Jason Clarke Antiques
1878 Paris Exposition Balloon Ascent Medal - Henri Giffard
For sale an 1878 Henri Giffard Balloon Ascent over Paris Medal by Charles Trotin.
This large historic gilt medal has a 2” diameter, the top with gilt suspension ring, French Tricolore ribbon and original suspension bar fastened inside.
The obverse face of the medal is engraved with a scene of Paris and Giffard’s balloon making its famed ascent. The base is engraved with the words, “ PANORAMA DE PARIS – 1878”.
The reverse is very simply engraved with:
“SOUVENIR DE MON ASCENSION DANS LE GRAND BALLON CAPTIF A VAPEUR DE MR HENRY GIFFARD”
(Souvenir of my ascent in the large captive hot air balloon of Mr Henry Giffard)
Giffard’s balloon ascent was staged as part of the numerous spectacles planned for the 1878 Paris Exposition Fair which brought exhibitors from all over the world and ran from the 1st of May to the 10th of November 1878. It was a highly important event for the French who were keen to recover quickly from the ravages of the Franco / Prussian War that had only ended in 1871, the damage of which, would still have been clearly visible across Paris’s architecture at the time.
Giffard’s balloon was placed in prime position on the Northern bank of the Seine in the centre of Paris from which forty visitors per ascent, twelve times a day, could experience a “Panorama of Paris, seen from the basket of the large captive steam balloon in the courtyard of the Tuileries”. The thirty-six metre diameter balloon ascended to heights of 500 to 600 metres and this early publicly available balloon flight (perhaps the first) would have been for most, their first and only experience of flight during their lifetimes.
The price for the ascent was not published on the original advertisements but evidently Giffard was astute enough to find an opportunity to include those which were unable to afford it, offering tickets to enter the enclosure for a closer inspection of the balloon. The advertising also states that all passengers would be “offered” a commemorative medal of the ascent, but I suspect that there would have been an associated cost given the estimated 35,000 passengers that were considered to have paid for the fair’s main attraction.
The organiser, Henri Giffard was a French inventor born in 1825 who studied at the College Royal de Bourbon and later began work as a technical draughtsman for the St Germain Railway. His fortunes were made for the invention of a steam jet pump used in locomotives but since an early age, the young Giffard had a fascination with flight.
In 1851, Giffard applied for a patent for the “application of steam in airships”, an invention which would lead to the building of the Giffard Dirigible air balloon in 1852. The outcome was the World’s first motorised air balloon (or Airship) which was able to be controlled and manoeuvred whilst in flight. In September of 1852 it travelled from Paris to Trappes, a journey of 27.5 kilometres.
Giffard was awarded the Legion D’Honneur in 1863 for his work on steam engines and although the public interest in airships wained, the balloon spectacle in 1878 was a huge success. Sadly, just four years later, Giffard began to lose his eyesight and took his own life at the age of 57.
A very fine example of this medal from the early years of aviation