16mo (113 x 62 mm). viii, 97,  pp. (folding table counted as 4 pages). Ninety-one etchings after Gravelot, including allegorical frontispiece signed by N. Le Mire and dated 1758, and 90 etched plates of girls and women engaged in various activities of daily life. Text within double rule border throughout. Small marginal loss to pl. 34, pl. 90 with an old crease from paper flaw, very occasional very slight soiling, overall in fine condition. Contemporary French red morocco, covers paneled with triple gilt fillets, spine gold-tooled and -lettered, green gilt dominotier endpapers with repeating star pattern; modern morocco two-part pull-off case by Riviere & Son. Provenance: Sir David Lionel Goldsmid-Stern-Salomons (1851-1925), armorial bookplate.***
The first French lottery almanac and the most abundantly illustrated of any single eighteenth-century French almanac, with 91 etchings designed by Gravelot, who also wrote the epigrammatic quatrains accompanying each etching.
Gravelot’s series of delightful etchings of little girls, teenage girls, and young women, busy with pastimes or chores, or shown at moments of emotional intensity, was intended, as is explained in the preface, to represent the spirit of France, while encouraging its citizens to play the new national lottery, established in 1757 to finance construction of the Ecole royale militaire, a military academy founded by Louis XV in 1751 to train 500 young noblemen from impoverished families.
Besides the usual calendar and a 12-month table of gains and losses, the text contains a history and description of the new lottery and its Italian antecedents, explanations of its principles and mechanics, and a guide to playing advantageously using “mathematical reasoning.” The lottery, for which bureaus were to be established throughout France, was planned to last for 30 years, with monthly drawings. It was an early form of today’s Lotto. Tickets containing numbers from 1 to 90 were spun in a “wheel of fortune,” pictured in the frontispiece, from which a child would select 5 winning tickets. One had the right to place bets on up to five numbers at once, the size of the drawing being doted with arcane names to add to the fun (an extrait for one number, ambe for two, terne for three, etc.).
The pictures’ role was to help the lottery player choose his number(s), functioning somewhat in the manner of the traditional Italian smorfia, but without the exclusive focus on dreams and portents, which are referred to in the preface as an optional method of inspiration. Like the lottery itself, the concept of thematic images linked to lottery numbers was based on the Italian model (as explained in the preface and the historic chapter), but, while in Italy each city chose their own motifs – in Rome it was the arts, in Naples animals, in Genoa flowers, and in Venice, trades – for France it was decided without hesitation that “la galanterie” was a natural fit for the nation (p. iv).
One might read a rather Freudian (or Jungian) motivation into the presumably subconscious choice by the lottery committee of the very opposite of a warlike theme – sweet young girls, domesticity, and intimations of intimacy, for the financing of a military school. Whether this was Gravelot’s idea is unknown, but his contribution was major: as stated in the publishers’ preface, and in his own Avertissement on the penultimate verso, he designed the figures and wrote the verses. The plates were etched by Noël Le Mire (1724-1801), “one of the most prominent engravers of the 18th century ... [whose] best work was in his book illustrations after Boucher, Cochin, Gravelot, Eisen, Gravelot, Monnet, Moreau, and others” (Thieme-Becker 23:27).
The frontispiece depicts blindfolded fate drawing tickets from the “wheel of fortune” and dropping them into a crowd of eager ladies and gentlemen. The first 28 plates portray young girls, and the rest adolescents and young women. Each etched scene is set within a gracious rococo frame with cartouches for the title, the number, and at the foot Gravelot’s rhyming quatrain. Shown are girls at play, with dolls or, heaven forbid, spinning tops with the boys Gravelot disapproves), learning their ABC’s, being slapped by their mother or governess for laziness, teaching the dog to dance, playing badminton alone, on a swing pushed by a brother, crying as the cat makes off with the pet sparrow, painting dreamily at a table, and even building a house of cards. As she ages the teenage girl is given more work – she embroiders, knits, studies, but also prepares for parties, flirts, gossips, is jealous... Many of the plates tell stories. Portraits of the now adult young women include a reader (the quatrain warns to choose one’s books as one does one’s friends: wisely), a gambler, a coquette, a “savante” (surrounded by books), a dreamer, personifications of boredom and religious devotion, and, moving into another sphere, working women, shown gardening, milking cows, harvesting grapes, spinning, cooking, sewing, doing hair, selling knickknacks, etc. Lowest of the low, even a laundry woman and a housemaid are shown, the latter making a bed, and admonished to be “flattering, supple, patient, and never to tell certain secrets.” The final plate depicts, fatefully, a wedding, and there is nothing left to show, the bride having ceased to be the property of la Galante France and become that of her husband.
This copy is in very fine condition. The edition is a notorious rarity. There are two copies at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, of which at least one is incomplete, a defective copy at the Bibliothèque Ste. Genièvieve, and copies at the Morgan Library and the British Library. (The Morgan also has four of Gravelot’s original drawings for the almanac, and Houghton Library has six others.) The almanac had only this one year of issue. The plates were re-issued once, in an edition of Les Jeux de la petite Thalie (Paris: Desnos, s.d.), which is almost as scarce as this volume. Because of its rarity, this almanac is far less known than Gravelot’s 17-volume Almanach iconologique, which contained, like most French almanacs, 12 plates per volume. John Grand-Carteret, who devoted 5 full columns to the edition, knew of only the Baron Pichon copy. The collector and amateur Savigny de Moncorps included this almanac in his list of twenty most “absolutely desirable almanacs,” of which it is the earliest, and the frères Goncourt called it, a trifle condescendingly, “un vrai petit bijou et joujou” which perfectly suited Gravelot’s talents.
Inventaire du fonds français, graveurs du XVIIIe siècle, vol. 10, Gravelot, 983-1073, and vol. 14, Lemire, 159-248; Grand-Carteret, Les Almanachs français 277; Cohen-de Ricci, Guide de l'amateur de livres à gravures du XVIIIe siècle (1912), col. 28-29; Savigny de Moncorps, Coup d'oeil sur les almanachs illustrés du XVIIIe siècle. Deuxième édition (1891), pp. 29-35. Item #2999