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William Congreve and the development...
Bookseller: Jeremy Norman's Historyofscience.com
Congreve, William (1772-1828). Unique collection of materials by and relating to rocketry pioneer William Congreve, including the following (for... More
Congreve, William (1772-1828). Unique collection of materials by and relating to rocketry pioneer William Congreve, including the following (for our full description of the collection, including a calendar of documents in the archive, please contact us or download the PDF available on our website under the Rare Books tab):
(1) Archive of 116 manuscripts, including Congreve's diary of the 1807 Copenhagen bombardment, 30 other manuscripts relating to Congreve war rockets and other military matters, 22 love letters from Congreve to his wife, and 27 manuscripts relating to Congreve's financial affairs. 1803-1869. Preserved in a cloth drop-back box.
(2) Bound volume of 2 printed pamphlets by Congreve on his rocket system, as follows:  A concise account of the origin and progress of the rocket system. . . . , 29pp. London: J. Whiting, 1807.  Speculation as to the principles of the flight of rockets, with a view to determine the precise effects of the stick . . . 8pp. Text diagrams. N.p., 1807. Together 2 items, 4to. 229 x 188 mm. 19th cent. boards, rebacked, endpapers renewed. Minor stains on blank flyleaf. Small library stamp of King's Inns Library, London on verso title and last leaf.
(3) Bound volume of 7 printed pamphlets by Congreve on his rocket system, as follows:  A concise account of the origin and progress of the rocket system . . . , 32, pp. London: J. Whiting, 1810. Second edition.  Postscript to the concise account of the origin and properties of the rocket system. 15pp. London: J. Whiting, 1808.  The different modes of use and exercises of rockets, both for bombardment and for the field. 20pp. 4 engraved plates. London: James Whiting, 1810.  Detail of a plan for attaching to cavalry regiments a proportion of rocket artillery, with case shot . . . 10pp. 2 folding engraved plates. London: James Whiting, 1809.  General view &c. General view of a complete course of experiments proposed to be tried . . . for the investigation and organization of the rocket system . . . [caption title]. 24pp. N.p., n.d. [1807 or after].  Memoir on the possibility, the means, and the importance, of the destruction of the Boulogne flotilla . . . , 34, [2, blank]pp. London: J. Whiting, 1806.  Explanation of the plan and intention of the project mortar boat [caption title]. -11pp. Folding engraved plate. [London]: Whiting, November 1807. Together 7 items in 1, 4to. 222 x 177 mm. Tree calf ca. 1810, rebacked preserving original gilt spine and leather label, small scratch on back cover; preserved in a cloth drop-back box. Engraved bookplate of Ernst Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and later King of Hanover (1771-1851), brother of George IV and head of the Hanoverian army, in which Congreve held the commission of lieutenant colonel.
(4) Congreve. A treatise on the general principles, powers, and facility of application of the Congreve rocket system as compared with artillery. . . . 4to. 84 [i.e., 80]pp. 12 engraved folding plates. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1827. 277 x 211 mm. Quarter morocco, marbled boards in period style; preserved in a cloth drop-back box. Minor foxing to some plates, occasional faint offsetting from plates. From the library of historian of rocketry and space travel Frederick I. Ordway III, with his bookplate.
(5) Beatson, Alexander (1759-1833). A view of the origin and conduct of the war with Tippoo Sultaun; comprising a narrative of the operations of the army under the command of Lieut.-General George Harris, and of the siege of Seringapatam. 4to. xxiii, 265, clxxii pp. Engraved frontispiece portrait and 5 folding plates (1 hand-colored), 2 folding printed tables. London: G. & W. Nicol, 1800. 268 x 218 mm. Mottled calf gilt ca. 1800, spine and corners worn, chip in lower spine, hinges cracked. Moderate foxing and toning, some offsetting from plates. From the library of Frederick I. Ordway, with his bookplate.
(6) Grant. Rocket practice in the marshes. Hand-colored aquatint engraving. Woolwich: J. Grant, 1845. 343 x 460 mm. Matted. From the collection of Frederick I. Ordway III, so labeled on the back of the mat. Fine.
No. (1) is the most significant archive extant of manuscript materials by and about the prolific English inventor and technologist William Congreve and his family. Congreve is best known for creating the first rocket weapons system and initiating the modern processes of research and development in rocketry. Our archive extends over six decades, from 1803 to 1869. No other archive or collection held by individuals or institutions compares to it.
Frank Winter, rocketry historian and author of the leading book on the history of the Congreve rocket, The First Golden Age of Rocketry (cited here as Winter 1990), cites in that work one manuscript at the British Library (titled "A second century of inventions," BM MS. 38844) and three letters dated 1785, 1810 and 1813. OCLC records a manuscript at Princeton dated 1794-1800 and titled "Exercises and manoeuvres for two light six pounders, or two heavy 3 pounders of General Desagulier's construction"; it is not stated whether the manuscript is in Congreve's hand. OCLC records a "Signed list of ammunition needed for a particular service," dated July 6, 1793, in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library (it is possible that this last was actually written by Congreve's father, who was head of the Royal Arsenal). These are, as far as we know, the only recorded manuscripts relating to William Congreve apart from our archive.
Included in our archive are letters and manuscripts covering William Congreve's career in rocketry. The most notable of these is his diary of the 1807 Copenhagen bombardment, which represents the first truly successful large-scale use of the Congreve war rocket in combat. Other noteworthy manuscripts include a signed draft and a fair copy of a "Report to the Commissioners of the Navy" dated October 1813, in which Congreve summarized his war rocketry activities from 1805 to 1813; a letter dated November 1813 relating to "the expense, or rather the economy of the Rocket System"; bills for materials used in rocket construction; an undated letter to a Captain Elliot discussing the subject of a "rocket cavalry"; letters discussing a plan of "applying Rockets for throwing ropes ashore from shipwrecked vessels"; and letters in which Congreve writes of his achievements and his attitude towards his work. The archive also contains manuscripts and letters relating to some of Congreve's other inventions: naval guns, bombships, and Congreve's design for a paddlewheel boat, which is detailed in a long letter illustrated with Congreve's sketches. Also included are a long series of love letters that Congreve wrote to his wife, Isabella, and another series of long, detailed letters written to Congreve during the last few months of his life by his secretary, R. Drake, discussing, among other things, Congreve's political career as a Member of Parliament, his precarious financial position, the publication of his Treatise on the General Principles, Powers, and Facility of Application of the Congreve Rocket System (1827), and negotiations with the British East India Company for exclusive rights to the Congreve war rocket for use in India.
A calendar of all the documents in the archive can be had from us upon request.
Nos. (2) and (3) contain a total of nine papers constituting the nucleus of Congreve's publications on rockets, beginning with his proposal for the attack on Boulogne and finishing with somewhat revised versions of his first expositions of the rocket system. A bound collection identical to our no. (3) is held at the Naval History Center of the U.S. Navy Department Library; this suggests that Congreve had a few collections like these made, most likely for presentation. Our collection bears the bookplate of Prince Ernst Augustus (1771-1851), fifth son of George III; he was made Duke of Cumberland in 1799, and in 1837, with the death of his brother William IV, he became King of Hanover. Ernst Augustus no doubt figured largely in Congreve's sphere, both as the brother of the Prince of Wales, whose patronage Congreve enjoyed, and as the head of the Hanoverian army, in which Congreve was awarded a commission in 1811.
No. (4), A Treatise on the General Principles, Powers, and Facility of Application of the Congreve Rocket System, contains the fullest account of Congreve's rocket system. It is the only one of his works to contain illustrations of the Congreve rocket system in use. The plates depict the use of the rockets in various military situations: by rocket cavalry and infantry, in bombardment from earthworks, in the attack and defense of fortresses, from boats and ships, etc. Letters referring to the book's publication can be found in the Congreve archive.
No. (5), Beatson's View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun, is an account of the fourth Anglo-Mysore war (1798-99), in which Indian troops under Tipu Sultan of Mysore (1750-1799) were defeated by the British East India Company under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington). Tipu, together with his father, Hyder Ali, developed the tactic of using rocket brigades to launch mass attacks on infantry formations. These rocket attacks, used during both the third and fourth Anglo-Mysore wars, so impressed the British forces that they brought several examples of Indian gunpowder rockets back to England; these provided Congreve with the inspiration to develop his own system of war rockets.
No. (6), a hand-colored aquatint engraving published by R. Grant, shows British Army war rocket practice using a rocket launcher mounted on a tripod. The image was used as an illustration in the Army and Navy Register and Woolwich Gazette for 1845.Less
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