The Philibert collection at the municipal library of Toulon: understanding the value of a heterogenous body of items

Since 1973, the city of Toulon has held a collection of documents and other items of exceptional richness for historians writing about the history of Algiers and, to a lesser extent, Algeria itself and even other parts of the Maghreb1. The purchase of these documents by Marcel Philibert, the last chairman of the Comité du Vieil Alger (Committee for Old Algiers, or CVA), involved more than 21,000 items of all kinds. This committee, which was very active from its foundation in 1905 to the independence of Algeria and which feverishly maintains itself as a European social network in Algeria thereafter, is better known thanks to the work of historians of heritage and architecture2.

Two commemorative plaques inaugural speech, by Mr. Sambœuf, president of the Comité du Vieil Alger (L’Écho d’Alger, 20 January 1913, p. 1)

            Focused on the preservation of Old Algiers through talks, visits and speeches to the public authorities, throughout its existence the Committee compiled a body of documents and other items that is as eclectic as it is important3. The Philibert Collection held at the municipal library of Toulon (Lagoubran annex) seems to mix CVA documentation with that of its donor, a central figure in Algiers cultural life until independence, who also continued to add to the collection afterwards.

            The story of the CVA’s body of resources and its archivists4, then that of the Philibert Collection, their formation, various moves and final loss, remains to be written. An itemisation of the pieces introduces an inventory that was undated, but clearly carried out by Philibert himself prior to the sale of the collection, evidenced by various notes and price estimations for several pieces, providing an initial overview of this vast collection of items5.

Books (reserve)116
Maps (reserve)12
Books on North Africa3 075
Common books (dictionaries and similar)186
Books not about Algeria327
Magazines and newspapers700
Postcards8 241
Iconography1 028
Photos2 000
Slides3 000
Maps and topographical plans500
Letters and signed items500
Numismatics, coins, medals, archeology1 500
Ceramics58
Frames41
Posters, menus etc.428
Street name plaques6
Arms3
Total number of diverse items21 721
Detail of the pieces that constitute the sale of the Philibert collections to the city of Toulon6

            The nature of certain documents, the inscriptions of others and even the presence of bookplates allow us to explore how the collections was built. Many donations were announced in the Feuillets d’El-Djezaïr7. Far from being an exhaustive list of contents, the following are part of the Philibert Collection:

  • « Seven drawers of cartons full of files relating to the activities of the CVA »8 ;
  • An early 18th century copy of a manuscript of Hadiths dated 1413 (815 AH), described as having been « taken from the library of the Bey of Constantine, October 13th, 1837 »9, with no information on its movements prior to that ;
  • Documents (textual, iconographic, cartographic) donated by their authors10 ;
  • Items donated to the CVA by numerous figures from Algerian intellectual society, like Prosper Alquier11 (archivist of the city of Constantine) ;
  • Items from the municipality12 ;
  • Dissertations and theses sent to Philibert by their authors or those overseeing them13 ;
  • Documents given to the CVA or to Philibert himself by unknown individuals14.

            Like many other learned societies or organisations involved in the conservation of metropolitan heritage15, through the actions of its members and numerous links with a number of professors, military figures and notables of all kinds – certainly more European than Algerian – the CVA has compiled a collection that is as vast as it is diverse. The rationale behind its constitution remain a subject of further study. The CVA’s place in the affirmation of colonisation on the one hand and the academics and learned population of Algiers on the other, remains to be evaluated16. Over and above this area of research, its classification and promotion can only allow for a greater understanding of a number of colonial, social and urban dynamics at work in Algiers between 1830 and 1962, and, in a less systematic manner, beyond these dates.

  1. See a very synthetic presentation on the Toulon municipal library website (https://toulon.fr/envie-bouger/article/fonds-particuliers). I would like to thank all the workers of the Lagoubran annex and especially Véronique Gillain for the reception and the presentation of Philibert papers []
  2. OULEBSIR Nabila, Les usages du patrimoine. Monuments, musées et politique coloniale en Algérie (1830 – 1930), Paris, Éditions de la MSH, 2004, 411 p., p. 240 – 247 ; HUEBER Juliette, « Documenter le patrimoine et l’architecture d’Alger : les Feuillets d’El-Djezaïr », Architecture Beyond Europe, 13, 2018 [online] ; on the erosion of the CVA activities after independance, have a look to BRACCO Hélène, L’autre face des « Européens » en Algérie indépendante, Paris, Éditions Paris-Méditerranée, « Documents et témoignages », 1999, 223 p., p. 115 : « Même après l’indépendance, au cercle des amis du vieil Alger, on aurait aimé avoir des familles algériennes. Il y en a qui viennent à nos réunions, nos conférences, mais à peine une ou deux » (testimony of Miss Ch., borned in 1933). On the intellectual environment of Algiers university, see L’orientalisme en train de se faire. Une enquête collective dans les archives de René Basset, forthcoming at the EHESS Editions at spring 2021 (coordinated by M. Bossaert, A. Jomier and E. Szurek, with contributions from students, archivists and a librarian) and Margo Stemmelin current PhD (« Alger, capitale orientaliste ? Vie intellectuelle et culturelle en Algérie coloniale (1880 – 1930) », started in 2018). []
  3. To understand the singularity of this papers – history, content, bibliometrics – see ARAB Abdelhamid, Manuscrits et bibliothèques musulmanes en Algérie, Méolans-Revel, Atelier Perrousseaux, « Kita tabulæ, 2 », 2006, 157 p. []
  4. Among others : Henry Bouché (1909), Henri Klein (1910), Maurice Binet (1912, 1914), Fernand Arnaudiès (1941, 1942) (mentions in Feuillets d’El-Djezaïr). Doctor Robert Meunier chaired the CVA around 1960 ; the « Société des Amis du Vieux Toulon et de sa région » hold his papers (PIATON Claudine, « Des ensembles composites : appropriation et transformation des demeures ottomanes suburbaines d’Alger aux XIXe et XXe siècles », ABE Journal, 13, 2018 [online]). []
  5. Anonymous [Marcel Philibert ?], Collection Philibert de la ville de Toulon. Archives du vieil Alger, s.l.n.d., 142 p., ms., p. 1 (now indicated as CPVT-AVA). We can read p. 124 of this document : « [documents rassemblés] par les membres de la société au cours de mes 11 années de présidence ». []
  6. CPVT-AVA, p. 1. []
  7. See, as example, KLEIN Henri, « Le Comité du Vieil Alger », Feuillets d’El-Djezaïr, 1, 1910, p. 5 – 12, p. 11 – 12 []
  8. CPVT-AVA, p. 122. []
  9. CPVT-AVA, p. 2 ; see p. 4 for another mention of « texte arabe en belle cursive maghrébine (…) » accaparé dans les mêmes circonstances. []
  10. CHARRON, Atlas de l’Algérie, 1843, 70 cm, 50 cartes (mentioned in CPVT-AVA, p. 6) ; DE SONIS [Louis-Gaston], Album de photographies sur l’Algérie, s.d. [1866 – 1869], 42 x 60 cm (mentioned in CPVT-AVA, p. 8). []
  11. VALLET Eugène, Pages d’histoire, Constantine, Impr. Braham, 1938, 55 p. [FPHI 545]. []
  12. Ville d’Alger [Louvencourt photographies for a municipal order], La grande pitié des quartiers de l’ancienne préfecture, Alger, s.d. [1932 ou 1933], 18 pictures, 23 x 30 cm (mentioned in CPVT-AVA, p. 14). This work « avait été offert à M. Laffont » according to a flying sheet inside this book and signed « Jogerst, 1956 ». []
  13. BRAHAM CHAOUCH Yacine, Évolution du lotissement Clairval depuis l’indépendance, Alger, Université d’Alger (Institut d’urbanisme de l’Université d’Alger), 1974, 104 p. [FPHI 1 420] ; voir aussi DE CLERMONT Maurice, Aïn-Taya : mémoire de fin d’études, Alger, Thèse d’urbanisme, s.d. [ca 1960] [FPHI 632]. []
  14. La municipalité d’Alger vous présente quelques images d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, Alger, Ville d’Alger, 1957, n.p., « ex. [exemplaire] gifted by W. Guedj 1.1962 » [FPHI 676]. []
  15. DHERMY Arnaud, « La Bibliothèque des sociétés savantes (1838 – 1936).  »Monument de l’érudition française » ou utopie bibliothéconomique ? », Revue de la BNF, 41, 2012-2, p. 61 – 69 [online] ; PARSIS-BARUBÉ Odile, « Les vertiges de l’authenticité. Représentations et usages du document d’archives dans la production des sociétés savantes au XIXe siècle », Archives, archivistes, archivistique dans l’Europe du Nord-Ouest du Moyen Âge à nos jours. Entre gouvernance et mémoire, Villeneuve d’Ascq, Publications de l’Institut de recherches historique du Septentrion, 2007, p. 41 – 53 [online] ; QUÉGUINER Jean, « L’archiviste et les sociétés savantes », Gazette des archives, 292, 1960, p. 63 – 68 [online]. []
  16. For studies combining the history of knowledge, the history of learned societies and the history of colonization, see DEPREST Florence, Géographes en Algérie (1880 – 1950). Savoirs universitaires en situation coloniale, Paris, Belin, 2009, 348 p. ; McCLELLAN James Edward, REGOURD François (dir.), The colonial machine : french science and overseas expansion in the Old Regime, Turnhout, Brepols, « De Diversis Artibus, 87 », 2011, 694 p. []

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