This installment of our series  is not about whole books, but looks at books where (unless your language skills are unusually good) the main attraction is just looking at the pictures. 

There are some famous historical books which feature tools and trades. The best of them were expensive and luxurious items when they were new - and with the passage of years, the few remaining copies have become entirely unaffordable to the ordinary reader or frugal tool collector. 
Fortunately, for those of us who just want to look at the pictures, some of the world's most famous libraries have done an impressive job of scanning these treasures and making them available to all of us, online, for free.
Take André-Jacob Roubo as an example. Born in Paris in 1739, he was that rare thing - a trained craftsman who wrote in great detail about the minutiae of his trade. His works stand alongside the great eighteenth century encyclopedias for the quality of their production, especially in the quantity and quality of their engravings. 
The New York Public Library has made available 107 images from Volume 2 of his 1769 work, L'Art du Menuisier and you can view them all here: - or just start at and type 'Roubo' into the search box. 
The quality of the scanning is first-rate - if you choose to download a single page at original size, you get a 5428 x 7230 pixel file which will let you see every line of the engraving, every pencil annotation and every bookworm hole in the original. 
Plate 229  "The Method and tools used to split and clean cane"
 An example of the scanned pages from the Collection: Plate 229 "The method and tools used to split and clean cane". 
Roubo wrote extensively about several branches of woodwork - geometry, joinery, cabinetmaking, coachbuilding, marquetry, garden woodwork -  all published under the overall title of L'Art du Menuisier between 1769 and 1775.  If your French is good enough, and you want the whole work, it's available as four huge volumes to view or download at the Hathi Trust website at . Be aware that the downloads are large (volume 3 is over 400Mb) and that the whole work is a very long read!
Volume 1 covers geometry and joinery and has no pictures.
Volume 2 has plates 1 to 170 and includes the plates also available at the NYPL.
Volume 3 has the most illustrations - plates 171 to 337, covering caochbuilding cabinetmaking and marquetry, including quite a lot of specialised tools.
Volume 4 has plates 338 to 382 and is about garden woodwork - trellis, glasshouses, palatial planters and so on, with pictures but not of tools.
Another famous genre of illustrated book is the "Housebook." In medieval Germany, monasteries provided housing for retired craftsmen and published books showing the various trades and the tools used in them. Two famous examples, much used to illustrate histories of tools and trades, are the Mendelschen and Landauerschen Hausbücher, from Nurenberg. Produced over a long period - from 1426 through to 1806 - their five constituent volumes contain over a thousand illustrations, mostly in colour. 
The website at lets you read through all five volumes, page by page, which is fine for scholars, but it also provides a searchable database of subject terms, in English. So, if you want to see someone using an auger, you can find pictures like this one:
 Or if you want to see someone making nails:
nailsmith 704x947
The range of trades is usefully wide and the digitisation is superbly done.
 Andy Tuckwell

Add comment

Security code