Agostino Romelli’s Book Wheel (1588)

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

Agostino Ramelli, the Engineer

The wheel has become associated with many different objects and forms of entertainment throughout history; such as the Ferris Wheel and the London Eye. A rather unexpected way of wheel in history, however, is an invention called the book wheel. The most popular representation of such a device was by Italian engineer Agostino Ramelli. His book Le diverse et artificiose machine del Capitano Agostino Ramelli published in 1588, in English this translates to The various and ingenious machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli, contains his own illustration of a book wheel, along with several other machines such as water-raising machines and wells.

Agostino Ramelli (from Diverse et artificiose machine)

Ramelli’s Book Wheel

The book wheel consisted of a rotating wooden wheel with several stands in which books could be placed. With the wheel placed in front of the reader, who would have been seated on a chair, the user could operate with their hands or feet to turn the wheel and circulate round whichever book they sought to read. One book wheel could potentially hold a dozen books at a time, enabling the user to switch between all the books in one sitting. Ultimately, this invention would change the way of reading from a linear, book-by-book, cover-to-cover, form of reading, to engaging with, and learning from, several books on one or more topics at a time in a comfortable manner.

In Agostino Ramelli’s book, where this illustration of the book wheel can be viewed, he remarks upon the convenience of such a device, especially for people with gout as they are able to sit comfortably and read a variety of books without moving around. Ramelli further stated that it takes up little space in a room creating further convenience. Although Ramelli never saw his book wheel created in his lifetime, others have created similar machines. For example, in 1985 the book wheel was recreated by architect Daniel Libeskind for display at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 1986. Libeskind renamed it the ‘Reading Machine’ but the significance and influence of Ramelli’s illustration is clearly evident.

To find out more about the history of the wheel listen to our podcast!

By Amy Stokes

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