Michelin Guide 1939

A copy of The American in a sand coloured cover, the facsimile edition of the 1939 Michelin Guide published in Washington DC for use by officers landing on the Normandy beaches in 1944. It sold for €6000 (£5130) at Ivoire Clermont-Ferrand on June 6. Pictured next to it for comparison is a 1939 edition with the standard red cover.

Image copyright: Ivoire Clermont

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But on June 6, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the 1944 DD landings, the auction firm chose to do something different – a single lot sale of a special 1939 Michelin Guide known as The American that is a piece of history from the Second World War.

The guide, in a sandy coloured cover instead of the usual signature red, features the words For official use only and Reproduced by Military Intelligence Division War Department Washington D.C.

Inside, the 1100 pages mapping French cities conform to the original version of 1939, the last Michelin Guide to have been published since the start of the war. This special edition was produced and attached to the packs of the officers who landed on the Normandy beaches, its cover, which blended into the GI's fatigue-coloured pack, being the only notable difference to this facsimile published in Washington.

Offered for sale on the 80th anniversary of the DD landings, The American was hammered down in Clermont-Ferrand for €6000 (£5130) or €7584 including premium. It sold to a collector from the Auvergne against competition from around 10 bidders on the phone and the internet.

Useful wartime tool

While the Michelin Guide was intended as a travel and restaurant handbook, the American Intelligence Services in Washington realised it could also be a very useful tool for non-French speakers landing in an unknown country. Features such as the city maps and alphabetical classification of French cities, the distances between places and the location of major monuments or buildings as well as the use of symbols were all useful aids.

“In 1943, while preparing for the landing on the French coast, the Allies were looking for a practical document, easy to carry, to help their officers find their way, particularly in French towns, deprived of road signs by the enemy,” explains Pierre Gabriel Gonzalès. “After extensive research and after consultation with American and British officers who had travelled to France before the war, all eyes were focused on the last Michelin Guide, that of 1939.”

Additional background to how the American Intelligence Division came up with the idea of reproducing the famous red guide re-emerged recently. A collector of Michelin maps and guides contacted Pierre Gabriel Gonzalès because he had come across an article published in The Sunday Times on June 3, 1984, the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

In it the journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet discusses the role of her father, Gustave Moutet, behind the idea of using the guide as a practical aid. Moutet left to join the Free French Forces on June 17, 1940 with his 1939 Michelin Guide in his luggage. Dismayed by the mediocre quality of the maps of France used by the Allies, he suggested to the American high command that they use the Michelin Guide.