Jacob Leupold's Theatrum Machinarum (1724 ff)

Machine books - Machines in Books

No guided tour through the Iron Library without having a look in the machine books from the 16th-18th centuries. They show and explain the whole range of machines known in the early modern period. The spectrum ranges from rather exotic automatons to water mills of which hundreds of thousands were built. What makes these machine books so attractive and what attracted me are the illustrations they contain.

The Theatrum Machinarum - Jacob Leupold's opus magnum

This holds true for "Jacob Leupold's multivolume, copiously illustrated compendium of mechanical technology in the early 18th century, theTheatrum Machinarum."* Jacob Leupold (1674-1727) was a Mathematicus, Mechanicus and instrument maker based in Leipzig, Germany. His Theatrum Machinarum consists of nine volumes and contains more than 2.000 text pages and more than 500 copperplate engravings. I am still amazed at these numbers - although it is only a fragment of what Leupold planned to publish. "Leupold's books delineate for us the state of the arts of machine design and machine building around 1725."* Nobody but James Watt, famous steam engine improver, studied German in order to read the volumes of the Theatrum Machinarum. (*I cite Eugene S. Ferguson)  

Have a look at Leupold's copperplates

Title page of Jacob Leupold's Theatrum Machinarum Hydrotechnicarum. Leipzig 1724

I have selected some of the most impressive copperplates to be found in the nine volumes of the Theatrum Machinarum.

Leupold's copperplates

The Theatrum Machinarum in the Iron Library

Spine titles of Jacob Leupold's Theatrum Machinarum in the Iron Library

Soon after taking up my post as librarian in the Iron Library a row of green spine lables attracted my attention. These are the spine lables on several volumes of Leupold's Theatrum Machinarum - just as they are shelved in Iron Library. They caught my eye even though they hide in a corner of the room where our rare books are shelved - as if they wanted to show that the Theatrum Machinarum is not a book like any other.