Going Back to Read About Finishing’s Future

A marvelous website enables you to read books about finishing from 100+ years ago, as Archive.org gives researchers, historians, scholars and the general public access to historical collections that exist in digital format.


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George Langbein had a great idea, one he thought just had to be done because, well, it had never been done before. So George, a German who was a metallurgist by trade, sat down and wrote a book about all he knows about metal plating.
“The art of the electro-deposition of metals,” Langbein wrote, “has during recent years attained such a high degree of development that it was felt that a comprehensive and complete treatise was needed to represent the present advanced state of this important industry.”
Langbein wrote his book in 1891, long before word processors or tablet computers, so we can only guess that he spent many a night by candlelight jotting down his thoughts about electro-deposition on some type of parchment paper, enough that it turned into nearly 800 printed pages in his book.
The title, A Complete Treatise On The Electro-Deposition Of Metals: Comprising Electro-Plating And Galvanoplastic Operations, The Deposition Of Metals By The Contact And Immersion Processes, The Coloring Of Metals, The Methods Of Grinding And Polishing, (try typing that into Amazon!) is an English-translated version of Langbein’s original German work, Handbuch der Elektrolytischen Metallniederschlage.
The U.S. publisher who printed the book in 1909 promised in the forward that “a thorough revision has been made, and a good deal of new matter has been inserted,” and that “due attention has been paid to all important innovations, particularly to the electrolysis of zinc, in which considerable progress has been made during the past few years, and it has been endeavored to include all practical methods of plating which have become known since the publication of the fifth edition, as well as the most recent machinery and apparatus.”
Langbein’s tome makes good reading, as does The Art Of Electro-Metallurgy Including All Known Processes Of Electro-Deposition by George Gore, an 1894 page-turner that claims to include all “known processes of electro-deposition.” But we had already assumed this by the bulky 430 pages of chemistry and technique Gore writes about.
Writes Gore: “Having been asked by the publishers of the Textbooks of Science to write a small volume on the subject of electro-metallurgy, I have endeavoured to produce such a book as would be useful to scientific students, to practical workers in the art of electro-metallurgy, gilders, platers, and to all persons who wish to obtain in a compact form an explanation of the principles and facts upon which the art of electro-metallurgy is based, the circumstances under which nearly every known metal is deposited, and the special details of technical workshop manipulation in the galvano-plastic art.”
So why do I bring up books published more than 100 years ago that I probably can’t even get on my Kindle?
Because they are the documented history of the finishing industry and some of the first writings on the topic of plating, despite the fact that finishing goes back to the 1500s when we were “coating metals by simple immersion known to Zozimus and Paracelsus,” as Langbein writes.
It wasn’t so much that these books were written; it was more that they were the books being read and studied by craftsmen at the turn of the century who were setting up shops in the U.S. and trying to catch the wave of the Industrial Revolution. It was through these books that the earlier shops learned the craft and taught each other, and the profession came to be.
A marvelous website enables you to read these books today. Archive.org is run by a non-profit organization founded to give researchers, historians, scholars and the general public access to historical collections that exist in digital format. If you go to the site and search for plating or electro-deposition works, you will find dozens of out-of-print books from a hundred or more years ago that document the history of the industry from a technical and operational standpoint.
The Cleaning And Electro-Plating Of Metals by Herman Reams was written in 1920 and is a typical example of what you’ll discover. The entire book can be read online from actual scanned pages, downloaded as a PDF or text document, or—you won’t belief this—downloaded to your Kindle or iPad.
So, if you’ve been searching for the 1905 bestseller The Electro-Platers' Handbook: A Practical Manual For Amateurs And Students In Electrometallurgy by G.E. Bonney, go to Archive.org and read all about it.
Of course, there are thousands of other topics in history, sports and science that also are stored on the site, so have at it. And who says you can’t get anything for free these days?