A superbe copy of the rare first edition of the first manual on the metric system

A superbe copy of the rare first edition of the first manual on the metric system

2200 euros

Country of manufacture


Categories: Scientific Books, Scales Weights & Measures


HAUY (René-Just), Instruction sur les mesures déduites de la grandeur de la terre, Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, An II [1793/94]

8vo of XXXII, 224, (28) pages and 1 folding plate ; original wrappers with ink title on the spine.


A superbe copy of the rare true first edition of the first official manual on the metric system. 

“The metric system was one of the few permanent social reforms that stemmed from the violent French Revolution. First proposed by Mouton in 1670, it is based on a decimal unit of length (meter), being one-millionth part of a quadrant of the earth through Paris. In 1790 the National Assembly appointed a commission to select a standard unit of length and the arc of a meridian between Dunkirk and Barcelona was thereafter measured. Another commission used the unit of standard length finally adopted in 1799, on which were based standards of weight and volume; the system became compulsory in France in 1801.” (Dibner). 

“In 1788 the Academy decided to establish a “uniform system of measures” founded on some “natural and invariable base.” The plan for the new system of measures was formally approved by a decree of the Assembly of 8 May 1790, proposed by Talleyrand; it was approved by Louis XVI on the following 22 August. A commission on the metric system, consisting of Borda, Lagrange, Laplace, Monge, and Condorcet, was thereupon appointed by the Academy. In a report submitted on 19 March 1791, the commissioners rejected two proposed bases for the fundamental unit of measure: the length of a seconds pendulum (at 45° latitude), and one-quarter of the terrestrial equator. Instead they chose one-quarter of a terrestrial meridian, the common practical unit to be a ten-millionth part of this quantity. Accordingly, it was proposed to make a careful and accurate measure along an arc of the meridian through Dunkerque (which had in part been measured by the Cassinis in 1718 and in 1740), extending as far south as Barcelona, giving 9°.5 of arc.” (DSB IV, pages 14-15). 


After this seminal step, “in 1793/94 (the French Revolutionary calendar year began in September), the Temporary Commission On Republican Weights and Measures published three introductory works to the metric system: the present work [offered here], which emphasized mathematics and theory; and an ‘abridged’ introduction containing a shorter and simpler presentation of the system (see Norman 1504); and a précis of the system for distribution to the public. Instruction sur les mesures was also issued by several other French Publishers in the same year”. 


An exceptionnally fine copy. 


Norman 1499; Dibner 113.

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FR Le Zograscope

Established by Alexandre Piffault in 2014 and based in Paris, Le Zograscope specializes in antique and rare books in Science, Medicine and Technology, and rare antique instruments in the same fields. We have especially a strong interest in early and continental microscopy, early and special mathematical/drawing instruments, medical and surgical instrument, and rare technology.

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