CURR, John.

The Coal Viewer, and Engine Builder’s Practical Companion.

Sheffield: Printed for the author, by John Northall… 1797

4to, 96 pages, and 5 folding engraved plates. Twentieth century speckled sheep, red morocco label on spine. A little spotting on the plates, otherwise a very good copy. Owner’s blind stamp on front free endpaper and bookseller’s slip on pastedown.

SOLE EDITION of the principal printed source for John Curr (1756–1823), a ‘coal viewer’, i.e. a mining engineer, and of his inventions and technical innovations, including the first printed account of an iron railway. “His first invention was the flanged cast-iron railway—described as ‘plate ways’ or ‘railroads’ which were the first flanged iron rails installed underground for the hauling of coal… Curr’s use of iron rails dramatically improved the hurrying of coal by reducing the number of horses needed to pull the corves [i.e., baskets of coal], and by enabling an additional 2000 corves to be moved annually…” (ODNB). The idea of plate rails was taken up by the engineer Benjamin Outram, who became a leading promoter of their use. “Curr also sought to improve the efficiency of the steam engine, and discovered that raising the cistern higher above the cylinder produced a stronger vacuum without additional fuel. For these experiments he became an acknowledged expert in the construction of atmospheric steam engines and was regarded as a successor to John Smeaton. In 1797 [in the present book] he published plans and descriptions of his modified Newcomen steam engines, with detailed comparisons between the power of different types of boiler” (ibid). Skempton 335: “Includes the first printed account of plate rails.” See Skempton et al (eds.), A biographical dictionary of civil engineers: “…was responsible for a number of innovations, the most important of which was his introduction of flanged iron plateways.”


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