ARSON, Alexandre. Compensateur de la déviation du compas à bord des navires en fer. Paris: Imprimerie Viéville et Capiomont, 1871.

Octavo (236 x 152mm), pp. 61, [3 (blank)]. 10 lithographic plates printed by Regnier, 6 folding. Woodcut diagrams and letterpress tables in the text. (Some spotting, one plate with short marginal tears.) Original publisher’s blue cloth, lettered in gilt on the upper board and spine, grey endpapers. (Slightly marked, extremities a little rubbed and bumped, upper hinge cracked.) A very good copy in the original cloth. Provenance:‘Hommage de l’auteur Arson’ (autograph inscription on front free endpaper, apparently presented to) – John Scott CB, FRSE, FSAScot (1830-1903, by descent to R.E. Scott, bookplate recording the presentation of the Scott Library Collection in 1930 to:) – The Royal Institution of Naval Architects, London; deaccessioned and sold Christie’s London, 4-5 December 1974, lot 410 (part), to:) – G. Hulme (named purchaser).

First edition. Arson was an engineer and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, who also published three other works, including one on flight (Étude sur le propulseur pour l’aviation (Paris: 1879). The present work describes a compensator for maritime magnetic compasses, which were vulnerable to deflection (due to the influence of nearby steel or iron objects such as engines or armaments), and the shifting position of magnetic north, determined by the ship’s position on the earth’s surface. These factors could cause serious navigational problems, endangering the lives of the crew. After explaining the theories underpinning his work, and citing examples of the problems that the British vessels Trident and Warrior had suffered, Arson describes his ingenious solution to deflection. The compensator used a maritime compass mounted within a specially-adapted binnacle, which contained a system of fixed magnets, and mobile magnets which were moved by a hand-wheel. Once the error was corrected with the compensator by using the handwheel to adjust the moving magnets, the compass would be accurate, regardless of metal masses nearby or location.

This copy of Arson’s work is from the celebrated library formed by the shipbuilder and engineer John Scott, who was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Glasgow University, and then served an apprenticeship at the family firm of Messrs Scott & Co, who were leading shipbuilders on the Clyde. His apprenticeship was followed by a partnership, and in 1868 John Scott (in association with his brother Robert), became the responsible head of the firm, pioneering the development of the marine steam engine, and directing the firm’s ‘affairs for thirty-five years. The ships constructed in the Scott yard during his charge included many notable vessels for the mercantile marine as well as for the British navy; others, such as the battleships Canopus and Prince of Wales, were engined there’ (ODNB). John Scott was one of the original members of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, becoming a member of council in 1886 and vice-president in 1903, and he was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a member of both the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland.

Scott was also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in Scotland and a noted bibliophile, who ‘formed one of the finest private libraries in Scotland, reflecting his interest in Scotland and the Stuarts and containing some rare first editions and early manuscripts as well as literature relating to his own profession’ (op. cit.). Although the antiquarian and historical parts of his library were sold by Sotheby’s in an eleven-day sale which began on 27 March 1905, the professional library comprising more than 800 books, manuscripts, etc. was unsold when it was offered as a single lot, and was subsequently gifted to the Royal Institute of Naval Architecture in 1930. A selection of the books (including this) were later deaccessioned by the Institute and sold by Christie’s in 1974.



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