The IMechE Library has been providing an information service to members since at least 1877, even before the Institution moved into its current location in One Birdcage Walk. It still holds many early engineering works, most of which are now located on the galleries which surround the library room. This series of posts looks at the fascinating stories these works can tell about history of the Institution and of engineering.

EIR cover

R W Pearce, Drawings of rolling stock as designed and constructed at the Howrah Workshops (Photozinographed [sic] at the Survey of India Offices, 1888)

This work is a collection of 24 reproduced images of the rolling stock designed by Robert Webb Pearce, Carriage and Wagon Superintendant at the Howrah workshops of the East Indian Railway, drawn in 1888. Ranging from viceregal carriages, to third class, sheep wagons and post office carriages, the drawings give remarkable (and often beautiful) insights into the technical specifications and design of railway carriages in the the late nineteenth century.

EIR cattle

The drawings were reproduced for publication by a process called photozincography (or zincography), which is similar to lithography but uses zinc plates as a cheaper and less cumbersome alternative to lithography’s stone. They’re an accurate reproduction of the drawing, and any writing included reproduces that done by hand (i.e. not typeset). The author has signed and dated each individual drawing, which is also faithfully reproduced by this process.

EIR Bookplace

The bookplate pasted onto the front inside board shows that the book was donated to the Library by Richard Pearce, younger brother of the author. Both were members of the Institution and their obituaries appear in the Institution’s Proceedings. The author died “malarious fever” in 1889, which means that these drawings (completed in 1888) must have been one of the final things he produced. His obituary credits him as being the first to use iron instead of wood for the frames and panels of carriages and wagons, and for almost doubling the carrying power of the previous wagon stock.

Despite extensive searches, we’ve only identified one other copy of this book in existence (dated 1891), demonstrating the importance of the IMechE’s unique 19th-century collections. The other copy is held next door, at the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Library, Institution of Mechanical Engineers

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