Jacques Charles’ Représentation du globe aerostatique
A plate from Jacques Charles’s ‘Représentation du globe aérostatique...’ that is estimated at £500-700 at Bonhams. It comes from a 70-lot French collection relating to attempts at flight.

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Formed over 30 years, the collection has been given the title ‘The Plurality of Worlds, Imaginary Voyages and Flight’. Represented here are five lots demonstrating scientific, practical and inventive but sometimes hopelessly impractical attempts at achieving flight, along with examples of the imaginative fiction prompted by that quest.

Kepler’s Dream

The Dictionary of Scientific Biography gives two principal reasons for the significance of Somnium, or ‘The Dream’, a 1630 tract by the great astronomer Johannes Kepler that is the most highly valued lot at £20,000-30,000:

“First, its fantasy framework of a voyage to the moon made it a pioneering and remarkably prescient piece of science fiction. Second, its perceptive description of celestial motions as seen from the moon produced an ingenious polemic on behalf of the Copernican system”.

Though written in 1609, the year that saw publication in Kepler’s most famous work, Astronomia novae of his first two laws of planetary motion, ‘The Dream’ circulated only in manuscript before until shortly after Kepler’s death.

Terzi’s Flying Boat

Estimated at £2500-3500, a 1670, Brescia first of Francesco Lana Terzi’s Prodomo... is an account of technological innovations that incudes plans for a ‘flying boat’ that was designed to get airborne by means of four large metallic globes from which all the air had been expelled.

Atmospheric pressure would have collapsed the globes, but this Jesuit writer did forsee the problematic potential of aerial bombing and invasion.

Francesco Lana Terzi

Francesco Lana Terzi’s 1670 suggestion for a ‘flying boat’ – estimated at £2500-3500 at Bonhams.

Charles’ Balloon

On December 1, 1783, only 10 days after the Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloon made its historic first manned ascent, Jacques Charles and Nicolas-Louis Robert made another, this time in a hydrogen filled balloon, from the Tuileries Gardens.

Charles’s Représentation du globe aérostatique..., in period wrappers and illustrated with two folding and coloured plates, is valued at £500-700.

Restif de la Bretonne’s flying machine

One early fictional highlight, pitched at £4000-5000, is a 1781 first issue of Restif de la Bretonne’s La decouverte australe par un homme-volant..., a Utopian novel about the travels to mythical lands of Victorin, whose flying machine comprises cape-like wings of silk and a curious, umbrella like device above his head.

Restif de la Bretonne

‘Victorin enlevant Christine’, one of 23 engraved plates that illustrate Restif de la Bretonne’s proto-SF novel of 1781. It is estimated at £4000-5000 at Bonhams.

HG Wells’ The First Men in the Moon

Estimated at £500-800 is a lot offering first English and US editions of HG Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, both in quite restrained bindings of blue cloth gilt, plus a first illustrated French version that is very definitely in the bug-eyed monster tradition.

HG Wells’ First Men in the Moon

The first French illustrated edition of HG Wells’ classic 'First Men in the Moon'. It is offered as part of a lot estimated at £500-800 which also includes the first English and US editions of the book.