Paris: Baudouin, imprimeur de l'Institut National, 1806.
1st Edition. Hardcover. Near Fine. Item #003880
1806-1810. Three parts in three volumes. 4to (253 x 197 mm). , ii, 180, 551 ; xxiv, 844; , 4, 16, 704, 62 pp. Half title to each volume, text diagram on p. 680 of vol. III; 28 folding engraved plates. Bound in near contemporary uniform half sheep over marbled boards, plain spines lettered and ruled in gilt, brown sprinkled edges (light rubbing of extremities, small wormhole at upper joint of vol. I). Text generally crisp and clean throughout, a few gatherings somewhat browned and somewhat spotted, a few paper flaws at blank outer margins, dampstain to fore-margin of one leaf in vol. I and to foot of pp. 393-400; long clean tear to p.675/6 of vol. III. A near fine, wide-margined set. ----
RARE FIRST EDITION of the foundation of the metric system. "For many centuries there were no general standards of measurement: every trade and craft had its own peculiar units and they differed even in various regions of the country. Since the development of international trade in the Middle Ages this chaotic situation had be¬come more and more tiresome, but all efforts towards standardization were strongly resisted by vested interests. The earliest books to advocate a universal system were Stevin's De Thiende, 1585 and Mouton's Observationes Diametrorum Solis et Lunae apparentium, Lyons, 1670, which proposed to adopt as a standard the length of an arc of one minute of a great circle of the earth, with decimal subdivisions. Huygens and others had proposed to use the length of a pendulum beating one second, or one-third of this length, as a unit. These proposals had to be rejected as they were not sufficiently precise; the length of the pendulum would differ from place to place and the meridian arc would vary at different latitudes. We owe the introduction of an international metric system to the French Revolution. In 1790 the Academie des Sciences, at the request of Talleyrand, set up a commission to consider the question; among its members were J. C. Borda, Lagrange, Laplace, G. Monge and Condorcet. In 1791 they reported that the fundamental unit of length should be derived from a dimension of the earth: it should be the ten-millionth part of a quadrant of the earth's meridian extending between Dunkirk and Barcelona. As this distance was already approximately known, a provisional metre was at once adopted. The new unit of weight was to be the gramme: the weight of one cubic centimetre of water at 4°C. The Constituent Assembly set up a general commission of weights and measures to carry these proposals into effect and in 1795 a law was passed introducing the metric system into France with provisional standards. The astronomers Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre and Pierre Francois André Mechain (1744-1805) were charged with the task of measuring accurately the newly adopted length along the meridian arc between Dunkirk and Barcelona. Owing to the disturbances of the revolutionary period their work was much impeded, but in 1799 their measurement was completed. The above work - 'Basis of the Metric Decimal System' - embodies their report. The length of a metre (equalling 39.37 English inches) was marked on a platinum bar, and the unit of weight was also constructed of platinum, being the weight of a cubic decimetre, or litre, of pure water at its maxi¬mum density. These original bars remained the basic standards until 1875 and are still preserved in Paris. The metric system was gradually accepted by most nations - with the notable exceptions of England and (for weights and measures) the United States; but optional use was legalized in 1864 (England) and 1866 (U.S.A.) and its general adoption in England was proposed in 1965. After meetings of an international commission in 1872 there was set up in 1875 the International Bureau of Weights and and Measures. It is now situated near Sevres and has since remained the international centre for all questions of standards. New units made from a bar of platinum alloyed with 10 per cent iridium were con¬structed, copies of which were distributed to the various participating countries" (PMM 260).
References & Bibliography: PMM 260; Norman 1481; En Français dans le Texte 212; Monglond VII, 419 f.; DSB IV, p. 14 ff.
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