SPL Hand Coloured Rare Book Collection Featuring Norman R Bobins

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FRANDON, Ernest Louis François Paul (1842-1904, owner and translator).

China, n.d. ca. 1883
China, n.d. ca. 1883

Two manuscript and printed Chinese military albums, with integral notes, and translations of the text, and French titling: "Clef des Manoeuvres Anciennes des Chinois", and "Dessin des Manoeuvres a l'Europeenne", prepared by Frandon for the French Ministère des Affaires Etrangères. [China: no date, but with the notes dated "Foutcheou" December 1882]. 2 volumes, tall thin folio (22 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches). First volume: 18 double-page coloured images with woodcut, hand-coloured, colour-printed, letterpress and manuscript elements, depicting military battle formation plans (exercises 1-9 and 9 general formations), mounted to form a concertina fold-out, the mounts with blue/green silked edges; Second volume: double page manuscript introduction by Frandon bound in at the end, 24 double-page coloured images with woodcut, hand-coloured, colour-printed, letterpress and manuscript elements depicting military formation plans (exercises 1-24), mounted to form a concertina fold-out, the mounts with blue/green silked edges. Uniform binding of typical form: bevelled wooden boards, the upper cover of each work with the titles in Chinese characters cut out of black velvet mounted on gilt and red paper backing, with a manuscript title in French in black ink on red paper framed with card, each volume within a modern red cloth chemise, all contained within a single red morocco-backed cloth, spine gilt. Provenance: Ernest Louis François Paul Frandon (1842-1904, signatures, text, etc.). A unique pair of manuscript Chinese military albums: a relic of the Sino-French War of 1883-1885. Ernest Frandon enjoyed a long and distinguished diplomatic career most of which was spent in a part of the world of great interest to France. Frandon describes this career in some detail in the manuscript 'Etat de Services' which he submitted when he was being considered for a Legion d'Honneur award in 1891. After working briefly in Spain, Frandon moved to Yokohama in November 1880. In November 1882 he received his first posting to China in Shanghai. His work on the present albums date to the period from April 1883 when he was appointed 'gerant' or manager at the French Vice Consulat at Foutcheou (Fuzhow) in Fujian province. From July 1884 until the beginning of March 1885 he served in Calcutta, before being appointed Vice Consul in Kobe, Japan. He remained there for less than a year before returning to Fuzhow as French Vice Consul at the end of June 1885 where he appears to have remained for the rest of his active career (he retired in 1900). The early period of Frandon's first tour in Fuzhow seems to have been particularly eventful: he was able to provide important information about the harbour at Fuzhow, the Chinese fleet and the new naval yard (built under the supervision of Frenchmen). This all proved to be very useful to Admiral Amedee Courbet during the battle of Fuzhow when the vessels of the French Far East Squadron virtually destroyed the Fujian Fleet, one of China's four regional fleets. Specifically, in his 'Etat de Services' he notes that he sent a report on the defences of Fuzhow and that he found for Courbet the pilots necessary for the fleet to gain entry to the harbour. It appears that the gathering of military and naval intelligence was a significant part of Frandon's duties, and the present albums fall squarely into that category. In fact, according to his 'Etat de Services', Frandon clearly made maximum use of his command of languages during his diplomatic career and submitted a great many well-received reports on numerous aspects of his host nations' life and character. These appear to have varied widely in form, from straight-forward written reports, to the present albums which appear to be specifically referred to by Frandon, as reports on "les excercises militaries Chinois" and "les Forces militaries du Celeste Empire et l'effectif Europeen necessaire pour les vaincre." Frandon is also responsible for specially-commissioned albums of photographs of Chinese manufactured goods (these were exhibited recently to wide acclaim), to actual samples of 'native' goods and manufactures, to 'native' plants, all of which he collected and sent them back to France. Taking a pair of traditional military text-books as his starting point, Frandon here explains (in red ink) and interprets (in black ink) the text and diagrams. As he states in his two-page manuscript introduction in the second of the albums, his intention was to point out traits and weaknesses which could prove useful if a 'European' (i.e. French) army were ever to face the soldiers of the 'Celeste Empire'. The first album offers a key to the so-called 'ancient maneuvers', while the second concentrates on 'European maneuvers' introduced once the Chinese army was armed with European rifles. Each double page plate seems to have been carefully composed using a selection of smaller woodblocks (of individual figures, of small groups of figures, flags, small sections of buildings, tents, etc) which are combined in a way that illustrates each maneuver. Each of the plates in the first album includes extensive explanatory text printed in Chinese characters to one side (which is translated into French in Frandon's neat and legible hand), whilst the plates in the second album are identified only by titles. The use of these small individual woodblocks or stamps to form the plates would have given great freedom to whomever composed each plate, whilst also allowing for the outline of each plate to be completed relatively quickly. Colour was then added using a stencil process and the whole then finished off by hand: adding occasional details, or touches of additional colour. Intriguingly, the entry for Frandon in Figures Contemporaines tirées de L'Album Mariani (Paris: 1901, vol.VI pp.155-156) includes a foot note on page 156 which mentions that Frandon authored a two-volume work in 1883 titled Les Excercises militaries des Chinois, but we have not been able to find any other record of this ever having been published, and it may be that this refers to the present albums and Frandon's (unpublished) notes that they contain.