L'Auto-Carro Libreria: An Early Italian Bookmobile

This photo is cropped from the photo below that features a page from a 1922 issue of the once popular, long-defunct Italian publication L'Illustrazione Italiana.

UNA NUOVA INIZIATIVA PER LA DIFFUSIONE DEL LIBRO proclaims the title at the top of the photo, or, in English (as best I can tell), A New Initiative for Distributing Books.

I assumed at first this early bookmobile in Firenza (Florence) must be affiliated with a local library. Translating the caption below the photo and researching clues within it, I learned otherwise.


or, in my best attempt at English through an Internet translation site,

"The truck bookstore of the publisher Treves and of the anonymous Italian books , photographed in Florence during its inaugural journey."

So the bookmobile was a publisher's method of selling books to the public, not a library's program to get books to more citizens. I know this wasn't a unique idea, but it does precede one other example of a business bookmobile I've encountered since starting this blog five years ago: America's First Book Shop Caravan

Treves, in the photo's caption, refers to Emilio Treves (1834-1916), the founder, editor, and publisher of L'Illustrazione Italiana. A Web site for library archives housing a portion of Treves' papers in Milan reveals that Treves started his publishing house in Milan in 1861.  In 1873, he launched L'Illustrazione Italiana under the name Nuova Illustrazione Universale, renaming it L'Illustrazione Italiana in 1876. Under that name, and a change of ownership later, the publication enjoyed a good run until the 1960s.

As Treves' periodicals developed a reputation of world culture, he decided to extend his business to book publishing on a variety of cultural subjects. The bookmobile pictured above in its first venture on the streets of Florence, was an innovative use of early automobile transportation to distribute those books to various markets outside of Milan.

Deviating a bit from the subject of this post, I encountered during my research an artist, Janelle Randall Kroner, who had created a master copy of a painting of Treves, by Vittorio Corcos (1907). With her kind permission, I thought I'd include a copy here to accompany my page from Treves' most popular publication. And you can always click one of the links above to Ms. Kroner's site and view her portfolio of selected works, which contrast noticeably in subject and color to her black and white painting of Treves. The old Italian publisher, a fine subject, does stand out in that crowd!

Emilio Treves, who died in 1916, was not around to witness the advent of his firm's bookmobile, or truck bookstore, but a photographer was on hand to record this historical marketing event for the publisher. Naturally, and fittingly, the photo appeared in an edition of Treves' L'Illustrazione Italiana.


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