[Patch label on front cover:] Matériels & Outils de Sondages pour les mines & les colonies (Materials and Survey Tools for Mines and Colonies).Paris: Paulin Arrault Ingr. E.C.P., successeur; Bureaux & Ateliers de Construction, [c.1890] Stock Code: 123046
Superb album of artesian drilling and test rigsA handsomely presented and apparently unique album of 21 striking original albumen prints showing test rigs and drilling machinery, largely for use in artesian exploration, assembled for one of the leading French engineering concerns of the period, Mulot & Dru, described by a contemporary as "acknowledged in France to be masters of the art of boring" (Louis Simonin, Underground Life or, Mines and Miners, 1869, p. 79).
All prints are headed "Materiel Colonial". Four plates show "Appareil de Sondage" ("apparatus for sounding", i.e. test rigs) being put through their paces at what appears to be the premises of Dru & Mulot (these plates include details of drilling depths attainable for each rig). Five show drilling machinery: three of winches, one of a carousel in a metal casing for use in the Sahara (presumably to prevent dust entering the mechanism, this shown in another plate being operated by dromedaries) and one of a test rig with drill bits displayed in the background. Twelve photographs are of operational rigs in Algeria (Zaouia and "l'oued Rirh"the oasis at Wadi Rirh), Tunisia (Sfax), Senegal (Dakar, Saint-Louis), and Russia (the canal at the junction of the Don and Volga rivers). One photograph shows the "Mission de Commandant Roudaire dans les Chotts".
François Élie Roudaire (1836-1885) was a French army officer and geographer who worked extensively in North Africa, particularly at the Tunisian salt lakes, the French chotts (derived from the Arabic shatt, meaning broad canal, estuary or lake). In partnership with Ferdinand de Lessepsdeveloper of the Suez Canal (completed 1869)he proposed the construction of a 120-mile canal that would link the chotts of Algeria and Tunisia with the Gulf of Gabès on the Tunisian east coast, transforming the Sahara Desert into a fertile sea. "Such a sea, Captain Roudaire asserted, would cause fertilising rains to fall upon the now barren slopes of the Aures mountains in Algeria, and create a brisk commerce" (E. G. Ravenstein in Journal of the Statistical Society of Great Britain, March 1875, p. 425). This was an engineering venture that captured the imagination of the French public and became the subject of Jules Verne's last novel, L'invasion de la mer (The Invasion of the Sea, 1905). However, Roudaire's ambitious idea had a more cynical shadow-plan: to isolate the rebellious tribes of southern Tunisia, making it easier to contain and subdue them. Ultimately, Roudaire and De Lesseps's scheme failed through what was cited as bad geography and spiralling costs. In 1882, a high commission advised the French government against proceeding and worked stopped.
Léon Dru (1837-1904) was a French engineer and entrepreneur who, in partnership with his brother Saint-Just and fellow engineer Louis-Georges Mulot (1792-1872), instigated the drilling of numerous artesian wells in and around Paris, perhaps most famously the Puits de Grenelle in Place Georges-Mulot - where Mulot père et fils were caricatured by Daumier in a print of 1842 - and the Butte-aux-Cailles at Place Paul-Verlaine in the 13th arrondissement, which is still operational and where work was interrupted for some 20 years by contractual disagreements and the intrusion of the Paris Commune. Mulot, the senior partner, was dubbed the "Christophe Colomb des puits artésiens" ("the Columbus of artesian wells") by Gustave Pessard in his Nouveau dictionnaire historique de Paris (1904).
The successor to the firm was Paulin Arrault (1847-1901), who completed the drilling of the well at Butte-aux-Cailles. In 1890 Arrault published Outils et procédés de Sondages, which has been described as "one of the most elaborate, complete and attractive catalogues of pre-1900 well drilling tools and equipment in fact a textbook of water well drilling that listed all tools and equipment designed and manufactured by the publishing company Arrault's Bureaux & Ateliers de Construction, whose name appears on the front of the present album" (John Edward Brantly, History of Oil Well Drilling, 1971, p. 190). All three men, Léon Dru, Louis-Georges Mulot and Paulin Arrault, were awarded the Légion d'honneur.
A remarkable record of 19th-century engineering endeavourperhaps assembled for presentation to a senior member of the firm of Mulot & Dru or their successor, Paulin Arraultand compiled to celebrate the breadth and reach of their achievement.
Folio (430 x 335 mm). Contemporary presentation binding of brown half morocco, gilt lettered spine, marbled sides, patch label to front board, marbled endpapers.
21 original albumen prints (largest 213 x 291 mm, smallest 150 x 212 mm, average in the range 160 x 215 mm) mounted on linen-hinged heavy card mounts, all fully captioned in manuscript, and each with the company wet-stamp for Léon Dru beneath.
A few scrapes and light abrasions, corners through, some minor restoration to the spine, front free endpaper chipped at fore-edge, mounts lightly browned and with some marginal finger-soiling, some minor fading of a few of the prints themselves, but the great majority retain good tone and definition.
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