DESCRIZIONE DEL TELEGRAFO by [TELEGRAPHY]. [CHAPPE, Claude].

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DESCRIZIONE DEL TELEGRAFO Con rami. Dimostrativi. In Napoli, si vende presso Vincenzo Talani, al Gigante di Palazzo num. 7 al prezzo di grana otto. [n.d. but ca.

1795-1807?]. 8vo, pp. 6, [2] blank; with four copper engraved plates; some occasional light foxing and soiling, very faint traces of dampstaining to gutters, with discrete paper repairs visible on final blank; resewn, bound in modern wrappers. A scarce and seemingly early illustrated pamphlet on the semaphore telegraph, describing the invention of the noted French engineer Claude Chappe (1763-1805) and his brother Ignace (1760-1829), though in fact making no direct mention of the two men. This short notice includes re-engraved versions of the plates first published in Chappe’s own announcement of 1794 ‘Beschreibung und Abbildung des Telegraphen’, though a footnote on p. 5 states that plates III and IV illustrated the semaphore in Italian rather than German. Little background to the invention is given, and with no brief history of military signalling included as in the 1794 work, but is simply a practical description of the invention and explanation of the plates.
The pamphlet is undated, though Yale suggest a date of 1800. The New York Public Library have a Rome printing with the same title and pagination and which they date to 1795. Harvard note an early Italian issue of 1794 but seemingly with only two plates, as well two Rome imprints which they date to ca 1795 and ca. 1800 - all three printed by Franzetti. We have previously handled a slightly longer pamphlet printed in Torino, dated 1807, which appeared to be a more direct translation of the 1794 work. The italic font used in the present series of plates differs slightly to that of the 1807 edition.
Napoleonic semaphore was the world’s first telegraph network, carrying messages across 19th century France faster than ever before. From the outset the prime purpose of the system was military. Plates I and II show the invention itself - a rod installed on top of a tower, at the top of which were articulated black wooden arms which could be moved to follow a series of standardised configurations corresponding to letters, numbers and orders. Each of the two 2 metre-long arms showed seven positions, and the 5 metre long cross bar connecting the two arms had four different angles, for a total of 196 symbols. Visible from a distance of several kilometers, messages could thus be passed from station to station. Having begun devising the system in 1790, the first ‘line’ was opened in 1794 between Paris and Lille, with a network of hundreds of telegraph stations developed across France over the following years, and at its most extensive comprised some 534 stations covering more than 5000km. According to most accounts, the word “telegraph” - distance writing, in Greek - was coined to describe this nation-wide network. The last stations were built in 1849, but by then it was clear that the days of line-of-sight telegraphy were done, with the shortcomings of visual communication only too obvious, being of use only in daytime and good weather! It was soon replaced by electronic telegraphy. The system though, is now somewhat overlooked, though on the long trek to the internet, it was a significant and early step in distance communication.
The attractive plates depict the telegraph station at the top of the Louvre, some of the principal arm angles, the semaphore alphabet, and a sample semaphore code.

Bibliography: OCLC locate only Yale for this Napoli printing; the 1807 expanded Torino printing at Yale, the Smithsonian, the International Institute of Social History, and Padova; with Harvard and Princeton citing the 1794 German publication.

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