Monday, December 12, 2005


The "Numbered" Books of Machines

There are a few oddities in my books of machines. I've often wondered about three works in particular. The first is called "507 Mechanical Movements." It's a reprint from Algrove Publishing of a work first published in 1868 by Henry T. Brown. I purchased my copy from Lee Valley for the rediculously low price of C$7.95. A digital copy of the original is also available through KMODDL.

The other two books also came from Lee Valley. They were both written by Gardner D. Hiscox. Hiscox outdoes Brown with the first, "1800 Mechanical Movements and Devices"--originally published as the 12th edition (1911) of "Mechanical Movements, Powers, and Devices" (the first edition was published in 1899. The second is called "970 Mechanical Applicances and Novelties of Construction." It is a reprint of the sequel to Hiscox's earlier work and was originally published in 1904 as "Mechanical Appliances, Mechanical Movements, and Novelties of Construction."

Where these books came from is a bit of a mystery. Each page depicts a collection of machines or mechanical component in a gallery. Sometimes the devices are related and sometimes they're not. The relationship between Brown and Hiscox is quite evident. Brown's figure 465 (Balance pumps. Pair worked reciprocally by a person pressing alternately on opposite ends of a lever or beam), for example, is identical to Hiscox's device 515 (of 1800): Tramp pumping device, sometimes called the Teeter pump. A self-evident illustration of an obsolete principal. The same device was depicted by Zeising, Zonca, and Leupold. It first appeared in Fracisco di Giorgio Martini's Codex Saluzziano 148.

These numbered books of machines have maintained their popularity. Amazon.com, for example, currently lists several different imprints of Brown's work. It appears in two imprints from different publishers. The comments for both are glowing. Here's an example: "This book is a joy to browse though. It is a little gold mine of ideas for the mechanical designer. Yet, anyone with mechanical aptitude should enjoy it. The many crisp line drawings are presented with a minimum of explanation and no dimensioning. You see, it was assumed back in those days that a person with natural mechanical aptitude could look at a diagram, or a machine, and figure it out. Not only that, but it was assumed that once you had the idea, then you could work out all the details for yourself without having to be told everything down to the last screw size."

Eugene Ferguson contained some hints on where these works came from in his very interesting Kinematics of Mechanisms from the Time of Watt (also available at KMODDL).


A page from Brown's 507 Mechanical Movements (1868). Note figure 465.


Leupold's take on the same idea from his Theatrum Machinarum Generale of 1724.


Zeising gave the pump his own flavour in his Theatri Machinarum (1607-10)



Zonca may have started a trend with the depiction of this pump in Novo teatro de machine (1607)
di Georgio Martini starts a trend with his manuscript of 1490.


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