The auction, currently live on ebay, of an August 1939 issue of Jean-Pierre, a relatively obscure and long disappeared French Magazine, which featured comics and detective stories aimed at young readers, looks certain to fetch a substantial price. With still five days to go, the auction price for the magazine has already surpassed more than one thousand times its nominal price (1 Franc from 1939 is worth 0,44514 Euros, according to the tables of the French Statistics Office, l’INSEE).
The reason for this valuation is the presence in the Magazine of an early short story by cult author Frédéric Dard, then in his teens. Entitled “Le monocle révélateur” (the revealing eye-glass), this short story shows the influence of classic detective fiction, from Maurice Leblanc to Agatha Christie, on a writer who was to become one of the foremost representatives of the hardboiled novel in post-war France.
As with the valuation of works of art, the appreciation in hard currency of an author’s signature is a numinous matter akin to alchemy, magic or religion; illusion and belief play an important part in such transmutation, as well as ideologies.
Beyond its simple rarity and its quality as memorabilia, what it is that creates, 75 years after its original publication, this appreciation reflected in the value of an industrially produced cultural commodity such as Jean-Pierre? This valorisation of Dard’s authorship, which has to be linked with the immense popularity he gained as the author of the San-Antonio series, making him the best-selling French writer throughout the 1960s and 1970s is here ironic as Dard did not actually sign the story, using instead the pseudonym Fred Dysert. And yet, his name, even absent, means that today’s auction price far exceeds the fee he was paid for penning the story. It is equally doubtful that he would have been able to pay for it at any point in the first 15 years of his writing career.
The beginning of the short story (click to enlarge), courtesy of Philippe Aurousseau