Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Visit to Relma

I can't imagine a trip to Paris without a visit to Relma, the mecca for bookbinders and lovers of fine art papers. There are so few retail stores in the world devoted entirely to our craft, and this one is perhaps the finest of them all. Tucked away on a little side street close to St. Michel, Relma is easily reached by Metro (exit St. Michel) followed by just a short walk on Rue Dandon to Rue de Pointevins. The street is so small, it did not appear on any of my maps, but not to worry, because each Metro station has a highly detailed map of the quarter it serves, and a good index so you can find even the smallest of rues.

This is not to say the store itself is small; oh no, quite the contrary. There are at least four large rooms, and probably more that are not open to the public. Relma sells everything for bookbinding--decorative papers, luscious leather skins, headbands and linen tapes, adhesives, hand tools, instruction books and breathtakingly beautiful wood equipment: sewing frames, presses, and so on, along with cutters and board shears. Conspicuous by its absence is the lack of waxed linen sewing thread in the many colors we love to use; Relma sells only white thread for this purpose.

When you walk in the front door, you enter a large room with ceiling high, three inch deep shelves around the entire perimeter and several large tables in the center. This is the marbled paper room, with a few leather skins occupying some of the back portion and a large display of hand tools on the wall. There must be several hundred different pattern and color combinations of marbled paper housed here. To the left, a similar room devoted entirely to leather and suede skins, arranged by color. To the right, a room devoted largely to book cloth, with a wall of open shelf storage and a hundred (perhaps more) little cubby size drawers, each one containing a tool or supply. The fourth room, reached only by walking through the book cloth room, contains the fabulous wooden equipment for which Relma has been known in fine binding circles for decades.

Entering the store calls up all sorts of sensory delights; it looks like something from 50 years ago, and it smells, well, like paper and leather and wood all mixed together .... three of my favorite things. I take a deep breath as a I close the door behind me, because I know I'm going to be here for a long time. The staff is small, usually one or two people, but there is a nice Indian gentleman who always seems to be there, and he speaks English very well, enough to answer the technical questions you might have. Otherwise, you can simply wander from area to area, pulling out the papers you want to see in detail, creating your stash on the tables in the center. No one seems to mind if you want to open the many cubby drawers to see what delightful items are waiting inside. You're never rushed or pressured to move on; it's a little piece of heaven where time has stopped just for you.

My mission was to find some luscious papers for my summer students, and I also had shopping lists for friends and students with specific requests. So, I will share with you photos some of my paper purchases, knowing that some of you will actually be able to get your hands on these and work with them for our book projects in July.

In a small lapse of judgement, or maybe not, I purchased a bookbinding book, La Reliure (the French word for binding) because it has good photographs inside of some production techniques that interested me. I will sit down with my LaRousse French English reference at some point and translate the sections that are most useful. I have checked for this book in English but it does not seem to exist in any other language, nor is it available from Amazon.

This is not the only paper store I visited on this trip--more to come in future posts--but if you love making books and find yourself in Paris, you should treat yourself to this heady experience.
Bon papier appetit!


  1. Welcome back Pam!
    What a lovely post. Okay, I'll add Relma to the (long) list of places to visit when I (finally) make it back to Paris again.
    Best in Life,

  2. I've never been to Paris but it's on my list of life goals. What fabulous paper!

  3. Hello. I am trying to contact Relma via email, does anyone have the direct email? thanks

  4. Thankyou for this post. I am going to Paris in september and I couldn't find any shop like this. Do you know any other shop to buy decorative papers or beautiful supplies for bookbinding?


  5. Yes, there are several others. Among my other favorites are Rougier & Ple, a general art supply store with beautiful papers upstairs, many hand marbled sheets and a few bookbinding tools and supplies. Marie Papier has some lovely bdecorative papers; I often find good choices for endsheets there. Rougier & Ple is located on the Booulevard des Filles du Calvaire; Marie Paper is on rue Vavin, both are easily reached by Metro. There are several l'Art du Papier stores located throughout Paris, one on the way to Marie Papier. These are okay but less exciting choices are available there.