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A stunning, well-rounded private archive of a French engineer, businessman and bibliophile Léon Sellié, giving a detailed insight on the life of an upper-class expat in the Late Ottoman period. The archive includes over 200 documents with 27 diaries, expanding over almost 29 years and describing over 9000 days in Istanbul, photographs, an unpublished manuscript on antique monuments of Istanbul, various reports, private correspondences, documentation on L’Eaux de Constantinople, Union Française and documentation connected with Sellié’s vast collection of books, related to Istanbul.


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Léon Bernard Sellié (1850-1912) was, according to the notes in his archive, born on February 18, 1850, in a commune Lagruère in the Lot-et-Garonne department in France. In 1870 and 1871, he participated as an engineer in a military campaign as a member of the National Mobile Garde of Gironde (Garde Nationale Mobile de Gironde), for which he received a posthumous medal. After several jobs as an engineer and later director, he moved to Istanbul around 1883 to work as a director of a French controlled firm L’Eaux de Constantinople. In 1898, he became the director of the firm, holding the position until his death in 1911.

L’Eaux de Constantinople controlled the supply of clean water to Istanbul and was heavily involved in modern researches on the field of medicine and hygiene as well as in meteorology.

In Istanbul, Sellié married Marie Rachel Braca, which whom they became parents to Pierre Léo Robert on March 23, 1892, and Gilberte Marie Catherine, born on November 17, 1896. They inhabited an apartment at the building Couteaux, 127 Grand Rue de Péra (2nd floor) and a house at 39, Büyük Hendek Cd., near the Galata Tower.

During his staying in Istanbul for almost 30 years Sellié became an amateur archeologist, who was as an engineer and director of L’Eaux de Constantinople vitally interested in ancient water supply to the city. He authored an unpublished research on the subject (a part of this collection). He was also a book collector and bibliophile, owing a large collection of books on Istanbul, published in the city itself and in the West. This collection includes several receipts for book purchases and Sellié’s attempt to catalogue books, related to Istanbul.

Léon Sellié and his wife Rachel were heavily involved in the upper class social life of the city, being close friends with French ambassadors, other Europeans and with higher Ottoman officials. Sellié himself financially supported French cultural life in Istanbul and was one of the founders of Union Française, an important association in the late Ottoman Empire.

Sellié died on March 15, 1912, and was buried two days later at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua in Istanbul, with a funeral attended by European and Ottoman dignitaries and higher officials. One of the pallbearers was the French ambassador Maurice Bompard (1854 –1935).

Today Sellé as well as L’Eaux de Constantinople are only little known and this splendid archive offers a possibility for several researches on the subject. It is also an insight in almost three decades of private, social and business life of a Western, living in Istanbul in the late Ottoman Empire.

The Collection in Focus:


27 volumes, dated 1883-1911 (missing 1900 and 1910). All 16°, bound in dark red Morocco with gold tooling and title ”Agenda Oppermann [Year]. Baudry & Cie. Editeurs” on the cover and year in gold on spines, linen pocket on the inner side of the front board, Morocco loop for pencil on the outer part of the rear board, original marbled endpapers. Inside various numbers of black and white advertisements for French firms, circa 200 pages of printed information for the current year, followed by a calendar with two days per page with manuscript notes for each day by Léon Sellié.
Linen pockets of diaries with inserted notes, photographs, cards de visite, drawings, letters, annunciations of births, deaths and other events etc.

This stunning collection of 27 small uniformed diaries embraces years from 1883 until the end of 1911 (missing 2 volumes, for years 1900 and 1910). Each page contains a printed template for two days and empty spaces below the dates have been filled in by hand-written descriptions of a daily life by Léon Sellié, describing altogether over 9000 days in 27 years.

The diaries are additionally enriched with inserted hand written notes, photographs, documents, drawings, addresses and cartes de visite with personal messages, many of them by known personalities (for example: Hasan Fehmi Bey (1874 – 1909) an Ottoman journalist).

The diaries contain mostly descriptions from Sellié’s personal and social life and include notes on his marriage, children, his wife’s life and whereabouts, meetings, various engagements, dinner parties, births, deaths of friends, doctor’s appointments, weather reports etc. Sellié also kept minor items, reminding him of his two children. Among others he inserted in his diaries their drawings, a list of presents given to his daughter at her first communion, a letter written to him by his daughter and an affectionate letter written by him to her etc.

2. MANUSCRIPTS (3 documents):

2. A.: Livera Renseignementa météorogiquea d’après l’Observatoire Impérial de Constantinople
4°. [12 pp.] Manuscript in dark brown ink on checkered paper, originally sewn together with a white string (light foxing on the title page, otherwise in a good condition).

A meteorological report for Istanbul from 1888 until 1899 (blank spaces left for 1900-1902).

2. B.: Ouvrages sur Constantinople
4°. [16 pp.] Manuscript in black ink on checkered paper, originally sewn together with a white string, contemporary annotations in blue pencil (light foxing on the title page, tiny tears in margins otherwise in a good condition).

[accompanied with additional manuscript notes on folded papers, inserted in the manuscript]

Various notes with titles and annotations on the literature on Istanbul, including a sketch, a transcription of an article from Le Figaro (January 24 1901), and “Ouvrages a consulter au Musée”.

2. C.: Étude sur l’alimentation de Constantinople aux époques romaine, byzantine at turque [Study on the Diet of Constantinople in the Roman, Byzantine and Turkish Periods]
[Istanbul:] January 1893.

Large 4°. Original card brown wrappers with manuscript title, 32 pp. manuscript in dark brown ink on checkered paper, originally bound together with blue ribbon (very good).

An original, seemingly unpublished study on the water supply of Istanbul from Roman era until the Ottomans.


Letters to various important addresses in Istanbul: Sellié’s personal copy of his letter to the Sultan (September 1, 1900, small 4°. [4 pp.] 3 pp. manuscript in black ink on checkered paper), correspondence with the French ambassador in Istanbul, church, letters to the French Chamber of Commerce in Istanbul (Chambre de Commerce Française de Constantinople),…

6 letters: with hand-written private invitations from the French Embassy in Istanbul to Léon Sellié (blue cards and one blue paper with letterheads in blue envelopes), 9,5 x 11,5 cm.

6 Personal telegrams, 22 other notes, 9 various documents, including bills from various Istanbul-based firms, many owed by Greeks, including furniture and transportation,..

This archive includes several personal documents, such as a card announcing the birth of Seliées’ daughter, Gilberte, born on November 17, 1896, Carte de Visite of the French Ambassador in Istanbul, a hand written menu on a card template for a dinner party, hosted at Selliés on April 2, 1905 etc.


Telegrams from Istanbul and invoices from French book dealers to Seliée.

5. UNION FRANÇAISE IN STANBUL (more than 25 documents and sets of documents)

In 1896, Léon Seliée became one of the founding members of the French Union of Istanbul (Union Française), a long awaited club of French expatriates in the city, which soon became a center of vivid social and cultural life. The president became Léon Berger, who was also the president of the Administration of the Ottoman Public Debt (Administration de la Dette Publique ottoman), and Seliée was a member of the committee. The Union is still active today.

This archive includes one of the founding letters, written to the French ambassador by Seliée, a reproduced copy of it, possibly sent to the future members, invitation for the opening of “la nouvelle maison de la France” on February 16, a building finished by 1896 by a French architect Alexander Vallaury (1850–1921), as well as a rich documentation on the soirées, lists of members, donations etc.

A group of documents relates to donations of members of Union Française for a purchase of two artworks, presents for Mr. Cambon, the French Ambassador to Istanbul, and Berger, the president of the Union, from a Paris art dealer Barbedienne, at the time owed by Gustave Leblanc, who continued the famous bronze art trade firm, founded by his uncle Ferdinand Barbedienne (1810-1892). The dealer was specialized in smaller statues and decorative objects, such as vases and bowls. The purchase, transportation and import to Istanbul was almost entirely conducted by Seliée.

Various forms, bills, regulations, bonds, etc.. mostly printed documents with manuscript additions.


7. A. A newspaper describing Sellié’s funeral (Stamboul, March 18, 1912, 2 examples).

7. B. A copy of a will, rewritten in Sellié’s handwriting, leaving everything to his wife Rachel Marie (dated September 21, 1890 and copied on December 14, 1912).

7. C. Two additional documents, issued by a French consulate in Istanbul regarding Seliée’s will, stamped January 3, 1913, and May 6th, 1912.

7. D. An archive of 23 documents regarding Léon Seliée’s posthumous award for his participation in a military campaign in 1870 and 1871, as a member of Garde Nationale Mobile de Gironde. Dated between October 8, 1907 and September 6, 1912 (mostly manuscripts, but also printed decrees).

Seliée started communicating with the French government about the award in 1907, but the correspondence got delayed due to his illness. His widow, Rachel, received the certificate (and possibly a medal) by the French government on September 6, 1912.

The archive includes correspondence between Léon Seliée and after his death his widow Rachel with ambassadors Jean Antoine Ernest Constans (1833 – 1913) and Maurice Bompard (1909–1914), the Ministry of Public Works, Posts and Telegraphs of France (Ministère des Travaux publics, des postes et des télégraphes) and French Secretary General Henri Ramondou (1860-1912).

Also included are a certificate by the French Ministry of War, printed decrees, a letter by Léon Seliée to the president of France Armand Fallières (dated, November 16, 1908) and manuscript text for the telegraphs sent to Paris with slips of the telegraph office.

Provenance: A prominent European collection.

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