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In 1833, two brothers from the department of Manche, Auguste and Hippolyte Garnier, opened a bookstore in the tradition of nineteenth-century publisher-booksellers under the arches of the Palais Royal in Paris, then one of the liveliest centers in the capital. They were soon joined by another of their brothers, Pierre. The business took off very quickly and the Garnier brothers bought up the backlists of Delloye, Dubochet, and Salvat, publishers of the works of the great romantic authors, followed by the classical lists of Panckoucke. They also struck up connections with Sainte-Beuve, Musset, Gautier, Sand, and Vigny, publishing some of their works.

The Maison Garnier Frères gained even more prestige in 1853 when it moved to the former government building on the corner of the rue de Lille and the rue des Saints-Pères. The Garnier brothers worked to expand and improve their catalog, publishing numerous dictionaries, popular titles, and books for young readers, while also continuing with their literary publications: collections of Latin and Greek classics and modern works (such as Sainte-Beuve’s Causeries du lundi, Grimm’s Correspondance and Chateaubriand’s Œuvres complètes).

Eighteen ninety-six saw the appearance of the first of the “Classiques Garnier,” a new collection combining the previous “Classiques latins” [Latin Classics], Classiques grecs” [Greek Classics] and “Bibliothèque choisie” [Selected Library] collections. In the words of the catalog, the new collection offered “the best French and foreign, ancient and modern works at reasonable prices.” It was a success and frequent references to the “Classiques Garnier” featured in autobiographical works thereafter.

Jean Giono, for instance, recalled how he would be given two francs every Sunday and while “works by Anatole France cost three francs fifty at Calmann-Lévy, Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Virgil were ninety-five centimes in Classiques Garnier. With my two francs I could have two of those chaps and have two centimes change. With those two centimes I could buy a stamp for my letter, because there weren’t any bookstores in Manosque and I ordered books straight from Paris. There must be a whole stack of those letters from me at Garnier from 1911 up to the war of 1914.” (Jean Giono, De Homère à Machiavel).

Yellow was used for the covers from the very start: at first it was a yellow paper that was sometimes more ochre or beige, then it was paper printed in yellow. With the advent of cover illustrations in the 1960s (first in the form of dust jackets) and lamination, the yellow became brighter and more luminous: the Garnier yellow everyone knows.

Over the course of the twentieth century, scholarly editions increasingly took precedence over those that were more modestly priced, to the point where a deal was struck with Flammarion in the 1960s allowing them to produce low-cost versions of the “Classiques Garnier” that were stripped of critical commentary. This was the start of Garnier-Flammarion, which became an independent company in 1970 under the name GF Flammarion.

When Éditions Garnier Frères went bankrupt in June 1983, their list was bought up by Presses de la Cité. The “yellow” collection then comprised some two hundred titles governed by editorial policies that remain practically unchanged to this day:
- a catalog consisting of core works of the great literatures of Europe
- editions endorsed by leading specialists
- faultless preparation of texts
- first-class critical commentary
- clear and careful presentation.

InfoMédia acquired the collection in 1998 with the prime aim of upholding the editorial policies that have made the “Classiques Garnier” famous for over a century.

Since 2009, under the editorial direction of Claude Blum, Editions Classiques Garnier has expanded its catalog to include all aspects of literature and the humanities, publishing both editions of texts and studies and essays by top specialists in French literature, foreign literature, linguistics, history, art, music, law, economics and social sciences.

Classiques Garnier publishes its titles in three formats and platforms: large, digital and paperback.