"Notes on Knots" Online Exhibit Coming Soon


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From the rigging of the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria to the humble fisherman’s line, knots have been at the foundation of many of the most important, and everyday, events in maritime history.  Without knots, much of the maritime world would literally fall apart.

Library staff recently unearthed what many in the knot-tying community consider to be the “Holy Grail on knots,” Henry North Grant Bushby’s manuscript “Notes on Knots.”  Composed of eight volumes with over 1,900 hand-written pages and beautifully drawn pen and ink diagrams,  Bushby’s manuscript represents an in depth study of knotting and ropework, as well as knot theory.  Written between 1902 and his death in 1926, Bushby’s work was never published.  Bushby’s daughter, Dorothy, donated her father’s writings to The Mariners’ Museum Library in 1957.

In 2011, the Library will launch its first online exhibit showcasing this extraordinary, one-of-a-kind item.

5 thoughts on “"Notes on Knots" Online Exhibit Coming Soon”

  1. Great to hear about Bushby going on-line.
    It will(?!) be BETTER to hear that the library had made the work e-accessible, available to (the keen few & far (D.C., Netherlands, UK, Paris)) others via DVD copy!? yes, please !!!
    –and to other libraries.

    On you page announcing this, I must remark at one solecism:
    “Comprised of eight volumes” –please excise “comprised OF” from anything. The whole comprised (all of) its parts; it includes (some of) them; the entirety of parts constitute the whole, are comprised by the whole;
    some parts are contained it the whole.

    There are complementary terms here, best used so, and not all plopped by lazy usage into another English slop!

    Now, something for your researchers to take up, which I have failed to find, re H.N.G.Bushby’s “Notes on Knots” : WHO/what is his frequent & early reference “H.” ?!! His citations have the form “H. (33.iii.B)” where all the arabic numerals I found were in the 30s (“3x”), the small Roman numerals in the range i..iv (1-4), and the suffix letters only “T”/”B” (top/bottom?). To what sort of work might such citations refer???
    Oddly, though this reference come early in Vol.1, and often enough throughout, he doesn’t have “H.” noted in his front cover list of “Authorities” ??!! Very puzzling, intriguing.

    (I’m leaning towards it being some kind of reference to maybe a draft document by Hasluck (did a knots book in 1904, wrote articles by pseudonym “Haslope” in “Work” ca. 1892, IIRC.)

    Re DVD copy, may I visit the museum and make a photo’d copy by camera –click, click, click … ?
    Holding this precious SOLE copy is both highly restrictive for any real use (I’ll wager virtually no one uses it –the IGKT (& I) were there in 2003; Pieter van de Griend some years earlier; who else?), and very dangerous re presevation –one copy in the world, easily lost to fire/water/or just change of priorities => trash (!).


    1. Thank you for visiting our Library’s blog! I’m glad you are excited about the Bushby manuscript. You can be assured that the manuscript is safe and will never be thrown away or discarded. We are working hard to get portions of it online in the near future. Keep checking back for updates!

      Good call on my usage of “comprised”!

  2. Mr. Bushby was one of the first people in the world to undertake a wide and systematic study of knots, which extended beyond the mariner realm. He was a very educated and inquisitive person, had access to an impressive array of sources and approached the study from more than one direction. He spoke to Lowestoft fishermen about how they mended their nets as easily as he read Benedict Listing’s work on the emerging field of topology. In fact he proposed a knotting invariant of his own! He was the first to provide an (attemptive) proof of the so-called “Law of the Common Divisor for Turk’s Head Knots”. A law whose mention did not make it into print until Clifford Ashley (1944)and whose proof had to wait till Schaake & Turner (1988). He presented an in-depth study of decorative knotting, which was not equalled till Hjalmar Ohrvall began publishing his knotting monographs from 1908 onwards.

    One of the great accomplishments of Henry Bushby is that he compiled a knot-collection across earlier recordings and contemporary sources, which he presents in a representative time-frame. Doing so he showed that the subject at the beginning of the 1900’s was considered sufficiently mature to actually undertake such a study.

    It is a great pity that Henry North Grant Bushby’s work did not make it past its manuscript stage. It is equally amazing that the great American icons in knotting, Clifford Warren Ashley and Cyrus Lawrence Day, were unaware of the existance of Bushby’s “Notes on Knots”. Leaving it undiscovered for so long.

    I thank you wholeheartedly, and applaud your initiative, to share this incredible study of knots on-line with the knotting community!

  3. I was also pleased to hear this work is being digitally preserved. Unlike the above commenters I have not had the opportunity to visit your library. I am very much looking forward to it being made available.

    Would it be possible to post an update on the status of this project? I looked around a bit and only saw a few passing mentions: a talk last year and as an item on a dinner meeting agenda. Thanks!

  4. Congratulations to the Mariners Museum and the International Guild of Knot Tyers (IGKT) for publishing a beautiful book about the non-mathematical volumes in Henry North Grant Bushby’s manuscript. Enabling this work to reach the larger knot-tying community is much appreciated. Thank you and well done!

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