[FRANKLIN, Benjamin (1706-1790)]
Constitutions des Treize États Unis de l'Amérique
"A Philadelphie; et se trouve a Paris" [Printed for Franklin by] Philippe-Denis Pierres and Pissot, 1783. 4to. (9 1/2 x 7 3/8 inches). Half-title. , 540pp. Title page with woodcut seal of the United States.
Contemporary French red morocco, covers with triple-fillet border, floral tools at the corners, with the central gilt arms of Joseph Marie François de Lassonne, spine with raised bands in six compartments, green morocco lettering piece in the second, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt, period blue patterned endpapers, gilt edges. Housed in a full red morocco box.
Provenance: Joseph Marie François de Lassone (1717-1788), first physician to King Louis XVI and to Queens Marie Leszczynska and Marie Antoinette (binding, presentation inscription); V.S.
The Franklin-inspired French edition of the constitutions of the original thirteen states of the newly-created United States, with the first appearance in book form of the seal of the U.S.: this copy the very rare, large-paper quarto issue printed on papier velin and bound in red morocco for presentation by Franklin.
Franklin was then ambassador to the French Court and had just completed negotiations with Great Britain for the independence of the United States. The work was translated by the Duc de la Rouchefoucauld at Franklin's suggestion and includes over fifty footnote annotations by Franklin. Besides the thirteen state constitutions, the work includes the text of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the treaties between the United States and France, the Low Countries and Sweden. The titlepage bears the first appearance in book form of the seal of the United States, designed by Franklin; i.e. the eagle, stars, and stripes. On December 25, 1783, Franklin wrote to President of the Continental Congress Thomas Mifflin " ... The extravagant Misrepresentations of our Political State, in foreign Countries, made it appear necessary to give them better Information, which I thought could not be more effectually and authentically done than by publishing a Translation into French, now the most general Language in Europe, of the Book of Constitutions which had been printed by Order of Congress. This I accordingly got well done, and presented two Copies handsomely bound to every foreign Minister here ... It has been well taken, and has afforded Matter of Surprise to many, who had conceived mean Ideas of the State of Civilization in America, and could not have expected so much political Knowledge and Sagacity had existed in our Wilderness. And from all Parts I have the Satisfaction to hear that our Constitutions in general are much admired. I am persuaded that this Step will not only tend to promote the Emigration to our Country of substantial People from all Parts of Europe, by the numerous Copies I shall dispense, but will facilitate our future Treaties with Foreign Courts, who could not before know what kind of Government and People they had to treat with. As in doing this I have endeavour'd to further the apparent Views of Congress in the first Publication, I hope it may be approved, and the Expence allow'd ..." The elegantly bound quarto edition on papier velin were printed for Franklin strictly for presentation. This copy with the arms of Joseph Marie François de Lassone (1717-1788), the first physician to King Louis XVI and to Queens Marie Leszczynska and Marie Antoinette, and one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Medicine, to which Franklin was inducted in 1777. An early inscription on verso of the half title confirms that this copy was presented to the original owner by Franklin himself: "Il avait été donné par B. Francklin [sic] a M. de Lassone, medecin de Louis Seize, de fils celuy-cy m'en fit présent en 1794. V.S." While the small paper issue of this work is common, the large paper issue on papier velin is a major rarity, and a tribute to Franklin's taste and care as a printer and publisher. The La Rochefoucauld copy, in a similar red morocco binding with arms, realized the equivalent of $126,500 at Sotheby's Monaco in 1987.
Howes C716; Livingston Franklin and His Press at Passy pp 181ff; Sabin 16118; Streeter sale 1035 (this copy); Echeverria, Durand, "French Publications of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitutions, 1776-1783," Bibliographical Society of America, Papers, 47 (1953) p.313 ff.