Important Texts for the Artificer

image link-topic-sf0.jpg

Anyone with an interest in antiquarian technology will inevitably deal over and over with a few very basic, very good older texts: Moxon, Holtzapffel, Diderot & d'Alembert, older ICS textbooks, etc. If you don't know about them, you should (and are in for a treat). But some of them remain unnecessarily difficult to find and access.

(Aside: We live in what is supposed to be an age of instantaneous information. I shouldn't have to do this.)

See also my own personal shortlist of antiquarian technical books.

IMPORTANT WARNING: Before you trust a digital text for research, read the Notebook below on Undetectable Data Corruption in JB2/JBIG2 data compression and ascertain if your text uses either compression technology. At present, all Google Books scans do, and therefore none can be trusted for information if individual characters (or digits) are important. This is highly disturbing.

[click image to go to page]

image link-blank-sf0.jpg

Undetectable Data Corruption in JB2/JBIG2

Digital technology is a great thing for the preservation of the past. But using a digital technology which silently changes textual data in ways that cannot be detected is stupid beyond the limits of comprehension. Yet this is exactly what we're doing.

[click image to go to page]

image link-blank-sf0.jpg

Thoughts on Google Books

Most of the problems encountered by researchers using Google Books are due to our own misunderstanding of their clearly stated intent. We need to understand what Google Books is intended to be, and what it is not. (It is not a digital library.)

Google is, however, committing one important error.

[click image to go to page]

image link-blank-sf0.jpg

Digital Library and Image Collections

You know about Google, but do you know about Gallica, e-rara, or the Library of Congress' Prints and Photographs Division?

image broadside-divider-sf0.jpg


[click image to go to page]

image link-to-diderot-sf0.jpg

The Encyclopédie of Diderot & d'Alembert

Diderot, Denis and Jean le Rond d'Alembert, eds. Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, par une Societé de Gens de Lettres. (Paris and [false imprint at] Neuchâtel: [various], 1751-1772)

To the technologist, this is the basic book of the French enlightenment. It can be obtained freely online now, but each way in which this can be done is (unnecessarily) flawed.

[click image to go to page]

image link-to-rees-sf0.jpg

Rees' Cyclopædia

Rees, Abraham, ed. The Cyclopædia; or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown, 1819-1820).

Finding (and evaluating problems with) the digital sources. Extracting the articles and plates dealing with horology.

image broadside-divider-sf0.jpg

Classic Works of Broad Scope

I haven't had a chance to do much with this yet. In the meantime, here's a quick list. If these names and books are unfamiliar to you, you will find it well worth your while to look them up. If you do know them, you'll recognize old friends.

Joseph Moxon. Mechanick Exercises.

All technical writing in English starts with Moxon. The Mechanick Exercises are really two works published with the same title; The first concerns general workshop techniques. For more on it see the CircuitousRoot Notebook on Moxon. The second concerns typefounding and printing. For more on it see the CircuitousRoot Notebook of General Literature on Making Printing Matrices and Types.

Holtzapffel, Charles and John Jacob Holtzapffel. Turning and the Art of Mechanical Manipulation.

For more on it see the CircuitousRoot Notebook on the Holtzapffels.

image broadside-divider-sf0.jpg

Uncompiled Collections

Sam Brown.

The complete works of Sam Brown have never been collected into a single volume. They should be - he was the greatest technical writer ever. For now, see the CircuitousRoot Sam Brown Bibliography.


After a suitable period of haunting old bookshops (or browsing Google Books for instruction in old technology), you will come to realize that the International Correspondence School put out an extraordinary series of textbooks from the 1890s onward. They're still in business. I know nothing of their operation today, but a hundred years ago their books were often the very best introduction available in most technical subjects.