Several large collections of travel guides dominated this growing market from the mid-19th century: Murray’s handbooks in Great Britain, Baedeker in Germany, Meyer in Germany and Austria and finally Joanne in France. All of them have in common numerous publications of regularly updated editions, adapting to events such as world exhibitions and new destinations made accessible by the development of steam transport. Throughout the 19th century until World War I, these famous collections were widely distributed, leaving little room for lesser competitors who survived only by targeting other audiences.

The Guides Joanne collection, which follows on from existing series (see below), was produced in the same style as its competitors. The Baedeker guides were the most enterprising with titles in three languages (German, English and French), rivalling Joanne and Murray, before absorbing Meyer (Ill. 1). Only Guides Joanne, which later became Guides Bleus, still exist today.

Ill. 1. The four major guidebook collections of the 19th century until World War I: Baedeker, Murray, Joanne and Meyer, in chronological order of first publication (diagram by Hélène Morlier)

An enterprising publisher: Louis Hachette

The construction of railway lines starting in 1837 (Hannotin, 2019: p. 335) prompted travel guide publishers to produce books for this new means of transport. Was the move purely business sense or did it come from government orders? It is hard to say, but three publishers each embarked on this adventure in their own way. Napoleon Chaix (1807-1865) specialised in the publication of atlases, railway guides, the ‘Bibliothèque des voyageurs’ (Guilcher, 1997) and ‘Indicateur Chaix’, which were popular train timetable guides in France. Ernest Bourdin published elegant guides full of illustrations that paid tribute to progress, while Louis Maison published three no-frills brochures. These latter two collections were bought by a newcomer — Louis Hachette (1800-1864) (Mollier, 1999: p. 343‑347) who, with close ties to bankers and the imperial power, set up a distribution system in the train stations, inspired by the shops of W.H. Smith which he had seen in London while there to attend the Great Exhibition in 1851. Publications for travellers grouped under the name ‘Bibliothèque des chemins de fer’ from Librairie Hachette were sold in kiosks in the stations (Mistler, 1964: p. 121‑24). These guides overtly praised the imperial regime and its achievements in texts and especially engravings, which depicted the development of the land (tunnels, viaducts, stations, etc.) made necessary by railway construction (Ill. 2).

Ill. 2. Illustrations and text highlight the modernisation of the country thanks to the railways (A. Joanne, De Paris à Nantes, 1856, coll. Hélène Morlier).

Hachette soon realised that, up against Chaix’s special brand of competition, he had to improve the quality of his guides, which were overly literary and vague. In buying Louis Maison’s collections, he hired a man who had begun to make a name for himself in the industry: Adolphe Joanne was well known for his guide to Switzerland (1841) and other titles printed by Maison, who also published Richard guidebooks popular at the time (published by Audin from 1823 to 1836, and later by Maison from 1836 to 1855) because of the similarity to the name H.A.O. Reichard (1751-1828), who authored the series of authentic editions of Guide des voyageurs en Europe (1793-1823) (Guilcher, 1998). Joanne was tasked with updating some of Richard’s titles (many of which were out of date) as well as carrying out Hachette’s order for new guides. The latter had already eliminated two rivals through acquisitions, but was unable to take down Chaix, whose guides were published until Chaix’s death in 1865 and whose other railway publications continued posthumously.

A new collection

A seasoned traveller himself, Adolphe Joanne (1823-1881) was familiar with the needs of day-trippers: up-to-date information on transport, accommodation, currency (even if more information was needed upon arrival), precise but relatively brief descriptions, well-planned itineraries, general information about the destinations covered by the guide and, finally, maps and plans showing the names of the places mentioned in the text (Du Pays, 1859: XIV‑XV).

Joanne advocated organising information by itinerary instead of alphabetically, a system which had often been adopted up to that point; for this reason, his guidebooks all featured the title of ‘Itinerary’.

Joanne surrounded himself with new collaborators whose skills he knew from having worked with some of them for the weekly L’Illustration (Marchandiau, 1987: p. 17‑27). For example, he entrusted the new guides to Italy and Belgium to the art critic A. J. Du Pays (1804-1879). He engaged new talent such as Dr Émile Isambert (1827-1876), whose name is still linked to the guidebooks on the East, and Élisée Reclus (1830-1905), an excellent connoisseur of the mountains who would go on to write the monumental Nouvelle Géographie Universelle.

The publishing house headed by Louis Hachette gave him the opportunity to acquire a large amount of documentation, keep an eye on the competition and collaborate with the geography department, where Louis Vivien de Saint-Martin (1802-1897) and later Franz Schrader (1844-1924) worked (Ferretti, 2010). Maps and plans were drawn and adapted in-house by staff with the latest knowledge of geography in France.

The collection of Joanne’s guidebooks were named based on usage; no contract with the publisher confirms this production, which nevertheless likely dates back to 1858.

Itineraries for France

What made Guides Joanne strikingly original was the development of Itinéraire général de la France, a series of twelve guides (two about Paris and surrounding areas, ten about the regions of France) which covered the whole of France in about a decade (1861-1869). It was a unique undertaking not only aimed at tourism; the regions corresponded to areas serviced by the railway companies and the departmental maps promoted this view of the land instead of the designations given by the Ancien Régime. The series featured a detailed inventory of raw material resources, industries and factories, and all other factors of wealth and development making it a veritable encyclopaedia of Second Empire France and a showcase of its modernity (Morlier, 2011: para. 17‑24).

As tourism evolved, these guides, often unwieldy due to the format (11 x 18 cm) and number of pages (several hundred), were divided into several volumes better adapted to the needs of travellers and fashionable destinations. Just before World War I, there were about twenty volumes in all (Ill. 3).

No guidebook collection — not Murray, Baedeker or Meyer — had so exhaustively depicted its own country as Joanne did in such a short time. It was not until the Touring Club Italiano (TCI) (Vota, 1954) guides that Italy was completely covered from 1912 onwards. The series was actively developed by the Mussolini regime, which included the colonies and recently conquered nations.

Itineraries for other countries

Among the guides for other countries (Morlier, 2019a: chap. IX), one can distinguish a few key titles that were frequently updated, revised, expanded, separated into two or three volumes, and later consolidated again into a single volume — such was the case for the guides to Italy (25 editions and 21 updates between 1859 and 1916) and Switzerland (23 editions and updates between 1853 and 1913). These destinations were popular among art enthusiasts (Italy) and mountaineers (Switzerland), before being used by tourists who were simply visiting and were satisfied with a single-volume guidebook.

There were other titles for less travelled regions, either because of the challenging journey or because the French were less interested: Spain and Portugal (ten editions and eight updates between 1859 and 1916), the British Isles (four editions, 1865, and later 1908-12-14) which were quickly narrowed down to London (seven editions and four updates between 1855 and 1914), Belgium and Holland as well as the Rhine River which was constantly cut and regrouped based on shifting trends (eleven editions and seven updates between 1855 and 1911). The Rhine River was highly popular during the decade 1854-1863 before being incorporated into the neighbouring countries.

Northern Germany was the focus of one of the first guidebooks written by Joanne at Maison; it was reissued in 1863 and then completely abandoned after the war of 1870, before being revived between 1900 and 1910. Some destinations covered by Murray or Baedeker were never given a specific Joanne guidebook — Russia, limited to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, was an excursion in the guide to Northern Germany (1900, updated in 1904 and 1907); and Scandinavia was included in a later edition (1910) which no longer featured the two major Russian cities (Ill. 3).

However, Emile Isambert’s guide to the East was a great success. The first single-volume edition (1861) quickly sold out and was replaced by a set of three volumes, each dedicated to a specific region: I, Grèce et Turquie d’Europe, 1873 (updated in 1881); II, Malte, Égypte, Nubie, Abyssinie, Sinaï, 1878 (updated in 1881); III, Syrie, Palestine, 1882 (updated in 1882-87-90-95-99) (Morlier 2019a, chap. VIII).

The volumes were not republished in this form and each met a different fate.

The first volume was separated into two sets: De Paris à Constantinople (1886, ten updates) and Grèce (1888 and 1891, four updates, then as a single volume 1909-11). The guide to Constantinople corresponded with the opening of the Orient-Express line, which made it possible to travel to the Ottoman capital quickly and comfortably. The guide’s numerous reissues attest to its success. The guide to Greece shows the interest the French had in this country, the Greek War of Independence and the attraction to Greek archaeology supported by the French School at Athens, founded in 1846. Finally, introductory itineraries were the subject of three volumes entitled États du Danube et des Balkans (1893), which never found an audience, likely because of the difficulty of travelling in these regions with the exception of the Adriatic coast (1888-93-95).

In the second volume, Abyssinia reserved for explorers was abandoned. This was replaced by a handy three-volume guidebook devoted entirely to Egypt (1900-05). Touring Egypt, although highly popular among the French, was eventually limited to Cairo with a few excursions (1909; 1910 in English). This scholarly series was replaced by attractive books issued by the Egyptian railway service for tourists cruising on the Nile released in three languages (French, English and German) by various publishers.

Finally, the third volume, despite five updates (1882-87-90-95-99), succumbed to the competition of the French-language Baedeker Palestine et Syrie (1882-93-1906-12), which was more manageable and accessible to a less educated public, and included several maps and plans as well as a large panorama of Jerusalem.

These guides to the East — the jewels in the crown of the Joanne collection in the same way as the IGF — did not meet the same fate for obvious reasons due to usage, updates, changes in travel patterns (faster transport made for shorter stays) and competition from Baedeker’s guides in French.

Finally, Algeria, at the time divided in three French provinces, was covered by a number of guidebooks (24 editions between 1862 and 1916), which became increasingly developed with the addition of Tunisia under the French protectorate.

Ill. 3. Catalogue map of Joanne itineraries in 1910 (coll. Hélène Morlier)

Offshoot guidebooks

Commercial competition was a motivating factor. Such was the case between Baedeker and Joanne. Baedeker guides in French represented serious competition starting in 1860; the French publisher proved inventive to stand out from the rest and win the loyalty of its readership, while it dominated the French market where only a few scattered guides and the Conty collection remained for a less educated public. The response to this competition was, first, to reduce the itinerary format in 1894 (11 x 18 cm) to that of Baedeker and Meyer (10.5 x 16 cm) and, second, to create special series based on previous itineraries. The latter was a special feature of Guides Joanne (Ill. 4).

Ill. 4. Different collections of Guides Joanne (diagram by Hélène Morlier).

Guides Diamant: A pocket-sized invention

The Joanne series developed pocket-sized guidebooks (8.5 x 14 cm) featuring a summary of the larger and thicker itineraries. This series of Joanne-Diamant guidebooks, with an emerald green cover, was released in 1866 as an initial response to Baedeker’s convenience and accessible content (Ill. 4). Joanne-Diamant covered a handful of major cities (Paris, Lyon and Marseille), the most popular regions of France (Normandy, Brittany, the Pyrenees, Dauphiné, Mediterranean winter resorts, the Vosges) and finally, seaside and spa resorts. A few titles were released for other countries, with condensed itineraries (with the exception of Algeria and the East), in addition to a few cities (London, Rome) and popular spa locations (Spa, Baden) (Morlier, 2007: p. 503‑506; 2011, para. 30‑32).

Paperback monographs for specific cities and regions

Starting in 1886, extracts from the itineraries for towns, spas and seaside resorts were published in soft-bound form and sold at a low price (between 50 centimes and 1.50 francs). This new series, created and developed by Paul Joanne (1847-1922), Adolphe Joanne’s son, solved both the issue of bulkiness and pricing for travellers headed to a city without visiting the region. At the height of its development, before World War I, the series covered more than seventy cities in France and internationally (Ill. 5) and sometimes featured tourist regions, such as l’Esterel. The publication of monographs for other countries was often linked to specific events: a national exhibition (Liège 1905, Berlin 1914, etc.) or a special order from a bookseller (Lisbon) or an empire (Bosnia-Herzegovina)… A few rare titles were translated into English, German and Spanish. Gradually, the guidebooks in the Diamant collection were incorporated into a bound monograph collection (Ill. 5) such as La Côte d’Azur, which replaced Stations d’hiver de la Méditerranée starting in 1907 (Morlier, 2011: para. 34‑38).

Ill. 5. Catalogue map of the set of bound monographs (1886-1916) and remnants of the Diamant collection (title blocks at bottom), coll. Hélène Morlier.

Illustrated Guides Joanne: Spotlight on holiday resorts and automobiles

Finally, with the development of the automobile, seaside resorts and photography, a new series was launched in 1907: the Illustrated Guides Joanne. These guidebooks featured photographs, maps and plans and were published in three languages indicated by the colour of the binding: French (blue-grey), English (orange) and German (green). The guide to castles in the Loire contained a road book, complete with photographs with arrows to help motorists choose the right direction — a costly production which was only attempted once. However, the guidebooks for seaside resorts (Bains du Nord, Normandy and Brittany) were published in French and English. The guide to Basque Country was only available in German. The other titles covered Paris and regions in the north (Ardennes and Meuse, Black Forest/Rhine River) and south (Côte d’Azur and Corsica) of France. All these regions catered to automobile tourism for which specific maps and road profiles were created (Morlier, 2011: para. 41‑42).

The outbreak of World War I prematurely ended what was a practical and elegant collection featuring an array of concise graphics.

The disappearance of Guides Joanne and the birth of Guides Bleus in 1919

During World War I, few guidebooks were published — either ready to be released or in preparation — but the Joanne collection was affected by the lack of staff (recruited, wounded or killed) both at Librairie Hachette and at the printers, and from the downturn in tourism. During the four years of the war, some thirty guidebooks were published (seven itinerary guides, seventeen monographs and five illustrated guidebooks), some of which were reprints or compilations of existing titles. Production was a far cry from the sixty or so annual publications in peacetime.

However, as early as January 1917, negotiations took place between Marcel Monmarché (1872-1945), director of the Joanne collection, and the two translators and editors of the Baedeker guides in English — James and Findlay Muirhead who could no longer continue working for the enemy firm. They were not in a position to launch a new collection of English-language guides on their own, nor to update the outdated Murray guides they had bought.

The two sides agreed to share textual information and expensive graphics (often colour) to launch a new international collection of travel guides: Blue Guides and Guides Bleus on both sides of the Channel. The name was chosen as an overt contrast to the infamous red Baedeker cover (Morlier, 2019b). The collection was officially launched on 4 July 1919, Independence Day in the United States; this nod to the victorious allies was likely no coincidence.

The Joanne guidebooks already printed were bound with the Guides Bleus cover. The name Guides Diamant was kept for monographs and motorist guides until the 1930s. Only the last two series featured commercial advertisements which were removed from Guides Joanne at the request of the Touring Club de France, which supported tourism publications.

The Guides Bleus collection still exists today and continues to evolve under the basic principles established by Adolphe and Paul Joanne and upheld by Marcel Monmarché, the first director of Guides Bleus.

Hélène Morlier


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