Stockholm, 1768. Large folio, half calf gilt over old marbled boards, double-page letterpress table, engraved double- page title and dedication, and 62 double-page folding plates, a fine copy. First Edition
This is the most important work of naval architecture of the eighteenth century, with detailed and attractive plans for many different kinds of naval vessels. Published in the very year of the sailing of Cook’s Endeavour, and just two decades before the First Fleet, it provides an extraordinary summary of contemporary ship-building techniques.
The Swede Fredric Henric af Chapman (1721-1808) was perhaps the greatest naval architect of the eighteenth century. He was promoted vice admiral in 1791, and was manager of the shipyard at Karlskrona, the important base of the Royal Swedish Navy, from 1782 to 1793. Under the direction of King Gustave III it was Chapman who drove the modernisation of the Swedish fleet, and his methods surpassed and perfected contemporary shipbuilding, and were rapidly adopted by all of the main naval nations. Not all of Chapman’s plans were built, chiefly because of the imposing scale on which he worked: there are, for example, plans for a privateering frigate, designed as a deep-water commerce raider, 160 feet long, and displacing 750 tons. She was to be armed with forty guns and no fewer than four hundred men: around five times the size of the average privateer of his day, and twice the size of actual French privateers built during the French Revolutionary War (Konstam & McBride, Privateers & Pirates, 1730-1830, pp. 31-2). This has always been a scarce and desirable work: even in 1781, when Vial du Clairbois issued an annotated quarto edition of Chapman’s work, he commented ‘Il ne se trouve pas en France & coûte 180 livres en Hollande, en feuilles. Il est de nature à occuper dignement une place dans le cabinet des curieux sur cette matière, mais il n’est pas d’un prix à la portée de tout le monde’. As a result, despite being one of the foundations of modern naval architecture, this work is better known from later editions and facsimiles than, as here, in its full glory. Indeed, the scale of the work is significant, as it is now known chiefly from much smaller quarto-sized plates, not the grand folio sizes here.
One of the reasons for the work’s scarcity is plausibly said to be its actual practical use in shipyards of the period and few copies survive in the fine condition of this copy.
Brunet, I, 1797; Polak, 1605.