London [but probably Paris]: Fletcher Gyles, 1755. First edition.
The exceptionally fine La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt copy in untouched armorial binding of the earliest treatise on modern economics. Cantillon is the “founding father of modern economics” (Rothbard) and the Essai has been declared “more emphatically than any other single work, the cradle of political economy” (Jevons), and “the most systematic statement of economic principles before the Wealth of Nations” (Roll). It “is notable for its model building, its analysis of market forces and the role of the entrepreneur, its outline of the circular flow of income, and its monetary theory. Cantillon was the first real model builder in economics” (ODNB). The book was chosen among the 400 most influential books ever written in French in the 1990 exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale, En français dans le texte, no. 159.
Provenance: A superb copy bound at the time for François-Alexandre-Frédéric, duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, with his coat of arms gilt on sides and the armorial engraved ex-libris of the Bibliothèque de Liancourt. A philanthropist, traveller, and statesman, the Duke de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt was one of the leading figures of the end of the 18th century. As a liberal, he participated in the French Revolution from the outset, remaining loyal to the King. He is famous for his answer to Louis XVI who had asked him on 14 July 1789 ‘Is it a revolt?’: ‘No, Your Majesty, it is a revolution’. He fled France and found refuge in England before travelling to the United States. He attempted to save the royal family. Back in France after the Revolution, he continued to promote his liberal ideas, helping the poor and creating a school. Two other copies with the coat of arms of the La Rochefoucauld family have appeared on the market in the last twenty years; they both came from the La Roche-Guyon branch of the family. This copy is the only one with the Liancourt ex-libris, stating its provenance. It is hard to imagine a better copy.
Born in Ireland, Cantillon (1680-1734) was active in banking in Paris for years. A man among boys in business, he made a fortune from John Law’s scheme. “Bankers fell like autumn leaves in Paris between 1717 and 1720, and as Higgs remarks, ‘Their losses were probably very heavy in 1720 and much of them went into Cantillon’s pocket’” (New Palgrave). He successfully defended himself in numerous lawsuits brought by victims of the Mississippi Bubble, but he eventually deemed it prudent to depart for England. In 1734 he was murdered by his recently-dismissed cook, who evidently robbed him and burned his house down, destroying his manuscripts among other things. While in Paris, Cantillon had written the Essai in English and translated it into French for a friend. That friend arranged for its publication more than two decades later in 1755. Cantillon covers, in analysis far surpassing that of his contemporaries, currency, foreign exchanges, banking, credit, and the international specie flow mechanism (which Schumpeter hailed as “almost faultlessly described”). He made pioneering contributions to what was later known as the Malthusian theory of population, the theory of the allocation of surplus, and the distinction between market price and natural price as an integral part of an entire economic model. In the Essai Cantillon coined the term entrepreneur, which he observed “entails bearing the risk of buying at certain prices and selling at uncertain prices” (Cuervo).
12mo (165 x 93mm), pp. ,  2-430 [6:index], contemporary mottled calf, sides with gilt-stamped arms of the duc de Liancourt, gilt spine with raised bands, red morocco label and repeated fleurons, red edges. Provenance: François-Alexandre-Fréderic de la Rochefoucauld, duc de Liancourt, (1747-1827; binding and engraved armorial bookplate). An exceptionally fresh and crisp copy.