You might have seen this image floating around on social media:
This beautiful gadget that looks like a portable water wheel is a book wheel. The one in this image being passed around is from the Georgian era (early 18th century), but they go back even farther.
The image below is from “The Diverse and Artifactitious Machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli” (say THAT three times fast) from 1588.
Ramelli invented this whimsical wheel of wisdom to help solve the age old problem all of us researchers have encountered – needing to collate several sources at once. Or, a more modern analogy – having a ton of tabs open. Ironically, precisely what I did to research this post! We love irony around here. Interestingly, has been noted that the machine made a somewhat pleasant clicking sound as one rotated tomes. I suppose not unlike the quiet clicking of a mouse button today.
But, Ramelli’s wheel was not the first invention to try to tackle the problem of trying to download craptons of data into your head at once. The less obvious carousel was popular before the clearly superior scribal circulator.
This image from the 15th century perfectly captures how jealous carousel-less scholars were of those who had a carousel. Even then DOG wants in on this carousel action. The amazement toward this device has clearly warn off for the lady of the house. The idea was that you could have multiple volumes in this fancy lazy susan.
Here is a close up from the 14th century of an adorable tabletop version:
Too bad Christine de Pisan did not have one. Christine, we’re in love with your bibliophilia, girl! And we feel your pain…