On the Economy of Machinery and Manufacturers.
London: Charles Knight, 1832.
First edition, very rare large paper issue, of Babbage’s pioneering work of political economy, “a remarkable performance of a remarkable man” (Schumpeter, p. 541), and “a turning point in economic writing” (ODNB). “The first edition of On the economy of machinery and manufacturers was issued in two versions: a large-paper version, of which a small number were printed for presentation only; and the regular version of which three thousand copies were issued” (OOC).
“Babbage undertook the analysis of machinery and manufacturing processes to discover ideas and techniques that could be applied to the construction of his Difference Engine no. 1, which he knew would stretch the available mechanical technology to its limits. Primary themes of the book were the division of labor and the division of mental labor, to which Babbage devoted chapters 19 and 20. His chapter on the division of mental labor was an analysis of the methods used by de Prony in the production of his celebrated mathematical tables. Babbage had seen de Prony’s manuscript table in 1819, and around 1820 began planning the Difference Engine no. 1 based on the principles of division of labor. With this goal, Babbage visited factories throughout England, inspecting every machine and every industrial process. Rather than a study limited to engineering and manufacturing techniques, his book turned out to be an analysis of manufacturing processes within their economic context. Written when manufacturing was undergoing rapid development and radical change, the book represents an original contribution to British economics.
“On the economy of machinery and manufacturers was also the first book on operations research, discussing topics like the regulation of power, control of raw materials, division of labor, times studies, the advantage of size in manufacturing, inventory control, and duration and replacement of machinery. On pages 166 and 167 Babbage analyzed the production of his book as an example of the cost of each step in a particular production process. The work was Babbage’s most complete and professional piece of writing, and the only one of his books that went through four editions in his lifetime” (OOC).
“Adam Smith had never really abandoned the belief, reasonable enough in his day, that agriculture was the principal source of British wealth; Ricardo’s ideas were focused on corn; Babbage for the first time authoritatively placed the factory in the centre of the stage. The book is at once a hymn to the machine, an analysis of the development of machine-based production in the factory, and a discussion of social relations in industry…
“The Economy of manufacturers established Babbage’s position as a political economist and its influence is well attested, particularly on John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx. Babbage’s pioneering discussion of the effect of technical development on the size of industrial organizations was followed by Mill and the prediction of the continuing increase in the size of factories, often cited as one of Marx’s successful economic predictions, in fact derives from Babbage’s analysis… Babbage wrote with many talents: a natural philosopher and mechanical engineer, his knowledge of factory and workshop practice was encyclopaedic; he was well-versed in relevant business practice; and he was without rival as a mathematician among contemporary British political economists (Hyman, pp. 103-4).
Origins of Cyberspace 42; A. W. Van Sinderen, ‘The printed papers of Charles Babbage,’ Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 2, 1980, pp. 169-85, no. 45; A. Hyman, Charles Babbage, Pioneer of the Computer, 1982; J. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, Oxford University Press, New York 1954; For a detailed analysis, see N. Rosenberg, Babbage: Pioneer Economist.
Large 8vo (217 x 135), fine contemporary English calf with raised bands and black spine label (extremeties with some light wear), engraved book plate of the a banker and politician Baron Hambro to front paste down pp. xvi, 320, [2, advertisements], including added engraved title (with some spotting, less than is usual for this book). A fine and clean copy.