Part of the personal library of James Watt (1736-1819), the famous engineer

The Watt Collection

The Watt Collection in the Science Museum Library consists of 119 titles owned by James Watt (1736-1819), the famous engineer, and is associated with the garret workshop of his home in Heathfield, Birmingham. The house itself was demolished in 1924 and its owner, Major J M Gibson Watt, a direct descendent of James Watt, presented the contents of the room to the nation and they were moved to the Science Museum in London where an exact replica of the workshop was built. He supplemented the workshop's contents with a large number of objects that had, at some period in Watt's lifetime, been in the room, but afterwards had been moved elsewhere. These included this collection of books and periodicals which were moved to the Science Museum Library in 1987.

The collection does not constitute James Watt's entire library. Many items were moved elsewhere, including all his books on the steam-engine. However it does contain many contemporary works of interest, including books by, and about, fellow members of the Lunar Society. It also sheds some light on Watt's own character and certainly the large number of medical works act as a testament to his own ill health.

This collection has been completely computer catalogued you an download a PDF document of the full listing.

James Watt and the Lunar Society

The Lunar Society of Birmingham acted as a focus for communication and research for its members - a small group of individuals who became the main forces of change at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Membership was by invitation only and included Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Richard Lovell Edgworth, James Keir, Joseph Priestley, William Small, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, John Whitehurst and William Withering. The Lunar Society was informal; members met for dinner once a month in the afternoon of the Monday nearest the time of the full moon - hence its name.

Their interests were diverse covering a wide range of subjects in technology, science and medicine. There were no minutes or published proceedings of the Society. Only one member, Joseph Priestley, ever referred to the Society in print while it was active. Most members lived in or near Birmingham and could consult daily. When this was not possible members wrote to each other and their surviving correspondence provides a rich source of history for the Lunar Society. Members collaborated on engineering and scientific projects and supported each others work.

Many of the authors of books in the Watt Collection were either members of the Lunar Society or connected in some other way. Others wrote books on subjects of mutual interest to the Society. The costs of publication in the 18th century were often spread amongst a number of individuals who became subscribers. For instance, Abraham Bennet's New experiments on electricity (1789) lists many Lunar Society members, including Watt, as subscribers. Other items in the collection were signed and presented to James Watt by their authors.