An important collection of books and documents about the early days of hot air ballooning, put together over many years by a French bibliophile, is to be offered at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in London on Wednesday 1 March.
French engineers and inventors played a crucial role in the development of the hot air balloon, led by the Montgolfier brothers - Joseph-Michel and Jacques Étienne - who invented the globe aérostatique in which Etienne made the first piloted ascent in history in October 1783.
The Montgolfiers' success unleashed a torrent of activity. Other inventors were quick to build on the brothers' influential work, and the sale reflects this outpouring of ideas. The most important of these include:
A handwritten copy by Marché Fils of his letter of November 1784 to the Permanent Secretary of the Académie des Sciences, with his ideas for a dirigible and on how to keep Montgolfiers' balloons travelling in a straight line during flight. It is estimated at £1,000-2,000.
An account by one of the Montgolfiers' rivals, Jacques Charles, about the first manned ascent in a hydrogen-filled balloon in December 1783 which he undertook with his fellow inventor Nicholas-Louis Robert. Estimate £500-700.
A guide to making hot air balloons based on the work of the Montgolfiers and Jacques Charles and Nicholas-Louis Robert, which includes a dramatic account of the Montgolfier Brothers' ascent in Lyon in January 1874. Watched by a crowd of more than 100,000 people, the balloon reached a height of 3,000 ft before a tear developed in the fabric and it returned rapidly to earth. Estimate £500-700.
Despite the dizzying pace of change, writers soon began capturing the history of the development of the hot air balloon. Faujas de Saint-Fond wrote what is seen as the first serious work on hot air ballooning, including a detailed technical description of the Mongolfier brothers' achievements (£500-800). A later 19th century work, Histoire des ballons et des aéronautes célèbres, by Gaston Tissandier is estimated at £400-600.
Bonhams Head of Books and Manuscripts, Matthew Haley, said, "The first manned balloon ascent in 1783 – just six years before the outbreak of the French Revolution – was a hugely significant moment in the history of powered flight. Natural as it seems today, in the eighteenth century the idea of ascending in a balloon was as extraordinary a technological leap as a self-driving car is in the 21st century.
"As the books in this exceptional collection show, it was the catalyst for an explosion of invention. Balloon flights also became great public spectacles – hundreds of thousands of people turned out to marvel at this new phenomenon."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
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