Age of Invention: The Chosen Fuel
Slow iron, money in trees, badly drawn animals, and bow-pike-man
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The past few weeks have involved me diving deeply into the history of fuel — all part of my investigation into the causes of London’s extraordinary early transition from wood to coal.
I can be quite distrustful of other historians, perhaps too much so for my own good. But I’ve been burned too many times by repeating an interesting or surprising fact, only to discover a few months later that it was false. So when diving into a new topic, I first tend to just read as much primary material as possible. The past few weeks have involved reading through the entire early English patent record, for example, looking for mentions of fuel. And checking to see if the patentees ever wrote anything, in case it might shed further light.
Here are a few things I’ve begun to notice, though I’ve yet to make enough sense of them to draw up into a fuller post just yet.
1] Before the English Civil War, patents often contained a clause specifying that the inventors pay an annual rent to the Crown. It struck me that I’ve never seen this fact used in any academic studies to try and judge the value of patents. These rents could take the form of set payments, handing over a share of the profits, or paying fees per output.