Wonderful Balloon Ascents: OR, The Conquest of the Skies.
A history of balloons and balloon voyages. From the French of F. Marion.
Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.; London, Paris & New York. n.d. [c.1888]
[Originally published as Les Ballons et les Voyages aériens … Ouvrage illustré … par P. Sellier. Paris, 1867.]
Cover size 130 x 190mm. [iiix] 224p. + 4p. of advertisements.
Book plate in this copy: Ex libris C. J. Peacock
who folds a leafe downe ye divel toaste browne
who makes marke or blotte ye divel roaste hot
who stealeth thisse boke ye divel shall cooke
Fulgence Marion was a pseudonym of the French astronomer and psychical researcher Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) who held unconventional ideas about life, the universe, and everything. Best known for the best-selling work Popular Astronomy (Astronomie populaire) published under his real name, his output included La planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité, 1892, and La Fin du Monde (The End of the World), 1893, a science fiction novel about a comet colliding with the Earth, which was adapted into a film in 1931 by Abel Gance. L’inconnu et les problèmes psychiques (L’inconnu: The Unknown), was a collection of psychic experiences. I’m more familiar with his Wonders of Optics (published in English in 1868, originally L’Optique, 1867), and only recently read this aviation work for the first time.
Fulfilling the promise of its title, the book covers the history of ballooning to c.1870, with 30 delightful illustrations. A few non-balloon aerial attempts or suggestions are also included. The final chapter, The Necrology of Aeronautics, documents the high price paid by many pioneers with graphic accounts of many ‘aerial shipwrecks’. The first English edition appeared in 1870; this one is from c.1888. I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about ballooning to comment on the book’s accuracy, but a contemporary reviewer had some reservations: ‘If a Frenchman first rose into the air, it was an Englishman who accomplished the longest journey hitherto known. Mr. Green started from London at midday on November 7th, 1836, and landed not far from Wiberg, in the Duchy of Nassau, at 7 a.m. on the following day. M. Marion says the distance was “1,200 miles,” but from London to Nassau is nothing like that ; the rate of 63 miles per hour is a manifest impossibility.’ (The Spectator, 13 October 1888.)
This beautifully decorated copy of Fulgence Marion’s very collectable work on ballooning is physically contradictory. On the one hand it shows a lavish treatment; the case has been covered using the art book technique of two pieces of book cloth of different colours cut together at an angle to give a striking colour change. No doubt there’s a technical term for the result. The front cover is attractively set off by the gilt image of a balloon, and gilt edges. However, the original binding technique is pants. The folded sheets were stapled into sections, and then glued onto a strip of material which was in turn glued straight onto the inside of the spine area of the cover. Online research reveals that this is a simplified version of a machine-binding technique using steel wire that was developed in Germany in the latter part of the 19th century.
Unsurprisingly, the sections of this volume eventually fell out and the book became unusable. I have removed the staples and sewn the sections onto tapes, glued mull onto the back, and then glued the block into the covers. The remains of the old free end papers have been used to paste down onto the cover, the front one being just a tab so that the book plate is preserved.
I failed to match the paper colour for the new free endpapers – my new cream stock turns to blazing lemon when placed next to the original mellowed pages – so I took the radical decision to use black paper for these. This rebinding should give the book a new lease of life, and I hope my intrusions don’t upset the spirits who were protecting it for Mr. Peacock.
Although earlier editions are quite common, this edition does seem hard to find (none on Bookfinder, ABE or Amazon as I write). Perhaps the dodgy binding technique is part of the reason for its scarcity. Minor wear to the back cover and spine, pages in good condition, with minor rust stains where the old staples were, and occasional light foxing. Note: page 134 (unnumbered) is followed by page 137. There is nothing missing – this is an original pagination error. See online version: https://archive.org/stream/39002011210631.med.yale.edu#page/138/mode/2up
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