Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1723. Folio [43.5 by 30 cm], original tan crushed morocco, sides double-paneled in French fillets, floral sprays at corners of interior panels; spine with six raised bands, richly decorated with floral sprays in gilt; red morocco spine label lettered in gilt; board edges double-ruled in gilt; gilt inner dentelles; all page edges gilt; marbled endpapers. Superbly engraved allegorical frontispiece by Charles Simonneau l’aîné after Antoine Coypel, with the royal portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud; title vignette by Sébastien Le Clerc within border by Louis Simonneau; 318 finely engraved plates depicting both sides of 318 medals, with descriptive text within elaborately decorative borders, occasionally with culs-de-lampe, printed on rectos only; (12) page index. Front flyleaf wrinkled; joints toward head and tail skillfully restored, some slight cracking remaining. A near fine copy. Item #5436
The revised, final edition of what is perhaps the most sumptuous numismatic work ever produced. Médailles sur les principaux événements du règne entier de Louis le Grand was the creation of the Académie Royale des Médailles et des Inscriptions and was intended not simply to be a record of the medals of Louis XIV, but a carefully constructed history of his reign. In The Fabrication of Louis XIV, Peter Burke discusses the publication of the original 1702 edition. The king himself was deeply involved in its execution and wished to supplant the previous work on the subject by Menestrier. Burke states that the decisions to include or exclude particular medals were made at the highest levels. From the birth of Louis XIV in 1638 and his ascension to the throne on the death of Louis XIII less than five years later, this work traces the important events in the life of this illustrious monarch as well as the history of France itself. When the 1702 edition was published, however, Louis still had over a dozen years of his reign ahead of him. This second edition, published several years after his death in 1715, covers the entirety of his reign and is preferred for that reason. It is also the scarcer of the two editions.
Louis XIV was intensely interested in the arts and did much to create the reputation France still enjoys as a worldwide center of culture. He was determined to expand the royal coin cabinet and issued commemorative medals on many occasions. This devotion to numismatics and historiography is reflected in the physical production of the original Médailles volume and this 1723 revision. The finest engravers were hired, the best paper available was used, and the bindings were beautiful and ornate. One does not acquire the sobriquet Le Roi Soleil due to one’s simplicity of taste. Even the font used to print the text was specially created for Louis: Romain du Roy was designed by Philippe Grandjean (1666–1714) around 1700, having been in development since 1693. The 1702 edition was the first work printed in this font, which sought to use scientific principles to develop a font that was both practical and elegant. Only the royal press was authorized to use the font, which continued to be developed through 1745. The historical descriptions of the earlier medals were written by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636–1711), and the engravings and other artistic flourishes required the participation of artists Antoine Coypel (1661–1722), Charles Simonneau (1645–1728), Louis Simonneau (1654–1727), Nicolas Pitau (1670–1724), Sébastien Le Clerc (1637–1714), Jean Berain (1640–1711) and many others. Jean Racine (1639–1699) played a role in the early development of the project, which was eventually published under the auspices of the Imprimerie Royale by Jean Anisson (first edition) and Claude Rigaud (second edition). Other participants included Jean-Paul Bignon (1662–1743), the librarian to the king, and Paul Tallemand (1642–1712). François Charpentier (1620–1702) was an important member of l’Académie française and was involved in the production of many of the medals depicted in this volume. While primary authorship has frequently been ascribed to him, his actual involvement in the work remains uncertain.
The final product is a masterpiece of the bibliographic arts. Each page depicts the obverse and reverse of a medal, with beautifully printed descriptive text, all within intricate ornamental borders, occasionally with culs-de-lampe. The magnificent allegorical frontispiece was engraved by Charles Simonneau following a design by Coypel and integrating a portrait of Louis by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659–1743). Fleurons and other decorative flourishes abound. (The Musée de l’Imprimerie, in Lyon, held an exhibition in 2002 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of this work.) The second edition includes medals issued through the entirety of its subject’s life, featuring 318 plates instead of the 286 of the 1702 edition. Incredibly, however, the 1723 edition didn’t simply reprint the 1702 volume and then add the final years: the medals have been re-engraved throughout, as subtle differences reveal upon close examination. The editions are textually distinct as well, though the 1723 edition clearly used the earlier work as its basis. There are additional small differences between what the two editions include: for instance, the 1702 edition includes two medals struck on the birth of Louis XIV; the 1723 edition includes only one. These differences between the two editions are worthy of additional research. (Robert-Dumesnil’s Le Peintre-graveur français  discusses these differences to some extent in Volume VII, pages 206–225; in addition, J.-J. Guiffrey unearthed the original printing specifications for this edition in the Archives Nationales and published them in 1885.)
Produced on the orders of Louis Antoine de Pardaillan de Gondrin, Duc d’Antin (1665–1736), and under the direction of Claude Gros de Boze (1680–1753), the production values of the 1723 edition were clearly no less than those of the 1702 volume published during the king’s reign, making this arguably the most magnificent numismatic work ever accomplished. Brunet felt the 1723 edition was “plus belle que la prèmiere.” One of only 500 copies printed, this example is far above average, featuring a lovely original binding whose slight restorations have ensured it remains sturdy and fully useable. This is all the more important since this volume is not only a work of art, but an important contemporary reference to these medals, still consulted with profit today. In the last decade, we have been privileged to handle no fewer than four copies of the folio 1702 edition; this is the only copy of the 1723 edition we have handled during the same period. Brunet III.1565 (23739). Cohen/de Ricci 695. Engel and Serrure 6799. Graesse 459–460. Hirsch 83. Lipsius 253. Ex Swann Galleries April 19, 2007 sale; ex David F. Fanning Numismatic Literature Sale II (Kolbe & Fanning Sale 114), lot 75; ex Joseph C. Foster Library.