Only 300 copies of the book were ever published; placed free of charge in hotels across France to help guide hungry visitors, it was designed with wider than normal margins to allow budding gourmets to add their own notes.
The book – described by consultant for the sale Pierre-Gabriel Gonzalez as being in “exceptional condition” – was published just four years after the very first Michelin Guide was printed in 1900. The little red book started life as a way of providing the new breed of motorists – in other words, the upper echelons of French society – with the “safest, most reliable guide to facilitate car travel”. Published by the famous tyre manufacturer run by brothers André and Édouard Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand, its aim, if truth be told, was to get more people on the road. When they set up their company, there were fewer than 3,000 cars travelling the roads of France. The brothers set about encouraging more people to undertake more travel by publishing handy guides containing maps, information on where to fill up on petrol and places to eat and stay.
The 1904 edition which has just sold for €47,000 was free of charge when it was produced, as were all the Michelin guides. Legend has it that André Michelin was annoyed when he visited a tyre shop and found the guide being used to prop up a workbench – and declared that as “man only truly respects what he pays for” from 1920 onwards, the book would cost seven francs. This new version included restaurants listed by category and reviews by a team of mystery diners. Just a few years later in 1926, Michelin introduced the star system we know so well today – and the rest is dining history.