November 21, 2014

Call the Delinquency Brigade! French Manuscript Museum Raided



Priceless texts that ended up being too pricey.

Dodgy dealings in Paris were revealed this week when the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits, which contains a significant collection of manuscripts and old letters, was raided on Tuesday, according to Hyperallergic. The museum’s founder Gérard Lhéritier is suspected of orchestrating a fraudulent investment scheme connected to old and rare documents.

Apparently, the French authorities have been investigating Lhéritier’s business arrangements since the spring. Lhéritier also owns a company called Aristophil, which raises money from investors to be spent on manuscripts, letters, and autographs. The problem is, the market value of these papers is being inflated by the company’s own acquisitions, making it very risky business indeed. An anonymous expert explained the problem:

Aristophil is a house of cards that threatens to collapse at any moment…For the moment, the system is holding in place, because Aristophil, the principal buyer in the market, is artificially inflating the prices by buying certain manuscripts at record prices. It’s a speculative bubble maintained thanks to new money from investors, which allows the company to overbid at all the major public sales.

The collection amassed by Aristophil is certainly notable. It contains:

André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto (for nearly €2 million), the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom (for €7 million), and a letter co-written by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin (acquired for €462,500).

Altogether the fund has raised around €500 million from over 15,000 different clients. But while investors have been convinced to pay millions of euros for individual items, the pieces have remained in Aristophil’s storage facilities or have been placed on display at the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits.

Both the museum and the offices of Aristophil have now been raided, together with Lhéritier’s home and his accountant’s office in Nice. All of the locations were raided by officers from France’s Brigade for the Repression of Economic Delinquency, which is not a made-up organization at all and, yes, brigades apparently do still exist.

The raids will collect evidence for the ongoing investigation and so that the company’s assets can eventually be seized in order to compensate the “duped investors”. Expect some rare French manuscripts and letters to be back on sale again soon.




Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.