Book Review: An American Genius

Dec. 1, 2006
This new book chronicles the history of men and their companies of the early America.

Beautiful was the first word that came to my mind when I opened up the new book American Genius by David and John Erroll. This book chronicles the history of men and their companies, that began, evolved and transformed the bank lock and time lock industries of the early America. However, a book of this nature with only text could never do this historical subject justice.

Author John Erroll is the curator for the Mossman Collection held at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of New York City. A retired clinical psychologist, now able to see the fruits of his many years of labor, a labor of love and passion exploding from the pages of American Genius.

The beauty of the craftsmanship, detail and ingenuity of these mechanical masterpieces can truly only be appreciated through the exquisite visual images captured by renowned photographer Anne Day. American Genius contains hundreds of beautiful, full color photographs to complement the text. Where an image might normally be worth a thousand words, Ms. Day’s photos will leave you speechless. Examples of the book’s photography are included in this article.

When I think of the word “text,” I’m likely reminded of a schoolbook or study guide of sorts. Yes, this book is full of history and stories, never compiled together in one place before, less the vision that began in the mind of John Erroll. But American Genius also brings to light the obscure, the forgotten and coveted pieces of mechanical wonders that spoke of an era long gone, when a man’s word was more precious than life itself and when he was proud to sign his work and stand behind it. Likely never considering those of us in the future that would ponder over the majesty and splendor of these masterpiece inventions.

Only 21 pages out of the 350 plus are without photographs or illustrations of one kind or another. Hardly a paragraph is written without a footnote. Three hundred and seventy six annotations, presenting exhaustive documentation, further bear witness and evidence of all that has been stated and assembled here. There is little room for conjecture or supposition within this volume as the narration exhaustively chronicles the facts of these mechanical masterpieces and their makers.

Much of what is seen and spoken of throughout this manuscript is the embodiment of John Mossman’s Collection. The balance of the masterpieces, covered in the book, belongs to the personal collection of the author, John Erroll. The Mossman Collection is now permanently displayed at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of New York City. Many of our readers might be familiar with the Mossman Collection as it is expressly covered in the book, Lure of the Lock.

Whether relatively new or an old timer to the lock industry shall not matter, for the authors of American Genius have blended beautiful and captivating photographs with an eloquent lexis for all to enjoy.

There are many who are sure to acquire this book who have nothing to do with our industry –simply because of its own grandeur. Others are still in the painful process of writing books to further complement the history of locks from varied perspectives. The bar has now been set extremely high.

As a consequence of this exceptionally published manuscript, there are many of us that hope to see this work advance the circulation of new, lost or forgotten information as well as bring to the surface additional examples of these masterpieces from years ago now long gone.

My personal thanks to John, David, Anne and all the other individuals whose contributions made American Genius much more than I ever could have imagined, and certainly more than worth waiting for.

All the royalties and proceeds from the book go to support the programs of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York. The General Society was founded in 1785 and started a free school and library in 1820. The school offers continuing education at no cost to members of the building trades so they can advance themselves in diverse fields ranging from project management to CAD/CAM for architects. The library offers public membership and focuses on the useful arts, building trades, construction and architecture.

To purchase a copy of American Genius, consider helping to provide the continued support of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of New York City with their endeavor to preserve and maintain the Mossman Collection by ordering your purchases directly from the General Society, online at or by calling (212) 921-1767. It can be purchased using either Paypal or a credit card. Cover price for the book is $95, but ordered through the General Society, the cost is only $65 (including shipping and handling). Copies of the book, Lure of the Lock, are also available as well as photo CD’s of the Mossman Collection. You may contact the General Society by email using [email protected].