The Encyclopédie on Turning

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No doubt because of its great size and complex history, the Encyclopédie edited by Diderot and d'Alembert is more difficult to access (or at least comprehend) than it should be (though the sitution isn't helped by some extremely poor scans by entities which should know better). In this present Notebook I'll try to sort it out to at least a point where I can understand it, and to find in it the material on (plain and) ornamental turning.

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The best online source in any langauge is the "ARTFL Encyclopédie Project" at the University of Chicago It is a digital edition of the first French edition, reproduced from (and with scans of) a microfiche copy of that edition. It is not a translation (the subject text is in French), but the site itself and its critical apparatus are (mostly) in English. The more one deals with other editions of the Encyclopédie, the more one comes to appreciate this one. The only real problem with the ARTFL edition is simultaneously its strength: it is a genuine digital edition, not just a concatenation of scans. This makes it searchable in a rational way, but it also (despite careful critical apparatus) distances the reader's experience from the codex-based volume/page layout of the original.

The scans presented by the ARTFL project are very well done considering their resolution, and are perfectly useful. They are not, however, of particularly high resolution and certainly cannot be considered of archival quality. (Those for the plates on turning average about 800 pixels wide.) However, they are at present the only usable scans available in any digital edition (they are much better than those available via the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and these in turn are very much better than the embarassingly bad scans done by Google Books). Considering the great historical importance of this work, this is a situation which as a whole is to be regretted.

The original Diderot/d'Alembert Encyclopédie was published over a period of years from 1751 to 1772 in 17 volumes of text. The plates ("planches") were published separately at the end of this period, in ten additional volumes (numbered 1 through 9, with volume 2 in two parts). Searching for the volumes of plates is made more complex because they were not published under the same title (you will search in vain for them using "Encyclopédie") but rather as Recueil de Planches, sur les Sciences, les Arts Liberaux, et les Arts Mechaniques, avec Leur Explication . These volumes of plates are (in the original edition) not linearly paginated. Rather, they are divided into named sections, each containing (first) captions for the plates on a given subject and (second) the plates themselves.

For lathe work, plain and ornamental, the plates of interest were published in book 9 (the 10th volume) of the plates, in the section "Tourneur et Tour a Figure." In the PDF below I have assembled this section from the ARTFL image scans:

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The correct citation for the ARTFL project from which this extract was made is: Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, etc. , eds. Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond D'Alembert. University of Chicago: ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (Spring 2011 Edition), Robert Morrissey (ed), )

To access the ARTFL Encyclopédie Project directly, go to their website:

To find the plates on turning, click on "Search" link, and search on "Tourneur et tour a figure".

At the time of writing, the easiest result to follow is the third one, for "TOURNEUR ET TOUR A FIGURE, Contenant quatre- vingt- sept Planches".

You might also try the following two direct links, though they might or might not work:

These shold get you "28:8:1"

Where it says "[Click here for original page image]" you can click to get the page scan of the captions page. Click on the small images of the individual plates to get the larger versions of each. There are a total of 87 plates on turning.

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UM Translation Project

The University of Michigan Library hosts "The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project." It provides an English translation (for those articles which have been translated; it is a work in progress) and links back to the page scans of the ARTFL project.

As I write this (in 2012) they have not yet translated the entries on turning. They have translated the captions of the Plates. To find these, do a "simple search" on "lathe" and pick the results for "turner and turning lathe" (but searching on the full phrase "turner and turning lathe" fails, curiously).

The text of this collaborative translation project is in copyright.

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Bibliothèque Nationale de France / Gallica

Not surprisingly, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France has digitizations of the Encyclopédie in their Gallica Bibliothèque Numerique.

When searching the BnF/Gallica for the plates (planches), it is important to remember that they were published under (and are indexed under) the title Recueil de Planches, sur les Sciences, les Arts Liberaux, et les Arts Mechaniques, avec Leur Explication

Here is book 9 (the 10th volume, as noted earlier) of the plates, which contains the plates for "Tourneur et Tour a Figure." It is useful, I think, to see them in the context of their original publication. However, this digitization was done bi-level, not greyscale, and as a result the plates are very much poorer than the ARTFL scans (in many cases they are quite useless, unfortunately). Diderot and d'Alembert, of all people, deserve better treatment than this at the hands of modern technologists.

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Recueil de Planches. Book 9 (10th vol.) (Paris, 1772)

Recueil de Planches, sur les Sciences, les Arts Liberaux, et les Arts Mechaniques, avec Leur Explication . Neuvieme livraison, ou dixieme volume. (Paris: Briasson, 1772.) From the Gallica Bibliothèque Numerique of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The plates for "Tourneur et Tour a Figure" begin on page 150 of the PDF.

The texts describing turning are in Vol. 16 of the original edition. Here it is from a later edition (Neufschastel) with similar volume divisions from the Gallica Bibliothèque Numerique of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

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Vol 16. (Neufschastel edition)

Encyclopèdie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers . (Neufchastel: Samuel Faulcher, [n.d.]) Tome Sezieme (TEA - VEN, + Vegetation). From the Gallica Bibliothèque Numerique of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

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Wikimedia Commons

There is a well-organized page on Wikimedia Commons which indexes the volumes of the Encyclopèdie (text and plates) and links to both image (JPEG, PNG) and single-file (DjVU, PDF) versions.,_ou_Dictionnaire_raisonn%C3%A9_des_sciences,_des_arts_et_des_m%C3%A9tiers

Unfortunately, for at least Book 9 (10th Volume) of the plates, the images and PDF are simply the BnF scans stripped of their provenance. They are just as illegible here as they are on Gallica.

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Planches. Book 9 (10th vol.) (Paris, 1772)

Recueil de Planches, sur les Sciences, les Arts Liberaux, et les Arts Mechaniques, avec Leur Explication . (Paris: Briasson, 1772) This is a DjVu format version from Wikimedia Commons. It is simply the BnF/Gallica scan stripped of its provenance and converted to DjVu format. As is the case in the BnF/Gallica original, the plates are frequently illegible.

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Vol. 16.

Encyclopèdie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers . This is the [TO DO: this is not the Neufchastel edition; which one is it?] edition, stripped of its provenance and front matter.

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There is a curiously anonymous French site which which contains a digital edition of the Encyclopèdie at For the books of plates, it links to images and PDFs hosted at

For the one volume of plates that I checked in any detail (Book 9, or the 10th volume, of course) the plates are just the BnF scans stripped of their provenance.

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Google Books has scanned various volumes of the Encyclopèdie and its plates from copies in Lausanne, Ghent, Madrid, Bavaria, and New York. Unfortunately, their scans are muddled to the point of uselessness. It is almost impossible to find what you want, and when you do, it is likely that it will be either not available or scanned so poorly that it is illegible. This is a library of Kafka, not of the Enlightenment.

The scans include various editions (which is good, in itself), but often the bibliographic data for a volume does not match the correct volume. You must actually view or download each volume and check it explicitly; you cannot rely on metadata. One must of course search for two different titles for the text and the plates, but direct searching on these titles will not yield all of the actual titles. Google is designed to return what it thinks you want, which need only have a slight relation to what you actually want. The only technique is to search indirectly: having found one volume, go exhaustively through the links to potentially related volumes and purported other editions, hoping that eventually you will find them all. Many of these will be excluded from full view.

In particular, only a few of the volumes of the plates seem to be available for full view. Of these, I have so far been able to discover only one viewable digitization of Book 9 (10th volume) of the plates - from a volume at the Complutense University of Madrid. However, it happens that the digitization of this volume, beginning precisely with "Tourneur et Tour a Figure," is faulty. For the captions, they digitized only half of each page. For the plates, they digitized half of the first plate, and then half of the bleed-through on the back of each of the subsequent plates. It is quite astonishing to see how badly a digitization can be done.

Although some of the Complutense University volumes of the plates appear in the Hathi Trust versions, Book 9 does not.

At the present time (June 2012), therefore, Google Books is not a useful way to investigate the Encyclopèdie on turning.

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