David Steel, an English bookseller, publisher, and author on maritime topics, died Jan. 19, 1803, at age 40. We know very little about Steel; what we do know comes solely from an obituary notice in The Gentleman’s Magazine. But we do learn here that Steel collaborated with his father (about whom we know nothing) to publish The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship (1794). About the book we know a great deal. This is a large, handsome, two-volume work about ships, rigging, sails, and pulley blocks, illustrated with a copious number of very detailed engravings. Steel’s volumes are THE guide to ship-rigging in the Age of Nelson, and as such the set is highly sought after by maritime historians and model ship builders. It was often revised and reprinted, and several facsimiles have been published. Here in the Library we unexpectedly have a fine copy of the two-volume first edition. We have not digitized out copy, so the illustrations above come from online sources. We see a plate with 7 various ships with their rigging (first image); an offering from a rare book dealer’s catalog, with a view of the spines of the two volumes, the frontispiece, and the title page (second image); a polacre (a bark) fully rigged (third image); a plate showing 6 types of sails (fourth image); and a curious folding plate containing a compass rose volvelle, with a moveable ship serving as pointer.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.