18th-Century Sales Catalogue of the Library of Claret de Fleurieu
Rich in Americana and Voyages Related to Fleurieu’s Naval
Career and Publications
[Americana] / [Exploration] / [Cartography].
Paris, Mauger and Hubert, An VI [1798]

8vo [19.7 x 12.4 cm], xvi pp., 208 pp. Bound in contemporary cartonnage Bradel, gold-stamped red morocco lettering piece, yellow edges. Very minor rubbing and edge wear to spine and boards. Only the very occasional minor internal spot or stain.

Rare first and only edition of the catalogue for the sale in 1798 of the library of Charles-Pierre Claret de Fleurieu (1738-1810), the French explorer and hydrographer, who was Minister of the Navy under Louis XVI, a member of the Institut de France, and who collaborated with Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807) in designing and testing a marine chronometer to determine longitude at sea. This auction catalogue of more than 2000 titles affords an intimate glimpse into Fleurieu’s intellectual formation, most notably in the field of New World exploration, a topic which would define both his extensive administrative career in the navy and influence his numerous cartographic and historical publications on voyages to the Americas and beyond.

Fleurieu joined the navy at age 13 and took part in campaigns of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). In 1768 he commanded the frigate Isis on an expedition to experiment with Berthoud’s marine chronometer, sailing from Aix and taking readings at Martinique, Santo Domingo, Porto Rico, Havana, Jamaica, Colon, New Orleans, New York, Boston, and Newfoundland, before returning to France on October 1769 (results of the voyage were published in 1773). This voyage cemented Fleurieu’s interest in cartography and thereafter he amassed an extensive collection of maps and books on exploration. In 1785, as Director of Ports and Arsenals, Fleurieu aided in the preparations for the (ill-fated) scientific voyage around the world undertaken by the Comte de Laperouse (1741-88?). Fleurieu rose through the ranks, and Louis XVI made him Ministre de la Marine et des Colonies in October 1790. Fleurieu wanted to separate the naval and colonial ministries, but the Assemblée Nationale objected, and so he resigned as minister in April of 1791. During the Reign of Terror, Fleurieu was imprisoned for 14 months. Having recovered his professional status, Fleurieu later found himself on the wrong side of the coup d’état of 18 Fructador (4 September 1797). In financial distress, Fleurieu was compelled to sell much of his extensive library, the auction of which took place over ten sessions in June and July of 1798.

During the First French Empire, as Minister Plenipotentiary, in 1800 he signed a treaty of friendship and commerce between France and the United States at Morfontaine, alongside Joseph Bonaparte. In 1808 Napoleon put him in charge of the investigation into the French defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar.

The sales catalogue conceals Fleurieu’s identity as consignor (at least nominally), as was the custom of the time, but the volume’s avertissement notes that the books to be auctioned came from the library of, “a man distinguished not only by the official positions he has held, but also by his deep understanding of the arts and sciences, above all the art of navigation,” and that many of the lots had become very difficult to acquire. It is noted that his library was strongest in voyages and histories of the “deux Indes,” and featured the Grands and Petits Voyages of Theodore de Bry (1528-98), works by Richard Hakluyt (1553-1616), Samuel Purchas (c. 1577-1626) and other fundamental writers on early exploration, as well as extensive 18th-century material. The example of this catalogue housed at the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon is marked with prices realized and confirms that items on travels and exploration performed especially well.

Fleurieu possessed a well-rounded library, but of special importance to his own career and published work are the items concerning modern and ancient geography, atlases and maps, and American history and exploration (nos. 1047-1399; 1747-1831). Fleurieu is today best remembered for his Carte du grand Océan Atlantique (1776); his involvement with the ambitious Le Neptune Américo-septentrional (1780); the five-volume Voyage autour du monde par Étienne Marchand, précédé d’une introduction historique ; auquel on a joint des recherches sur les terres australes de Drake, et un examen critique de voyage de Roggeween (1797-99), and his Voyage fait par ordre du Roi en 1768 et 1769, à différentes parties du monde, pour éprouver en mer les horloges marines inventées par M. Ferdinand Berthoud... (1773). Fleurieu died before completing his ambitious Histoire générale des navigations.

OCLC locates 2 copies at the Grolier Club, but no examples at any other U.S. institutions. The work is also held at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, and the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile. One of the Grolier copies and the Lyon copy preserve a two-leaf salesroom notice indicating the dates on which certain lots would be sold; no other copies have this announcement.

* U. Bonnel, ed., Fleurieu et la Marine de son temps; Nouvelle biographie générale, Didot frères and Hoefer, cols. 908-13.