I love a good prank, especially if it is at the expense of the pretentious. While bibliophiles and antiquarian booksellers are not known for their hijinks, back in 1840 an infamous bibliohoax was perpetrated on wealthy collectors, librarians and booksellers around northern Europe . A tantalizing and mysterious catalog for a remarkable book sale was widely dissemenated. It advertized a unique collection of books to be auctioned in the small Belgian city of Binche in a single day in August. The collection was purported to be from the estate of Jean Nepomucene Auguste Pichauld, Comte de Fortsas, who had accumulated 52 unique books since his childhood. The titles were especially valuable since just a single copy was known to exist. Fortas had died the preceding September and as his heirs had no interest in books, the collection would be auctioned off.
When the book buyers arrived, in some cases after long and ardous travels, on the appointed day, intent on attending the sale at the offices of notary Maître Mourlon at 9, Rue d’Église. Not only did they fail to find his office, they failed to find a Rue d’Église. It did not exist. They then discoverd a poster informing the bibliophiles that the auction was cancelled, and the books had been donated to the local public library. When they tried to track down the books, they soon found that Binche did not possess a public library.
The entire prank was staged by a retired army officer and Belgian bibliophile Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon. The hoax was created with the help of printer Emmanuel Hoyois, who devised and circulated Catalogue d’une très-riche … de la bibliothèque de feu M’r le Comte de J.-N.-A. de Fortsas, a sale catalog of 52 fictitious volumes. The catalog describes each volume in a manner that would convince readers of its authenticity. Ironically, the catalog of nonexistent books itself in time became a collectors’ item.
Along with the Fortsas Bibliohox, Binche is know for its colorful and raucous winter Carnival.