Go back to article: Reading, writing, drawing and making in the 18th-century instrument trade

Cut and paste as a design technique

Adams’s ‘Instructions to the illustrator’ of the mechanics manuscript contain 47 fragments cut from the engraved plates of the 1747 edition of Mathematical Elements, demonstrating the book’s centrality, not just in identifying and organising experiments, but also in his process of designing instruments for George III (Adams, 1762b, figs. 6, 24, 40–2, 45, 49–51, 85–88, 96, 96 (2), 105–8, 112, 118 (4), 118 (5), 119, 123–4 (2), 137–9, 152A, 154–7, 158 (1), 158 (2), 159, 181–4, 194, 195, 207, 216–18). The ‘Instructions to the illustrator’ appear to have been intended to communicate the layout of the final plates of the mechanics manuscript to the draughtsman who worked on them. As such, they are not direct evidence of design practices in the workshop; but where a cutout engraving of ’s Gravesande’s instrument could stand in for a drawing of Adams’s, the derivation of the design is very strongly indicated. Of these pasted-in fragments, 13 were altered by trimming off parts, drawing in alterations or written notes (Adams, 1762b, figs. 41, 45, 86–8, 106, 118 (4), 118 (5), 123, 124 (1), 181, 183, 194) (see Figures 8–10).

Figure 8

Photograph of a wooden instrument used for experiments on a pendulum moved by a spring

Jan van Musschenbroek and Willem ’s Gravesande, machine for experiments on a pendulum moved by a spring. Oak, iron, brass and steel, 1700 x 935 x 700 mm, c. 1733, Museum Boerhaave Inv. No. 9629 (de Clercq, 1997a, p 43).

Figure 9

Detailed ink drawing of a machine for experiments on a pendulum moved by a spring

J Mynde, illustration of the machine for experiments on a pendulum moved by a spring, in ’s Gravesande, Mathematical Elements, Vol. 1, Plate 25. Engraving, 180 x 185 mm, 1747.

Figure 10

Ink sketch of a wooden instrument for experiments on a pendulum moved by a spring

George Adams, sketch of the machine for experiments on a pendulum moved by a spring, in ‘Instructions to the illustrator’ of the mechanics manuscript, Science Museum archives MS 203/2, Plate 55. Pen and ink with fragments of engraving (from Mathematical Elements, Vol. 1, including Plate 25 above) glued onto paper, 209 x 164 mm, 1761 (compare Morton and Wess, 1993, pp 199, 355).

Physical cutting and pasting was a common practice among 18th-century designers and artisans in other trades; it has been argued that the reason why so few 18th-century pattern books survive is that they were cut up in the normal course of business (Heckscher, 1969, p 299). An interesting point of comparison is the scrapbook compiled by the wood-carver and furniture-maker Gideon Saint, who began trading for himself in 1763. Saint’s scrapbook (see Figure 11) was a personalised visual index to Rococo woodworking, which he divided up into sections according to various types of furniture and carved ornament. The 520 entries in Saint’s book can be sorted into categories that are directly equivalent to those in Adams’s ‘Instructions to the illustrator’: original drawings, drawings after printed figures and figures cut from printed books and pasted into Saint’s collection (Heckscher, 1969, pp 304–5).

Figure 11

Photograph of scrapbook page spread showing fragments of printed designs of rococo woodworking

Gideon Saint. Scrapbook. Fragments of printed designs, ink and pencil on paper. 320mm x 340mm (approx.). 1763-68. Image source: Art Resource, NY

The ‘Instructions to the illustrator’ also offer valuable evidence of the reasons why Adams altered the designs in Mathematical Elements. On 13 different occasions, he made significant alterations to these cutout engravings by cutting off parts and/or drawing in additions. Ten of these represent large-scale instruments that in the collection of the Museum Boerhaave are free-standing objects, but which Adams preferred to integrate into a complex, modular system structured by a central table and jointed pillar, ‘fitted for many Experiments and supporting Machines’ (Adams, 1762b, ff 25, 26–39; Morton and Wess, 1993, pp 298–9)[6]. For example, he integrated ’s Gravesande’s design for a machine for oblique and compound collisions into the ‘great Table’, while adopting formal aspects from Nollet (see Figures 12–15).

Figure 12

Photograph of wooden instrument used for collision experiments

Jan van Musschenbroek and Willem ’s Gravesande, machine for oblique and compound collisions. Oak and brass, 1285 x 600 x 300 mm, c. 1720, Museum Boerhaave Inv. No. 9631 (de Clercq, 1997a, p 45).

Figure 13

Detailed ink drawing of a machine for oblique and compound collision

J Mynde, illustration of the machine for oblique and compound collision in ’s Gravesande, Mathematical Elements, Vol. 1, Plate 39. Engraving, 189 x 163 mm, 1747.

Figure 15

Ink sketch of an instrument for experiments with compound collisions

George Adams, sketch of the machine for oblique and compound collision in his ‘Instructions to the illustrator’ of the mechanics manuscript. Ink on paper, 245 x 192 mm, 1761, Science Museum archives MS 203/2, Plate 44.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/140103/024