Victorian Machines & Manufacturing: The Boy's Book of Industrial Information

New in the shop is The Boy's Book of Industrial Information, a delightful children's book on Victorian technology.

Published in 1859, at a time when the British were still enthralled by the rapid technological advances of the Industrial Revolution, this particular book would have been a wonderful present for a child interested in machines. The illustrations are both detailed and evocative, and the contents cover a huge variety of technologies and manufacturing processes, including the mining and purification of minerals and metals; agricultural methods; the mass production of goods such as chocolate, leather, and synthetic dyes; the products of skilled trades like pottery and glass; arts such as printing, weaving, and photography; and machinery and engineering works, including steam engines, guns, telegraphs, railways, and many more.

Though published under the imprint of Ward & Lock, the idea for the book may have come from its illustrators, the Dalziel Brothers, one of the leading mid-Victorian engraving firms. In addition to supplying illustrations for magazines and newspapers, the Dalziels commissioned, financed, and produced a large number of illustrated gift books which were sold under the names of established publishers. These gift books often had elaborate gilt bindings like this one, and were frequently published around Christmas. I suspect that many of the illustrations were originally produced for other publications and re-used here as a way to capitalise on past work. Below are some of my favourites.

Here we have wood being stacked in the first step of charcoal manufacture:

Coke ovens. Coke is a smoke-less, high-carbon fuel made from coal. It was used in train engines, home heating, smelting iron ore, roasting malt in breweries, and blacksmithing

The hand-cranked machine used to bottle soda water, which became fashionable at the end of the 18th-century:

A paper cutting machine:

Workers in a pottery, such as those at Stoke-on-Trent, where ceramics were mass produced in assembly-line fashion:

The Bessemer process, the first method for mass-producing steel, which had only been patented a few years earlier in 1856:

Manufacturing steel pen nibs (this image was also used for the binding, shown above):

Lucifer matches were one of the earliest types of friction match. Though more convenient than using a flint to create sparks, they were also volatile, dangerous, and smelled like sulphur. I'm not 100% sure, but this engraving may depict the darker side of the Industrial Revolution, child labour:

A candle factory, at night, appropriately:

One of the best images - rope making!


Laura Massey
Laura Massey

Author

Alembic founder Laura Massey holds a bachelor's degree in the history of science from Georgia Tech and a master's in book history (focusing on medieval and early modern scientific and medical books,) from the Institute of English Studies at the University of London. She has worked as a cataloguer, bookseller, and blogger in libraries and bookshops in the United States and Britain.



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