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PROFILE. Jean-Paul Bascoul, story hound and photo collector

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Simon Zwierniak / Monaco-Tribune

This Monaco native is a collector of all sorts, a “mad workaholic”, as he likes to describe himself.

The Riviera Palace: a colossal building of stunning splendour, a vestige of the opulence of the world’s richest company of its time and home to a tireless collector.  “Back in the day, it was ‘the place to be’.  Kings, princes… they all came here”, states Jean-Paul Bascoul, one of the occupants of a site that is steeped in history.  His daily routine? “Hunting for photos, I am a story hound.”   Jean-Paul Bascoul buys, restores and collects documents of all kinds in Monaco and its surroundings.

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You use tweezers. I go at it with a digger.

More than 50,000 documents

His time is divided between Toulouse and Beausoleil, but his heart belongs to the Côte d’Azur, where he lives part-time with his wife and dog.  “I want to come back and settle here,” he confides.  The Monaco native grew up in the Riviera Palace, his huge playground. “We used to have fun in the underground passages, in the winter gardens…”.

A love of heritage that has led to the creation of a huge personal collection. In just ten years, Jean-Paul Bascoul has amassed more than 50,000 documents: “the largest collection in Monaco and Beausoleil”, he assures us.  Photographs, postcards, stamps, documents, medals… everything is worth having.  “As I say to some collectors, you use tweezers. I go at it with a digger.”

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To buy in bulk, you have to broaden your horizons: his collection comes from all over the world.  “I’m a computer engineer by trade, and I know all the salesrooms and auction houses”.  He has mastered the intricacies of online auctions, knows how to spot a good deal and has even built up a network over the years.  “At least once a week I get a call about something special.”

The latest example: an autobiographical short film by Formula 1 driver Louis Chiron.  The reel came from Austria, and was a random purchase.  “Before I found it I didn’t even know that this kind of thing existed, it’s extraordinary.”   There’s a glint in his eye as he starts up the film.  Along with Chiron’s voice, the images showing the Principality and its tramway in the 1930s are moving for any history lover.  “It’s incredible.  Never seen anything like it.”

© Collection Jean-Paul Bascoul – The Monaco tramway

A career in Europe

His career as a computer engineer came to an end just before he started his collection.  “I was already a mad workaholic at the time.  If I just sat around doing nothing, I’d be dead in five minutes.”

He worked for many years in the Alcatel group on research and development projects on a European scale.  Projects “that were a bit out of the ordinary“.  Brussels, Madrid, Rome… he travelled all over Europe for work.  “What do you expect me to do after that?” he jokes.

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“I have no vested interest, other than to get my work out there.”  His whole approach is non-profit, it is passion that drives this collector.  A passion that is reined in by financial reality, especially when you are buying everything.  As a result, he works at “5 or 10%” of what he is capable of doing.  “And as I’m a mad workaholic, it”s a bit frustrating, but never mind, I do what I can.”

Especially as his collection isn’t limited to Monaco and its surroundings.  It is full of treasures that testify to the variety of his interests.  Archaeology, Egypt, prehistory, the Bronze Age, astronomy, art-science… “I don’t rule anything out”, explains Jean-Paul Bascoul.

“Before, there were no books about Beausoleil.  And now there are three. Ours.”

Talking pictures

To promote his work, Jean-Paul Bascoul started his Monaco4ever blog, where more than 20,000 images of the Riviera Palace, Beausoleil and the Principality of Monaco can be viewed.  At the same time, he opened a Facebook group of the same name, which now has almost 6,000 members.  The idea behind the group is to “make the photos talk”.  And it works: each of his publications is a real story incubator.  “That’s where I get my kicks, when there’s a personal anecdote, and people react.”

He has also teamed up with Jean-Claude Volpi, a historian. “My wildest dream was to do a book on the Riviera Palace, and it happened with Volpi.”   Together they give lectures and have just published their third book.  “Before, there were no books on Beausoleil. And now they have three. Ours.”

So what to do with all this?  A museum?  Not necessarily.  He wants something dynamic, a place where “people come to work, contributing to or writing articles.”  Ideally he would like his images to be used by teachers, to teach children.  But in the meantime, Jean-Paul Bascoul will continue to hunt for stories, driven by his motto: “I can, therefore I do”.

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© Jean-Paul Bascoul & Jean-Claude Volpi