Les Laboureurs. Poème tiré de Jocelyn. Reproduit en caractères tissés avec license des propriétaires éditeurs. Alphonse de LAMARTINE.
Les Laboureurs. Poème tiré de Jocelyn. Reproduit en caractères tissés avec license des propriétaires éditeurs

The First Book “Computer” Book; Woven entirely in Silk
Predating the “Livre de Prières tissé”

Les Laboureurs. Poème tiré de Jocelyn. Reproduit en caractères tissés avec license des propriétaires éditeurs

Title with the armorial device of the City of Lyon on verso & 20 pp., all woven in silver and black silk thread, each page surrounded by a fine interlocking ornamental border. Large 16mo, orig. janseniste brown morocco, original ornamental woven silk doublures, the opposing leaves bearing the same motif but woven in reverse, original monochrome silk endleaves (upper joint almost invisibly repaired), orig. slipcase. Lyon: J.A. Henry, 1883.

The first book woven entirely in silk by the Jacquard loom method. It is of the greatest rarity; WorldCat locates only the BnF copy. Today virtually unknown, the silk-woven Lamartine precedes by at least three years the celebrated Livre de Prières tissé (1886-87). Our volume represents the very first book created by an automated machine, with hundreds of thousands of programmed operations generated by highly complex algorithms through the use of punched cards.

At the time of its invention, in 1801, the Jacquard loom was the most complex programmable machine in existence, for which thousands of punched cards were employed as automated weaving instructions for a mechanized loom. The incredible potential of Jacquard’s punched card system, with its binary data and disarmingly modern “input / output” capabilities, was seized upon by English visionary Charles Babbage (1791-1871), who integrated the process into his theoretical “Analytical Engine.” James Essinger argues convincingly that the Jacquard Loom was pivotal in the development of computer science (see Jacquard’s Web: How a Hand-loom led to the Birth of the Information Age, 2004). It is of the greatest significance that present creation precedes the celebrated Livre de Prières tissé (1886-87) by at least three years, and thus remains the very first example of a “computer generated” book. With uncanny prescience, the data input mechanisms and intricate algorithms that were responsible for creating the present volume prefigure modern computer automation and computer programming.

Information about the creation of the present volume is scarce, but a highly interesting account of it is given in the August 1889 issue of Le Correspondant. While describing the Livre de Prières tissé as a marvel of technology and a model of bibliophilic refinement, the author freely acknowledges that “this is not the first time that the Lyon manufacturer [J.A. Henry] had performed a similar feat: several years ago there appeared Lamartine’s poem Les Laboureurs — a complete curiosity; examples of it are rare and have never been offered for sale on the open market. One of them is in the Bibliothèque Mazarine; another copy, unique and even richer than the preceding, was ordered by the Comte de Paris on the condition that no other examples would be created; it now holds an honored place in the library of the Chateau d’Eu”(see “Une Merveille artistique: un Livre de Prières tissé en soie,” Vol. 156, pp. 602 et seq.).

Additional details about the book appeared in the 1889 periodical Le Livre / Bibliographie moderne (Revue mensuelle) in which is related an exchange between Émile Egger, author of L’Histoire du Livre (1880) and M. Heinrich, Dean of the Faculty of Arts in Lyon. Egger was informed that from his extensive study of bookmaking techniques, he had mistakenly omitted one very important book, namely “a book that was not printed, but woven in silk by a disciple of Jacquard, namely J.A. Henry, a Lyonnais manufacturer. The text of this book was Lamartine’s poem Les Laboureurs. It was an experiment of weaving…and is the true prototype of the Livre de Prières, the latter being the direct result of the Lamartine experiments” (Vol. 10, 4e Livraison [10 April 1889], p. 207).

Two issues exist of this book. The title-page of our copy is clearly dated 1883 and gives the address of publisher, J.A. Henry, as 24, rue Lafont, Lyon. The Bibliothèque Nationale copy is not dated, but it does supply some very significant information about the work, namely that it was created as a souvenir of the 1878 Paris Exposition by J.A. Henry (stated address: 3, rue du Garet, Lyon). Messieurs Prignol were responsible for “mise en carte” (i.e., the creation of the punched cards that “programmed” the Jacquard loom). Lespinasse & Paquet undertook operations (“usage”) and Messieurs Vallet engaged in the actual weaving process (“tissage”).

A fine copy of an extraordinary book.

❧ Unknown to Michael Laird, “Le Livre de Prières tissé” in The World From Here: Treasures of the Great Libraries of Los Angeles, 2001, no. 63–“other books woven by this firm have not been located.”.

Price: $45,000.00

Item ID: 5636

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