Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyOf Webb and the Web

  • Sat, 03 Nov 2012 05:04:33    Permalink

    William Henry Webb was one of those American geniuses who come along every generation. Men of his type are not noted for their poetry or invention, but for their ability to assemble and organize all the disparate parts of what is known and, from this synthesis, to establish new standards of efficiency and scale.
    The great industrialists of the 19th and early 20th centuries proceeded in this manner. Rather than devise new technologies men like Henry Ford systematized and perfected existing practices. The railroad barons and oil kings didnt invent locomotives or petroleum products their contribution, whether for good or ill, was to apply their knowledge on a scale beyond what anyone had previously imagined.  Webb fit perfectly into this scheme. Born just after the War of 1812, he went to work at an early age in his fathers shipyard in Manhattan. His parents had great hopes for him, and gave him a good private education, but Webb was keen on shipbuilding. He built his first boat at the age of twelve, and landed his first commercial job eight years later.
    This was followed by a lengthy tour of the famous Clyde shipyards in Scotland. While he was gone, however, his father died, leaving a mass of debt and an insolvent shipyard. Thus Webbs first task as head of the firm was to reorganize it and save it from bankruptcy.
    He succeeded in this beyond anyones dreams. His shipyard flourished during the Gold Rush and the clipper ship era, and produced some of the great sailing ships of their day. In time Webbs technical facility helped turn American shipbuilding from an art to a science. His ships both sail and steam were known for advanced design, quality workmanship, and attention to detail.
    The yard closed after the Civil War and Webb turned his energies to New York City politics and philanthropy. But, toward the end of his life, he summarized his shipbuilding accomplishments in his magnum opus, Plans of Wooden Vessels (pictured above, described below). Talk about Great Books this behemoth weighs in at 25 pounds, stands 16 inches tall, and has plates extending out as far as 6 feet.
    You could argue that the World Wide Web came into being in much the same way the accretion of known bits of knowledge and practice resulting in an entity that no one could have imagined.
    Isnt it interesting that, for all the bold predictions of the future, no one ever saw the personal computer coming? Has any single invention done more to change the way we go about our business? Similarly the Web has crept into every facet of our lives. I sell nothing but antiquarian books. Mostly, I use the Internet to do so.
    Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to my website a couple of days ago and saw this
    Yikes!
    Apparently, Google, who owns half the world (shades of the Pope dividing the globe between Portugal and Spain in the 15th century), found something hinky on my website. I am now in the process of spending hundreds (soon to be thousands) of dollars on geeks who are laboring mightily to identify and solve the problem if there is one. Interestingly, Internet Explorer, the Microsoft browser, doesnt think theres a problem at all
    So buy this book and help support my geeks.
    Webb, William H.  THIS BOOK CONTAINS PLANS OF WOODEN VESSELS SELECTED AS TYPES FROM ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY OF VARIOUS KINDS AND DESCRIPTIONS, FROM A FISHING SMACK TO THE LARGEST CLIPPER AND VESSELS OF WAR, BOTH SAIL AND STEAM, BUILT BY WM. H. WEBB, IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK, FROM THE YEAR 1840 TO THE YEAR 1869.  (N.Y.  n.d. ca. 1895.)  b/w plates, many multi-sheet.. Oblong folio, 2 vols. unpaginated. William Webb was one of the great American shipbuilders. Though best known for his clipper ships he produced a wide range of vessels and also founded Webb Academy and Webb Institute. McDonald says of this work, The great American shipbuilder presenting his and his fathers (Isaac) wooden ship designs. A treasure trove of authentic mid-19th Century plans. Brewington calls it the best American collection of lines in book form. It is a spectacular production. The page size is 15 1/2 inches high, with some plans extending out to 6 feet in length. Volume I shows 33 vessels in 62 plates. Among the vessel plans and lines are the pilot boat John McKean, schooner Vigilant, steamer California and clipper Young America. Volume II contains plans of 32 vessels in 61 plates. Vessels depicted include the steamers W.H. Webb, San Francisco, and Sacramento. See DAB, McDonald 347 and Brewington Bib. of Am. Works on Shipbuilding. This set seldom appears on the market. Bound in original maroon cloth with gold cover lettering, rebacked and recornered. Endpapers renewed. Each volume with the portrait of Webb, often missing, and each volume inscribed by Webb to the Atlantic Shipbuilding Company of East Boston, 1897. Clean and fresh - the best set Ive ever had. Two vols. $5500
     Next week Back on the Ledyard trail.

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