The printing house Maison Bouasse-Lebel was founded by Eulalie Lebel in 1845 at the age of 36. Her family had a long history of being in the printing business: her father was a printer and engraver, and her maternal grandfather was a printer and librarian. When Eulalie was a young teenager, her family moved into the Latin Quarter of Paris, in the printing district. Here, she met her husband François-Marie Bouasse, who was also from a printing family. The marriage ended poorly, however, and Eulalie was forced to find a way to support herself and her two sons. She decide to do this by founding her own printing company. Thus, the Maison Bouasse-Lebel was born.
The Maison Bouasse-Lebel encountered financial difficulties in its first years. Although Eulalie and her husband were separated, she was required to pay off his massive debts upon his early death. Gradually, the family got back on their feet and began to turn a profit. Her cards gained popularity, both domestically and internationally. The industry was helped by a resurgence of piety in France during the mid-nineteenth century, which helped sales of holy cards.
In 1852, Eulalie’s son Henri bought the printing house from her. She retained a management advisory position for five years after the sale, but Henri was free to make changes. One of the first things he introduced was the production of items other than religious images. Henri expanded printing to include pictures and images for churches, as well as encyclopedias, maps, and books. He even enlisted the help of the local prison to use their inmates to help create the lace used in their prayer cards. The printing house won many medals for their products at fairs and exhibitions, including at the Universal Exhibition held in Paris in 1855. In 1858, the house signed a contract to produce “objects of piety” for a charity that aimed to bring Christianity to children, initially only in China but then in an expanded list of nations. Henri also acquired the printing house Maison Basset in 1865. This was a highly profitable move for the Bouasse-Lebel company, as they now owned the rights to all of the images Basset had printed already.
Cammarano, Flavio and Aldo Florian. Santini e storia di un editore paragino: Maison Bouasse-Lebel. Translated by Placide Carava. Cuneo, Italy: Litostampa Mario Astegiano & Co. 2009.