(Vienna: Degenschen Buchhandlung, 1808). 265 x 210 mm. (10 3/8 x 8 1/4"). viii, 39 pp. (complete, but with pp. iii-vi bound at end). FIRST EDITION.
Attractive recent tree calf, smooth spine with two gilt air balloon motifs and red morocco label with gilt titling, patterned floral endpapers. With one folding plate as called for, and EXTRA-ILLUSTRATED with one hand-colored engraving by F. Schaly, a lithograph plate in two states (plain and hand-colored), and one wood engraving. Liebmann & Wahl 1119; Brockett 3353. A hint of scuffing to the extremities and three short scratches to bottom edge of front cover, text with occasional offsetting due to quality of paper, a touch of light spotting to the added plates, but these faults all very minor. Overall AN EXCELLENT COPY with large, clean margins.
In wonderful condition and enhanced with additional illustrative material, this fanciful treatise describes an early attempt at a man-powered flying machine designed by a Swiss watchmaker. The mechanically inclined Jakob Degen (1760-1848) is considered a pioneer of aviation, experimenting with flying machines from about 1807. The present work details his plans for an "ornithopter" with an enormous wing-span, illustrated to fine effect by the large folding plate depicting an Icarus-like figure in mid-air. Once airborne, and with the assistance of a huge hydrogen-filled balloon to provide some buoyancy, the wings could be flapped by the wearer to control the altitude and direction of flight. Although Degen managed to complete several successful demonstrations of his flying machine, his failures were also spectacular, as illustrated by the comical lithographs portraying an ill-fated attempt in Paris on October 5, 1912. According to the National Air and Space Museum, "When he failed to fly on this occasion, the crowd overwhelmed him and destroyed his apparatus and balloon. Deghen [sic] is shown on the ground with men around him holding onto his ornithopter as the balloon is pulling him away." This work is quite rare with only a handful of copies at institutions and two copies (in middling condition) located on RBH and ABPC. (ST15088a)
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PJP Catalog: NY19BF.040