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Back from the dead: P.J.F. Girard’s Traite des Armes!

Last November I finally made a long-awaited pilgrimage to the antiquarian bookshop Collinge and Clark. They have by a long way the best collection of fencing treatises for sale in London; not one but two copies of Fabris, for instance. And the 1763 first edition (in French) of Domenico Angelo’s Ecole des Armes. I was in there for about three hours, chatting to Oliver Clark. And I looked at everything. Many times.

I was upfront about one thing though; I had promised my wife that there would be no more treatise purchases until after the new kitchen was bought, fitted, and paid for. So I wouldn't be buying anything. Really.

Then Oliver suddenly remembered something… At the back of a dusty drawer was a pile of unbound paper. I held my breath as he pulled them out and laid them on the table. It couldn’t be! It was! An unbound copy of the 1740 edition of P.J.F. Girard’s Traité des Armes, one of my absolute favourite fencing treatises. Not least because Girard was an officer in the marines, and includes such things as how to light and throw a grenade.

That is a man holding a ball full of gunpowder and a length of slow match. i.e. an open flame. Brave?

The pile was missing the title page and the dedication to the king, but other than that was complete.

So I asked him what he wanted for it, and he thought for a moment and came back with a very reasonable offer. But I am a man of my word, and asked him to please not sell it to anyone else until I’d fitted my bloody kitchen.

When I got back to my sister’s, I told her and her husband about my glorious find. And my sister, bless her, in a characteristic fit of generosity, offered to buy the pages for me for a Christmas present! I nearly collapsed in a paroxysm of glee.

But my promise still held; no treatises until after kitchen.

I spent much of May and some of June this year fitting a new kitchen, shiny and open and lovely. Really, it’s a nice kitchen. And I was soooo motivated to get it done. A family event took us back to London in July, and I was off like a shot to Collinge and Clark…

Oliver was unflatteringly surprised to see me. Perhaps he underestimated my kitchen-fitting skills?

I had Oliver send the pages to his preferred bookbinder, Chris Hicks. And it occurred to me that there was an opportunity to make the book whole again. Because in the Helsinki University Library special collection there are both the 1736 first edition, and the 1740 second edition, both in their original bindings. So I asked my friend Jaakko Tahkokallio, who just so happens to be the head of the collection, to scan the missing pages from the 1740, and the front matter from the 1736 (it has an additional one page preface, a snazzy etching of the author, and differs in some other minor details). I sent these scans to Chris, with a note about where they came from. Chris printed them out onto the right kind of paper, and put the title page and dedication at the front, then my note and the front matter from the 1736 at the back.

Then he bound the whole in quarter leather, and, as I asked him to, made it look like the bindings typical of the mid 18th century.

This glorious, restored, rebound book arrived on Monday last week. My goodness, that Mr Hicks knows his craft.

Here are some images from the book.

The cover; quarter leather with marbled paper.

The last page of the 1740, showing some of Chris' repair work.

The facing page is my explanatory text, detailing where I got the book and the missing pages. Classic stuff!

The spine, showing the black labels with gold lettering.

And you can download the complete book, which I scanned in last year for Phil Crawley (who was doing a translation, which you can get here), with this handy button from my webshop:



This project is right on every level. We (Oliver, Chris, my sister and I) have saved a valuable part of our shared martial heritage; we have supported a master craftsman in the practice of his work; we have brought a book back to glorious life.


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One Response

  1. The grenadier exercise! Not as dangerous as you might think. I practiced (as a reenactor) the English version, but curiously, both the Prussian and Hessian infantry regulations from 1743 and 1767 respectively, do not have any mention of grenades.

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