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Extremely Rare Engraved Plates Depicting French & Ancient Coins from Louis XIV's Coin Collection
[Louis XIV]. MEDAILLONS ANTIQUES ET FRANÇAISES DU CABINET DU ROY. No place or date of publication (Paris, 1679 and following). Large folio [49 by 34 cm], original full brown calf, sides bordered in blind; spine with six raised bands, decorated in gilt; marbled endpapers (see condition notes). Sans title and text, as issued. Includes the following: 11 leaves, each featuring between 10 and 17 individually printed unsigned engravings depicting one or both sides of a French medal struck between the 15th and 17th centuries. A total of 149 separate engraving are included; 41 very fine full-page plates, engraved by [Simon, some say Giles Jodelet] de La Boissière (a number of them signed De la Boissiere, De la Boissiere fecit, or De Laboissiere fecit), usually depicting the obverse and reverse of eight ancient Greek or, mainly, Roman portrait coins (some roundels are blank, as printed), each within a decorative cartouche incorporating a fleur de lis, all on a finely hatched background. The volume as a whole is in poor condition. The binding is very worn, with most of the backstrip lacking and severe wear to the board surfaces, corners and edges; both flyleaves are missing. The full complement of ancient coins plates are present; while additional plates of French medals were made as part of the Cabinet du Roy series, it is apparent that no others were bound in with this volume. The plates are stained throughout. The staining affects the fore-edge throughout the entire volume and is frequently but not always present along the gutter margin. The discoloration affects some plate images and is likely an old mildew stain. There is no discernable odor, so the stain appears to be inactive. The paper may be able to be improved by a conservator, but we make no guarantees of this and the volume is sold as is. A very rare and important set of engravings, depicting coins and medals in the coin collection formed by Louis XIV. Le Roi Soleil (1638–1715) remains one of the most renowned coin collectors of all time. As a boy, Louis was instructed in the art of numismatics by the engraver Jean Varin. In his twenties he was bequeathed the outstanding collection of coins formed by his uncle, Gaston, duc d'Orléans, who died in 1660. Overnight, Louis became a coin collector, an avocation he pursued with great relish for the remainder of his life. With the counsel of his Finance Minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and a coterie of the outstanding numismatists of the day, he subsequently assembled one of the finest coin cabinets in Europe. His chief purchasing agent was Jean Foy-Vaillant; André Morell served as custodian of the collection; Claude du Molinet also worked in the coin cabinet, as did others. Between 1680 and 1687, Morell studied the royal coin cabinet, intending to publish an inventory of the collection. It is likely that the remarkable series of plates present here were prepared under his supervision. In Numismatics-An Ancient Science, Elvira Clain-Stefanelli observes that "Morell, an exceptionally gifted scholar and an excellent designer, conceived of his work as a general synopsis ('recueil') of all existing ancient coins in European collections. He intended to accompany his descriptions with adequate drawings. This plan, a revival of Lazius' 'corpus' idea, was doomed to failure, and Morell never succeeded in fulfilling his dream." The only fruit of Morell's labors in the royal collection appears to be the remarkable series of coin plates offered here. These plates were commissioned by Louis XIV himself, comprising the third part of his famous Cabinet du roi series (a collection of engravings of treasures from the royal collection known by that name), culminating in an oeuvre of over twenty series of plates depicting various works of art and curiosities, issued over a number of years. Generally, these engravings were issued as individual plates (broadsheets) and the coin engravings were no exception. Few sets of those loose plates appear to have survived. On some, perhaps all, the obverse and reverse ligatures of individual coins feature engraved sequential numbers. These were effaced from the plates prior to printing the book version (though several ligatures connecting images depicted at the end of one line and beginning of the next remain: 59, 61, 63, 85, 97, 223 and 235); diminutively engraved Arabic numerals have been added, centered at the top of each engraving, apparently as a guide to the binder for proper collation and/or as an aid to the user. Indisputably, the volume at hand was specifically designed and fabricated as a book. It is printed on folios (one plate impression on one side, another opposite on the other side), which were then folded in half, gathered, and sewn in signatures. An examination of the chain lines verifies this: in the book version, the chain lines on both plates and blanks are vertical, corresponding to a folded folio sheet, while copies of the individually printed broadsheet plates feature the horizontal chain lines of unfolded sheets. We know of four other copies of this volume, three of which are composed solely of the ancient coins plates, while an example sold by Sotheby's in 2012 includes, like the present volume, additional plates depicting French medals. A copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale is found with a superbly engraved allegorical frontispiece by Charles Simonneau l'aîné after Antoine Coypel, with the royal portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud: this, however, is a later addition, as that frontispiece was created for use in the 1702 Médailles volume published by the Académie Royale des Médailles et des Inscriptions mentioned above and is based on Rigaud's 1701 painting. Were it not for a 1704, "second" edition, these plates depicting the ancient coin collection of Louis Quatorze would today be little known. That later work was published in "Eleutheropolis," under the anonymous supervision of Laurenz Beger, a talented and prolific numismatic author. Those plates were entirely re-engraved and largely mirror those of the original edition, although there are minor differences (including an engraved "Æ" on many of the 1682 coin illustrations). They suffer greatly in comparison with the original 1682 engravings, which are far more skillfully executed and esthetically appealing. The blossoming of numismatics as a science in France coincides with the reign of Louis XIV. Indeed, the first comprehensive work on French metropolitan coins appeared at the end of the decade following publication of the present volume of ancient coins in the royal collection. In our 2015 New York Book Auction (lot 156), we sold a copy of the ancient plates only (albeit in a much better state of preservation) for $17,000 hammer; that volume later sold as lot 72 in our 2018 New York Book Auction for $13,000 hammer. While the condition of the current volume presents challenges, the plates remain of considerable importance and their rarity remains. Brückmann 74 (under Medaillons, undated). Unrecorded in Dekesel (listed under "Index of Numismatic Publications We Couldn't Locate," page 3170). Hennin 215 (under Médaillons). Lipsius 50–51 (under de la Boissiere); Lipsius 253 (under Medaillons..., dated 1682).