more traditional artists' books, but since the 1990s he has produced over 50 artists' books with original collages accompanying handwritten texts, by for instance Butor, Deguy and Peyré. The Koopman Collection contains a series of those collage books ('livre collage'), for example A demeure (2005). This book was printed in a limited edition of only seven copies. The texts for these books were either handwritten or stamped. Dorny used letters from stamp boxes that had been originally produced as children's toys. Butor's text for Caractères, however, was printed using the classical method.

Bibliographical description

Description: Caractères / Michel Butor ; [ill. par] Dorny. - Paris : Imprimerie nationale Éditions, 1993. Leporello - 23 p. : ill. ; 31 cm. - (Préférence)

Printer: l'Imprimerie nationale (Paris)

Edition: 160 copies

This copy: Number V of 5 with an original collage by Bertrand Dorny and one of 160 on BFK Rives

Note: Signed by author and artist

Bibliography: Bénézit 4-691

Shelfmark: KW Koopm K 332


  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voices and visions. The Koopman Collection and the Art of the French Book. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voix et visions. La Collection Koopman et l'Art du Livre français. La Haye, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Bibliothèque nationale des Pays-Bas; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
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