KORRT AFHANDLING OM DET BÄSTA ELDSLÄCKNINGS SÄTT MED DÄRTIL LÄMPAD…

KORRT AFHANDLING OM DET BÄSTA ELDSLÄCKNINGS SÄTT MED DÄRTIL LÄMPAD BRAND[REDSKAP OCH NÖDIG BRAND-ORDNING. by [FIREFIGHTING.] AKEN, Frantz Joachim von < >
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Known to George Washington

KORRT AFHANDLING OM DET BÄSTA ELDSLÄCKNINGS SÄTT MED DÄRTIL LÄMPAD BRAND[REDSKAP OCH NÖDIG BRAND-ORDNING. Stockholm, Tryckt hos Johan Pehr Lindh,

8vo, pp. [vi], [ii] additional inserted privilege dated June 27, 1797, [3] - 128; with three folding engraved plates, and woodcut head- and tailpieces; first plate with small tear at inner gutter; some occasional light foxing and soiling, minor offsetting at corners to free endpapers, otherwise clean and crisp; with the author’s monogram stamp of authentication at tail of title-page; in contemporary half calf over sprinkled boards, spine ruled in gilt with morocco lettering label, some minor staining to spine, minor scuffing to rear cover, very small wormhole visible at rear lower corner, some staining from calf at corners and along spine; a good copy. Uncommon first edition of this ‘short treatise on the best fire extinguishing method with suitable fire equipment’ by the Swedish chemist and apothecary Frantz Joachim von Aken (1738–1798), and promoting the benefits of his fire-extinguishing agent Akenska eldsläckningsämnet. To prevent the further spread of a fire, Von Aken’s compound was to be sprayed around the surrounding area, thus coating it with a film which would harden when heated, and extinguish the flames. The present work includes two folding engraved plates depicting firefighting equipment, but is of particular note for the striking depiction of one of his early firefighting demonstrations performed at his Laboratoriegatan in Stockholm on October 27th, 1792, in front of a large crowd of dignitaries.
Von Aken ‘”gained valuable experience at Hjorten, the pharmacy company of his father, Frans Mikael von Aken, in Örebro, before working and studying in England, 1761–62. In 1772 he took over the management of Hjorten, where he developed a chemical compound that could be used to extinguish fires and prevent their spread to nearby surfaces. Called Akenska eldsläckningsämnet, this compound was made out of potassium aluminium sulphate, iron oxide, iron sulphate, and clay. Aken demonstrated its use in Stockholm before the royal family in 1791 and 1792. On 15 Jan. 1793, he received permission to manufacture this product for public sale (... Svenska Biografiskt Lexikon... 1:342–44)”’ (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-15-02-0057).
News of his research first appeared in an article in the August 16th issue of Inrikes Tidningar as “Om eld-släckning; uti bref til Kungliga patriotiska sällskapets förste sekreterare”, with a short 12 page announcement ‘Assessor Frantz Joach. von Akens uptäckte och med rön bestyrkte eldsläcknings-konst. Utgifwen af redacteuren til Örebro weckoblad’ published by Frantz Carl Norstedt in Orebro in 1794. An English version of his research was also published in the same year as The Dreadful and Calamitous Effects of Fire’.
Clearly an entrepreneurial man, Von Aken appears to have announced his discovery to ‘all Governments of Europe’ (ibid), and had sought the approval of George Washington to validate his discovery, as revealed in a letter written to him on January 15th 1794. From this letter it appears that a rival in Norrkoping, having witnessed his demonstration in front of the Royal Family ‘and all foreign ambassadors with many thousand other spectators’, had stolen the idea and sought to produce a rival substance, and thus deprive him of his discovery and promised payment. This no doubt explains the presence of his stamped authentication monogram on the title-page. Aken’s approach to the ‘American People’ (ibid) was successful: ‘Secretary of State Edmund Randolph replied to Aken on 26 June: “The President of the United States of America has requested me to inform you, that he will be very happy to see the art of extinguishing fires, carried to the perfection, which you suppose to have been discovered by you, and that the work, which you purpose to send to him, explanatory of this art, will be safely forwarded to him, thro’ the channel of Mr Pinckney, our Minister plenipotentiary in London” (DNA: RG 59, Diplomatic and Consular Instructions)’. His fears of plagiarism, it would appear, were unfounded and according to the Biographiskt Lexicon öfver namnkunnige svenska män (p. 117), his agent clearly found a market, and was widely used until the mid 19th century, though critics argued about its cost, and that it corroded tools and damaged furniture and clothes. George Washington had a copy of the present work in his library at the time of his death.
Provenance: from the library of the Ericsbergs Palace (though without ex-libris).

Bibliography: OCLC locates copies at Yale, the Boston Athenaeum, the British Library (digitised) and the Royal Swedish Library.

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