One of the highlights of Kolbe & Fanning’s upcoming New York Book Auction on January 10 is lot 156, a virtually unknown first issue in book form of finely executed engravings depicting the Sun King’s collection of ancient coins. The imposing folio volume (measuring 50.5 by 35.5 cm) was created in 1682 and bound for presentation, with the royal arms impressed on both sides in gilt. Issued without text or title, the 41 exceptionally engraved plates were produced by Simon (some say Giles Jodelet) de La Boissière and generally depict the obverse and reverse of eight ancient Greek or Roman portrait coins, each within a decorative cartouche incorporating a fleur de lis, all on a finely hatched background.
Louis XIV (1638–1715) remains one of the most renowned ancient 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. Louis became a coin collector, an avocation he pursued with great relish for the remainder of his life. His chief purchasing agent was Jean Foy-Vaillant; André Morell served as custodian of the collection. Between 1680 and 1687, Morell studied the royal coin cabinet, intending to publish an inventory; it is likely that this remarkable series of plates were prepared under his supervision.
The plates comprise the third part of the 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. Even more rare are those plates issued in book form.
The present volume is a book, rather than a collection of loose plates that have been bound. It was 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.
Only a very small number of sets of the plates were apparently issued. Were it not for a 1704 “second” edition, these plates depicting the ancient coin collection of Louis Quatorze would today be little known. The plates in that later work were entirely re-engraved and, while they largely mirror those of the original edition, 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. In the view of the cataloguers, the special issue of Medaillon du roi offered here may truly be considered one of the glories of French numismatic literature.
Kolbe & Fanning’s public auction will be held on Saturday, January 10, 2015 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The sale will be held in conjunction with the New York International Numismatic Convention. Printed catalogues have been mailed to established clients. A PDF of the catalogue has been posted to the Kolbe & Fanning website at www.numislit.com. Prospective bidders may also access the live online catalogue and register to bid through auction.numislit.com. Please contact David Fanning at [email protected] for more information.