by James Weir French
Published in 1911 by The Gresham Publishing Company.
In seemingly huge contrast to last week’s Darwin post on ‘Gems of Nature and Art’ I have found an equally fascinating book with a beauty all of its own, to take a look at this week.
This technical book on machine tools of British and American design, is illustrated like a children’s lift the flap book with the most extraordinary series of coloured sectional models which clearly illustrate how the machine parts are arranged and the machines constructed, and show precise details of some typical tools.
Below is a twelve and a quarter Centre Lathe which has nine different flaps to lift up;
It also has hundreds of black and white, very finely drawn, almost photographic illustrations of the vast plethora of machine tools that existed. And this is only volume one!
A Cone-driven Engine Lathe;
The machines included in this book do not include wood-working machinery, only those for metal work, and are divided into well-defined groups, such as Lathes, Planers, Milling machines, and Grinding machines. There are descriptions of each of the machines and names of the respective makers. As an artist and creative writer, reading this is like entering into a whole other alien, albeit beautiful, world to me. Who knew there were such things as Cone-driven headstocks, Putnam Tire lathes and Hartness Flat Turret lathes. Well, engineers obviously must do, but for me; this is a whole new territory of strangely poetic- tasting words.
Here is the Gridley Automatic Turret Lathe with eleven flaps;
This book’s technical depth reminds me of ‘The Farming Companion’ books that I wrote about previously as a Darwin featured post. It has all the written detail, and illustrations equally as intriguing, if not more so, with the addition of moveable sections and surprising pastel colours.
The book describes how, in the last twenty five years preceding its publication in 1911, there was massive progress made in new and improved designs, tools and processes for the engineer, and the machine tool industry rose rapidly, both in the United States and in Britain. I think the most fascinating aspect of mechanical engineering are the moving elements of engines, locomotives, motors and hydraulic machinery.
Chapter one describes all sorts of engine lathes, as well as engine lathe accessories and auxiliary tools. Chapter two includes dozens of capstan and turret combination lathes, chapter three deals with automatic screw and turning machines, and chapter four gives details of numerous boring (that’s hole making to the uninitiated, not tedious) and turning mills and vertical turret lathes.
I am hoping that reading this, you know what I am talking about more than I do! The nearest I get to a nuts and bolts engineered machine is the lovely antique Singer sewing machine which belonged to my mother, and which, fingers crossed, will keep working as I am always nervous about tinkering with mechanical workings, even if it only involves removing the bobbin case. Call me a Luddite if you like; you wouldn’t be right but probably not completely wrong either! With an art school training in textiles as an art form, and using one of the most pain-staking processes of hand weaving; the historic french Gobelin technique, I have spent many years weaving art pieces by hand. No machines in sight so pretty Luddite-ish, I admit. But if you are envisioning hairy seventies-style wall hangings with all sorts of protuberances and macramed sections, let me enlighten you. I produced very fine, flat surface weave with three-dimensional imagery of, amongst other things, mechanical metal shafts, nuts and bolts very similar to the chucks below. (All to do with feminism, not machines, but that’s another story!) I love a bit of woven-in ‘iron-y.’ (And punnery.)
Luddites were a radical faction of nineteenth century English textile-workers, who destroyed textile machinery in protest against the use of machines to replace their skillful craft and threaten their livelihoods. Many were shot by mill and factory owners and legal and military force was used to suppress the rest, using execution and penal transportation. In 1812, Parliament also made machine breaking a capital crime with the Frame Breaking Act. However, these kinds of protests were occurring as early as 1675, and were primarily due to the hardships suffered by the working class, rather than an aversion to the machinery itself. As the textile industry grew, early merchant-capitalists invested in raw material, rather than the fixed capital of buildings etc, so it was easy to increase commitment when trade was good and cut back, when bad. This caused further instability for workers so it is not surprising that violence ensued. Although workers have better legal protection these days, they are still at the mercy of business owners and venture capitalists in choppy financial waters.
So, although these days Luddites are commonly understood as opposed to automation, computerisation and new technologies, if the definition of a true Luddite is one who opposes hardships of the working class, call me one by all and every means. But having read this book, I am in awe of machine engineers and full of admiration for the beautiful machines they produce.
(Below; the elegant Horizontal Boring Machine with eleven delicate flaps;)
These man-made works of art come close to nature in their beauty and intricacy, which takes us, in a neatly engineered spiral, back to last week’s post on “Gems of Nature and Art”, a book that celebrates both nature and humanity’s creations.
Look at this amazing Universal Facing, Boring, Drilling and Milling Machine with it’s fifteen intricately layered flaps;
This book of machines won’t radically change anyone’s financial landscape, (unless you want to buy it, in which case it is currently £97, with sure potential to increase in value) but the beauty of the illustrations, and French’s evident enthusiasm for machine tools and their construction has me mesmerised, has transformed my attitude towards engineering and machinery, (it’s not just boring nuts and bolts) and has really got to be seen to be appreciated. This is the most unusual lift the flap book I have ever seen.
It is now available to view...and buy, along with many other intriguing illustrated books on many different subjects. So if you haven’t visited us before, then look us up on your computer, call your friends on your mobile, put us in your Sat Nav, and jump in your motor, all to take a step back in time into our beautiful and atmospheric Darwin Rare Books Room.
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