Publisher Information: London: W. Nicol, 1826.
Babbage, Charles (1791-1871). On a method of expressing by signs the action of machinery. Offprint from Philosophical Transactions 116, pt. 3 (1826). , 16pp. 4 plates. 298 x 229 mm. Original plain blue wrappers, spine split, a few chips; preserved in a quarter morocco drop-back box. Edges a bit frayed, minor spotting and staining, one folding plate backed with linen, but very good. Stamp of the Detroit Public Library, dated 1892, on title and plate; small date-stamp on title verso.
First Edition, Offprint Issue, published prior to the journal version, of Babbage’s first publication of his system of mechanical notation that enabled him to describe the logic and operation of his Difference and Analytical Engines on paper as they would be fabricated in metal. Babbage’s system was an entirely new formal engineering tool, akin to a programming language—“a language of signs meant to represent not just the physical form of a machine but its more elusive properties: its timing and its logic” (Gleick, The Information, p. 102). Babbage later stated that
"Without the aid of this language I could not have invented the Analytical Engine; nor do I believe that any machinery of equal complexity can ever be contrived without the assistance of that or of some other equivalent language. The Difference Engine No. 2 . . . is entirely described by its aid” (Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher , p. 104).
Babbage considered his mechanical notation system to be one of his finest inventions and thought it should be widely implemented. It was a source of frustration to him that no other machine designer adopted it, probably because no other engineer during Babbage’s time attempted to build machines as logically and mechanically complex as his. More than one hundred years later, in the 1930s, when developments in logic were applied to switching systems in the earliest efforts to develop electromechanical calculators, Claude Shannon demonstrated that Boolean algebra could be applied to the same types of problems for which Babbage had designed his mechanical notation system.
The offprint of Babbage’s paper was issued prior to its publication in Vol. 116 of the Philosophical Transactions. A notice printed on the title verso requests that “Gentlemen who are indulged with separate copies of their communications” refrain from having them reprinted “till a month after the publication of that part of the Philosophical Transactions in which they are inserted.” Origins of Cyberspace 37 (journal issue). Van Sinderen 1980, no. 27.Book Id: 45288