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Around 250 people were crammed into the glass-roofed Galerie Charpentier on Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré as Laure de Beauvau-Craon, head of Sotheby’s France, rose amidst warm applause above a sea of TV cameramen and press photographers to declare the occasion “his-tor-ique”.

Auctioneer Alain Renner raised the gavel “with great pride” and “dedicated the sale to Laure de Beauvau” as the “artisan” of the reform to France’s protectionist auction system.

Lettering on the grey-walled saleroom proclaimed OUVERTURE DU MARCHE DE L’ART EN FRANCE (Opening Of The French Art Market) above a portentous quote by Heraclitus taken from the first lot in the sale, a French translation of Gabriele d’Annunzio’s novel Il Fuoco (Fire): “Sans l’espérance, il est impossible de trouver l’inespéré (“Without hope, the unhoped-for cannot be attained.”). The novel, in an undated first edition clad in red morocco, raced ten times estimate to Fr70,000 (£6670), selling amidst prolonged applause to Kristen van Riel, former chief executive of Sotheby’s France, who promised to offer it to Laure de Beauvau to mark the occasion.

The 180-lot session, devoted to Part 3 of the Charles Hayoit Library of French literature (parts 1 & 2 were sold in conjunction with Poulain-Le Fur last June), brought Fr3.05m (£290,000) and was just two per cent unsold.

The top price of Fr200,000 (£19,050) was paid by the French trade for a first edition of Huysmans’ A Rebours, published by Charpentier (Paris) in 1884. The rest of the Hayoit Library was sold in four further sessions on November 30 and December 1.

• The buyer’s premium was set at 17.5 per cent up to Fr100,000 (£9500), 15 per cent up to Fr600,000 (£57,000), and 10 per cent thereafter, plus VAT at 19.6 per cent for manuscripts and 5.5 per cent for books (which have a special low VAT rating in France).

That means a basic premium of 20.93 per cent – a sharp hike from France’s hitherto mandatory 10.764 per cent. Christie’s, quoting euros, chose to apply the same 20.93 per cent rate on bids of up to €90,000 (£56,000), and 11.96 per cent thereafter, at their first sales in Paris (December 5-13).