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Sent By Balloons from Besieged Paris

Lettre-journal de Paris: gazette des absents [Letter-newspaper of Paris: gazette of absentees], nos. 4–5, 7–10, 12–14, 16–22, 24, 25, 27, 28, 30, and 31 (22 issues).

Paris: Damase Jouaust, November 4, 1870–January 24, 1871. Octavos (21 × 13.5 cm). Original sheets bound in contemporary quarter-calf green paper-covered boards; each issue a single double-sided sheet of text with by an additional sheet of handwritten text, 4 pp. total. Some old tears and losses; some stamps removed; the covers with wear to folds and edges.

This volume dates to the time of the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. Taking place from September 19, 1870 to January 28, 1871, the siege resulted in the capture of the city, France’s defeat, and the establishment of both the German Empire and the Paris Commune. During the siege, balloon mail was the only way by which communications from Paris could reach the rest of France. The use of balloons to carry mail was first proposed by the balloonists Felix Nadar and Eugene Godard. The first balloon launch occurred on September 23. A regular mail service was established shortly thereafter, with two workshops set up to manufacture more balloons. An estimated 66 total balloon flights were made during the siege, the vast majority successful – reports were that five balloons were captured by the Prussians, and three went missing, but that overall approximately 2.5 million letters were delivered by mail during these few months.

Several small letter-journals appeared during this time, with the intention of being dispatched by balloon. They were printed on onionskin paper, which weighed less than traditional paper, and included a summary of the news as well as a section for a handwritten letter or note. The Lettre-Journal de Paris was the most important of these. 48 total issues were printed, two to three per week, from October 22, 1870 to February 22, 1871.

The copies in this volume were apparently sent as letters by a man in Paris to his wife who was safely lodged outside the city with their children. The second letter is signed “C. Martin” and they are all addressed to a Madame Martin in Cherbourg, whom he typically addresses with “ma chère petite femme.” Martin discusses how hard it is to go without news from his family, and how much he misses his wife. He provides some updates on the armistice, and his letter from November 14, 1870 mentions the manufacture of cannons, a planned attack, and the hope of getting rid of the Prussians. In his letter of November 17, he inquires about the health of his wife, his children, and their families, as well as if his wife still has enough money. On November 20, he mentions that it has been days since any balloons have left Paris, due to “contrary winds,” and at that point, things were relatively calm in Paris.

On November 30, he writes his letter against the soundtrack of cannon fire, and his next few letters mention attacks and victories. His letter of December 17 tells his wife that the thought of being reunited with her is giving him strength. In a letter written on Christmas Day, December 25, 1870, he recalls fondly Christmases past, watching their children joyfully open up gifts from Santa Claus. On December 30 he mentions bombardments and the Plateau d'Avron. The situation seems to ramp up over his next several letters, and in the final paragraph of his last letter, written on January 24, four days before the armistice, he asks his wife to have patience and courage, that this will all be over soon, and signs off with “un trillion de charmants baisers.” Individual issues of the journal are scarce, leave alone significant runs with hand-written letters by a single period witness. A poignant and highly detailed ground’s eye view of the historical events of 1870.

Book ID: 51691

Price: $9,500.00