Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rare Book World's "Cabbages" Get Some Respect

By Nancy Mattoon

RUSS, Karl.
The speaking parrots : a scientific manual.
(London : L. Upcott Gill, 1884)
(All Images Courtesy of Monash University Library.)

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—Of cabbages—and kings...
Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and The Carpenter.

Art, literature, and history are the kings of the rare book world. Most library collections concentrate on these areas, and most organized exhibits feature them. Which is what makes a new exhibition of "useful books" from the Rare Book Collection of Australia's Monash University so refreshing. The show features books that offer practical advice helpful for everyday life. The books are historical, but they are works which concentrate on "the practicalities of the way people lived."

Winser, Keith.
Motor Manual's book of lightweight trailers :
plus plans for building caravanettes,

Enlarged 1952-53 edition.
(Melbourne : Keith Winser, 1952).

The introduction to the exhibition points out that "People have a fascination for how things work and these books help us understand the technology and the skills involved. We can see how men and women, professionals, craftsmen, and tradesmen made a living and how they amused themselves." The exhibition includes books on applied science and technology, instructional manuals, trade publications, and even mail-order catalogs. It proves that in the world of rare books, the everyday "cabbages" can be just as fascinating as the kings.

AGRICOLA, Georg, 1494-1555.
De re metallica.

(Basileae : [apvd Hieron. Frobenivm et Nicolavm Episcopivm], 1556)

De re metallica is the earliest complete treatise on mining and metallurgy. It describes, and illustrates with detailed woodcuts, all known methods of extracting metal ore from the earth. It remained unsurpassed for over two centuries, and in 1912, London's Mining Magazine published an English translation by future U.S. President Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou Henry Hoover.

SCHOTT, Gaspar, 1608-1666
Mechanica hydraulico-pneumatica.
(Herbipoli [i.e. Wurzberg] : Joannis Godefridi Scho├Ânwetteri, 1657).

Mechanica hydraulico-pneumatica is a guide to the hydraulic and pneumatic instruments of Gaspar Schott’s teacher, the famous polymath Athanasius Kircher. It includes 42 full-page and partly-folded copper plates and 78 woodcuts illustrating fountains, musical instruments, and other pneumatic machinery, and even includes sheet music samples. Also depicted are fanciful interpretations of scientific experiments, such as a group of scientists watching four angels using a vacuum pump.

The Practical Mechanic's Journal.
(Glasgow, Scotland :
Practical Mechanic's Journal and Patent Office, 1849-1873).

Each issue of The Practical Mechanic's Journal listed newly granted "English patents," and “Scotch patents” as well as the registered "Designs for articles of utility." The illustration here, from the first volume, is the Jenny Lind locomotive. Named in honor of the famed operatic soprano know as "The Swedish Nightingale," it was the first of a class of ten steam locomotives built in 1847 for the London and Brighton South Coast Railway.

BRIGHT, Charles, 1863-1937
Submarine telegraphs : their history, construction, and working.
(London : Lockwood, 1898)

The laying of submarine cables to link distant parts of the world was the major advance in communication in the Victorian era. In 1872, Australia was linked by cable to Bombay via Singapore and China, and in 1876 the cable linked the British Empire from London to New Zealand.

Modern power generators:
steam, electric and internal-combustion, and
their application to present-day requirements/ ed. by James Weir French.
(London : Gresham Publishing Co., 1908)

This two-volume work was distinguished by 11 movable, color-plate illustrations. The plate seen here is simply entitled "Automobile."

KIRBY, John Joshua.
Dr. Brook Taylor's method of perspective made easy,
both in theory and practice.
In two books illustrated with fifty copper plates;
most of which are engrav'd by the author. 2nd ed.
(Ipswich : Printed by W. Craighton, for the author, 1755)

A practical treatise with illustrated exercises to enable readers to master perspective. This work was useful to artists, engravers, architects, bricklayers, plasterers and instrument makers, among others. The engraving here is captioned "Whoever makes a design without the knowledge of perspective will be liable to such absurdities as are shewn in this frontispiece."

WOOD, Samuel.
The British bird-preserver; or, How to skin, stuff, and mount birds and animals,
with a chapter on their localities, habits, and how to obtain them,
also instructions in moth and butterfly-catching, setting and preserving
New ed., with appendix. (London : Frederick Warne [1877])

Part of the “Warne’s Useful Books” series. The typical Victorian living room often featured a glass case with stuffed birds. The cover of Wood’s book has an illustration of one such case. He gives detailed instructions for amateurs in the art of taxidermy.

Let's drive better than men.
1934 ed. ([Melbourne?] : Vacuum Oil Co., 1934)

Issued by Vacuum Oil, which later became Mobil, this booklet begins with an extract from an article about women drivers, “Invading the masculine domain,” written in 1904, and reviews how far women have come in the professional and commercial world since then: "The coy little lady of 1904 has blossomed into the independent and capable girl of 1934, who has shed the veils, goggles and disfiguring garb of those motoring days, and, sensibly and attractively frocked, proves that the motor car has lost its terror for her, and that driving a car is just a simple, ordinary occurrence."

And finally the most useful book in the exhibition, in theory...

De la transformation metallique : Trois anciens traitez en rime francoise. Ascavoir. La Fontaine des amoureux des sciences : Autheur J. Dela Fontaine. Les remonstrances de nature à l'alchimiste errant : avec la response dudit alchimiste, par J. de Meung. Ensemble un traité de son romant de la rose, concernant ledit art. Le sommiare philosophique de N. Flamel, avec la deffense d'iceluy art, et des bonnetes personnages qui y vaquent : contetes efforts que I. Girard met à les outrager.
(France, 17--).

An 18th century French alchemy manuscript used for transmuting lead into gold. This volume contains the original "get rich quick scheme." It purports to aid in the discovery of the "Philosopher's Stone," with which base metals could be converted to gold. (See Bernie Madoff's The Last Investment Guide You'll Ever Need for a modern-day variation.)

Useful Books, curated by Dr. Seamus O’Hanlon of Monash University's School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, will remain on display at the Sir Louis Matheson Library through February of 2011. Highlights of the exhibition are available online.

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