Contributed by Anne Bahde, Rare Books and History of Science Librarian
This final post continues our look at this marvelous new collection, the types of research resources it contains, and potential topics of inquiry supported by it. See last week’s announcement to explore other collection strengths and examples of ephemera.
Increased public awareness about the health and environmental dangers of radioactive fallout from nuclear tests is documented through fallout shelter designs, disaster plans, and guides for the layperson on radiation detection. The Harris materials add further depth to this topical area in SCARC’s collections, which also includes materials in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, the History of Atomic Energy Rare Book Collection, and the Barton Hacker Papers.
A number of items relate to educating laypersons and/or students about nuclear energy and science, including school newsletters, curricula, comic books, exhibit guides, and manuals. These materials, with others from SCARC collections, can collectively show how atomic energy was introduced to a generation of children, teenagers, and young people whose lives would be affected by it.
The presence of the developing nuclear industries is asserted in the later 1940s through the next two decades, in the form of uranium prospecting materials, investment guides, company booklets, trade publications, and promotional materials. The growth of nuclear power is well represented in the form of brochures, postcards, and training guides.
Materials related to anti-nuclear activism are present from just after WWII and increase in number during the 1950s and 1960s, with organized protests and rallies advertised in posters, flyers, and leaflets. The late 20th century is reflected in ephemera related to nuclear-themed protest art and the space race, as well as satiric posters and postcards.
The Harris Collection of Atomic Age Ephemera provides moving examples of the presence of the atom in our lives, and tells this story from nearly every possible angle. The materials comprise broad coverage of many scientific, religious, cultural, industrial, political, environmental, and other aspects of nuclear history. Rarities and surprises abound in the collection. Particularly notable items include: a program to a lecture by Nicola Tesla lecture on Roentgen rays in 1897; restricted newspapers from Manhattan Project locations; an early offprint of an address to Los Alamos scientists by J. Robert Oppenheimer, dated November 1945; this moving tour map of Hiroshima from 1949; and much, much more! We look forward to seeing how this fantastic collection is used to support research and teaching at OSU.
Carefully collected over three decades, this collection was one of the largest collections on American nuclear history in private hands before coming to OSU in 2017. Collector Robert Dalton Harris, Jr. and his partner Diane DeBlois are authors, editors, historians, independent scholars, and long-time proprietors of aGatherin’, a business that deals in ephemera and original source materials. They began building a collection of materials from the era in the early 1980s, and added books, pieces of ephemera, manuscript collections, and artifacts gradually over decades.
The materials of the collection span over a century of nuclear science and history. Together, these items tell the story of the Atomic Age from every possible angle, capturing the hopes and fears of the world’s citizens as they grappled with the promises and dangers posed by atomic discoveries, both in the United States and internationally.
The Harris Collection of the Atomic Age is in three parts. Part 1 is comprised of nearly 30 separate manuscript and archival collections from individuals who were associated in some way with the nuclear era, including Leo Szilard, Norman Hilberry, Joseph Dietrich, and Peter Skinner. The collection also includes rich collections around the concept of imminent danger or disaster, including the Y2K scare and the fable of Chicken Little. These collections will be processed individually in the coming years. The first of these, the Anne Frewerd Scrapbook, is an exciting first-hand look at a young woman’s life at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project and will be released soon.
Part 2, Books, is composed of nearly 1,000 published print items, again covering a multitude of nuclear angles and issues and dating from the late 19th century to the early 21st century. Print items include both books and magazines/journals. Cataloging for monograph and serial publications from the Harris Collection of the Atomic Age is ongoing, and research access to these titles is limited until cataloging is finished.
Part 3, Ephemera, is the part of the collection now open for researchers. (This previous post explores the definition of ephemera using materials from the collection.) In this collection , the story of the Atomic Age is told through nearly 50 different material types. The majority of items are typical ephemera formats such as newspapers, pamphlets, booklets, brochures, leaflets, flyers, posters, and postcards. Additional formats in the collection include stamps, promotional materials and advertisements, newsletters, instructional materials, conference materials, government documents, calendars, stickers, stamps and envelopes, original art, sheet music, and artifacts.
The Harris materials join existing collections on nuclear history in SCARC, and add considerable depth to a number of nuclear subjects already covered in those collections. The Harris materials also establish sub-strengths that did not yet exist in our collections. Below, and in the next post, we will explore a few of those areas and the research topics across many disciplines these materials can support.
Many materials prior to 1945 deal with early scientific advances and the therapeutic radium craze, documented through promotional materials, testimonials, and advertisements. Prior to the Harris acquisition, SCARC collections were somewhat sparse on this crucial era of nuclear history. The Ephemera Collection adds a number of items, and additional titles wait to be cataloged. These materials can support a wide variety of research topics around radium use in health, science, and culture.
Photographs, scrapbooks, and newspapers from Manhattan Project sites reflect the development of the atomic bomb and the relationships between government, scientists, and citizens during the war. The Harris Ephemera collection has particular strength in the early American response to news of the atomic bomb. This response is documented through over 75 pieces produced in the immediate days and months after the United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The large set of newspapers in this section, particularly the rare newspapers from Hanford and Oak Ridge announcing and discussing the atomic bomb, are a notable highlight of the collection.
Tensions around international control of atomic energy in the years just following the war are represented through offprints, reports, and speeches. Growing anxiety at the start of the Cold War and calls for peace from individuals and organizations can be seen in pamphlets, newsletters, and article reprints. One very rare item describes the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission and its mission in Japanese for victims of the Hiroshima bombing.
Civil defense is a primary concentration of the collection, and a number of handbooks, manuals, training materials, and survival guides dominate the collection from 1950 to 1965. The Harris materials deepen this existing concentration for our collections and provide exciting new examples of civil defense ephemera, including a fallout shelter sign and other artifacts. These examples with others across our collections can support a wide range of research into this tense period of American history.
The final post in this series will continue to explore the rich Harris Collection, including materials relating to testing, fallout, public engagement with nuclear issues, education, nuclear industries, nuclear power, nuclear disasters, and anti-nuclear activism. The Harris Collection of Atomic Age Ephemera can be now consulted by appointment in SCARC’s reading room.
Contributed by Anne Bahde, Rare Books and History of Science Librarian
The Robert Dalton Harris, Jr. Collection of Atomic Age Ephemera is nearly ready for researcher access. Comprised of hundreds of pieces of printed ephemera produced between 1897 and 2010, this marvelous collection will serve researchers across a broad range of issues in nuclear history, covering scientific, religious, cultural, industrial, political, environmental, and other areas.
This occasion provides an opportunity to explore the particularly special genre of printed ephemera, along with its rewards and challenges. As a source type, ephemera often provides some of the richest information about a time period or topic, and can lead researchers to unique insights.
The genre has long been plagued by a problem of definition. Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the New York Academy of Medicine, describes the situation best: “Ephemera is a synthetic term applied inconsistently over time by historians and collection stewards…[it] has meant different things to collectors, librarians, and historians.”
Typically, the word refers to printed materials that are not commonly saved. The Ephemera Society of America’s delightfully illustrated definitions page presents a detailed history of the term, quoting Oxford Reference,
“…ephemera refers to “things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time, items of collectable memorabilia typically written or printed that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity. Recorded in English from the late 16th century as the plural of ephemeron from Greek, neuter of ephēmeros ‘lasting only a day’. The word originally denoted a plant said to last only one day, or an insect with a short lifespan, and hence was applied to a thing of short-lived interest. Current use has been influenced by plurals such as trivia and memorabilia.”
By definition, ephemera has its expiration date built into its creation; it is designed to be short-lived and discarded after use. Because of this deliberate temporality, ephemera that does survive its intended lifetime can often provide a sharper or closer view of a moment in time than other primary source types also surviving from that time. In this sense, ephemera is special even on the special collections spectrum.
The Harris Collection has many examples of transitory ephemera designed to be short-lived or disposable. Examples of these types include brochures, calendars, comic books, envelopes, flyers, leaflets, petitions, postcards, promotional materials and advertisements, programs, stamps, and tickets.
However, the collection also contains many ephemera items that are theopposite of this definition; things specifically created to last beyond one use and/or to be kept and saved. “Something of no lasting significance” depends on who is assessing that significance, and when and why. In the Atomic Age, for example, saving the item could in fact be a matter of life or death. For example, the cards below were printed to be kept in a wallet or pocketbook in case of a nuclear weapon attack, providing a handy guide for how to save one’s life in that potentiality. (Perhaps in that sense these do imply a single use only?)
Other non-transitory material types in the collection that were meant to be kept include certificates, government documents, handbooks and manuals, maps, photographs, sheet music, and stickers. Defining an item as ephemera is sometimes dependent on its original use and context, when known. For example, today we might consider a physical photograph something to treasure and keep. But the photographs shown below were created for the purpose of press releases, which means they could be used once by a publication, then discarded if necessary (thus making their current existence more notable).
Pieces of ephemera dodge many possible deaths through time. Ephemera is generally what goes into the wastebasket when a purse or a drawer or a pocket is emptied. But at some point, some human decided that an item was worth saving. Many pieces in the Harris Collection bear physical evidence of that saving effort over time, showing careful folds, taped edges, and smoothed crumples. Perhaps it was merely chance that saved the item, safely setting it aside through a kaleidoscope of shifting human circumstances and situations.
The following five pieces from the collection illustrate the ambiguity of the term and raise provocative questions about the nature of ephemera and the lessons ephemera can teach us.
1. TheVillager was the town newspaper for Richland, Washington, where the massive workforce for Hanford secretly resided. This Extra issue was produced in the hours immediately after news of the atomic bomb had been released to the world. A detail from the main story puts modern readers straight into the confusing fray of the news around town: “as in other parts of the country, it was the housewives who first heard the news over their radios, and broke it to their husbands in the flurry of telephone calls which kept the switchboards humming.”
This page also gives us a look at how tricky it must have been to be a journalist at Hanford. Upon hearing the news, the unnamed reporter for The Villager immediately set out to spread the revealed secret on the street. But this reporter had the very frustrating role of breaking news both to skeptics and to those who had been repeatedly warned about keeping secrets. Reactions ranged from disbelief, to pride, to jubilation and hopes for the war to be over soon. Several workers voiced racist hatred of the Japanese. But many of them wouldn’t talk at all, concluding that they had been told never to talk about the project, their role in it, or anything else to anyone, and therefore had nothing to say: “You know we’re not supposed to ask questions.”
This page is filled with remarkable statements that help us understand how Americans would collectively process the news of the atomic bomb. One small box in the center of the page asks “How Much Damage?” reporting that while everyone was asking the question, no true news about this fact was yet known: “Japanese news sources, while admitting the raid, did not reveal the extent of the damage.” Another small box asks “What is Atomic Bomb?” and marvels that “observers report that the explosion was thousands of times greater than an earthquake and may change the course of civilization.” This statement is repeated elsewhere on the page, suggesting the difficulty of conveying news of such magnitude to readers.
The grouping of newspapers in the Harris Collection invites comparisons across different categories to aid in teaching and learning. When grouped with other Villager issues, issues of the Oak Ridge Journal and T. E. C. Bulletin, this issue can illustrate how workers of the Manhattan Project began to understand their role in this news and how it affected the end of the war. One of them likely kept this memento of the day the secret was known, and the day their world changed forever.
2. This astonishing pamphlet, issued by Hiroshima City Hall, was produced just four years after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city. The black and white photographs that had been seen in the press showed charred, flattened, twisted ruins where a vibrant city had once stood; but the dead grays of those photographs are replaced here by bright blues, greens, and reds. Artist “S. O.” conveyed the hope and spirit of rebirth in the city at that time with this design, and with the flock of birds soaring above the ruins. The pamphlet describes the sights of the city, encouraging visitors to “See the Progress of Peacetime Reconstruction out of the Ruins of War” via a series of tram stops.
The audience for the guide is identified as the “totally new tourist trade” for the city, made up of “pleasure seekers, scientists, and champions of peace.” (Who among these groups thought to keep this fragile pamphlet from the wastebasket?) The unattributed text inside uses precise, descriptive words to show visitors the city’s ghosts. At each site of interest, the text directs the attention of visiting scientists and ‘pleasure seekers’ towards the material evidence of the bomb, observable phenomena, and distance from the center of impact.
At the Geibi Bank, 250 meters from the center of impact, “judging from the shadow mark on the granite steps in front of this office building adjoining Geibi Bank, it appears that someone had been resting there completely exposed to the impending blast..leaving a strange shadow of a man clearly discernible.” Other entries point out similar reminders of those lost to the bomb. Away from the ruins, visitors are also encouraged to also seek sights of natural beauty at nearby Miyajima, “where cherry blossoms in spring and crimson tinted maple leaves in autumn are sights of exceptional beauty.”
Perhaps this guide was not meant to be saved. But because it was, its lessons about forgiveness, peace, and resilience become lasting and poignant. There are two other known copies of the pamphlet, just one other in the US.
3. This stapled, slightly crumpled mimeographed booklet is a beautiful artifact of the spirit and drive of antinuclear activists in the late 1970s. Shelly & the Crustaceans was an “independent performing collective,” derived from a Northwest antinuclear activist group called the Crabshell Alliance. (The Crabshell Alliance was the West Coast’s answer to the Clamshell Alliance, an anti-nuclear group created to oppose the Seabrook Nuclear Plant in New Hampshire.) The Crabshell group was formed in early 1977 to “oppose the construction of the Satsop twin nuclear plants in southwestern Washington.” Shelly’s rallying songs are meant to be sung to familiar tunes of the day, such as “Under the Boardwalk” (re-titled to “Imminent Danger”). The core of the show seems to have been a “mini-rock-operetta complete with Mom, apple pie, a meltdown, and the lesson of Power in Union,” written for the people of Grays Harbor County where the Satsop plants were being built.
The activists were up against difficult odds. They fought against well-resourced lobbyists and developers, as well as citizen apathy and ignorance. Lyrics to songs like “It isn’t Nice” by Malvina Reynolds reflect the activists’ stalwart rejection of the traditional strictures of polite public behavior they had grown up with. The adapted lyrics to “Sixteen Tons” warn local listeners about nuclear reactors and waste, as well as potential ongoing dangers: “If the strontium don’t get you / then plutonium will.”
Ultimately the Satsop project was doomed by skyrocketing building costs and building delays, combined with a ballot measure passed by voters in 1981 that required any further additional funding for construction to be voted upon by citizens. Perhaps Shelly and her Crustaceans’ dedicated advocacy had something to do with that fate. Only one of the ‘twin’ plants was ever built, and that was permanently closed in 1999. Other printed “nuclear music” artifacts in the Harris Collection include sheet music from the early 20th century radium craze, sheet music on the atomic bomb threat from 1945, and the next baffling item below.
4. This poster was produced in 1980 (and is not a later satire as might be thought upon first encountering it). The text proclaims that “[a]cting to protect the public safety, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a statement in the form of a rock & roll album” and promises “[m]usic that confronts issues.” The order form on the back proves this was an actual new wave band on an actual label called Official Records with an actual album entitled REACTOR. Besides taking issue with nuclear industries, the band tackled a wide-ranging agenda including sugar addition, fax machines, the military draft, and population growth. Quotes from Albert Einstein, Chuck Berry, and Adlai Stevenson surely enticed the potential record buyer.
5. This beige brochure is just a folded, stained piece of paper. But even modest pieces of ephemera can tell mighty stories. The First Global Radiation Victims Conference was held at the Health and Energy Institute in New York City, and was designed to attract a wide audience of victims, their families, medical and legal experts, and activists. The organization’s broad goals include establishing and protecting the rights of all Hibakusha (a term for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, broadened here to all victims of radiation), eliminating nuclear industries, reducing weapons, and beginning a global movement for survivors of radiation.
The back of the brochure lists other publications available from the Health and Energy Institute meant to support and inform, including a Radiation Victims Organizations Directory listing by state, as well as brochures on women and radiation, and radiation hazards on the job. Though the conference itself did not endure beyond a couple of years, the attention to radiation victims and survivors of nuclear blasts would only increase in the years to come. Publications and ephemera such as those listed in the brochure, along with the dedicated activism of the antinuclear leaders involved, brought growing awareness of victims’ plight to the world. Within a few years, Congress would pass the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, the first Downwinders lawsuit would be filed, and new activist groups and conferences would emerge.
Ephemera collections such as the Harris Collection contain rich materials to both support and inspire research. SCARC has many, many collections containing ephemera from the later 19th century to the present day. If you are looking for research inspiration or have an interest in the many forms ephemera can take, we are welcoming consultation and appointments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Harris Collection will be available to researchers this month – watch this space for an announcement. And next time you clean out pockets or drawers or attics, pause just for a moment before sending something on to the trash, and consider: what lessons might this teach in the future? That crumpled item may not seem “of lasting significance” at that moment, but someone years from now may thank you.
Contributed by Anne Bahde, Rare Books and History of Science Librarian
Though the pandemic has slowed progress on some projects in SCARC, staff have moved forward steadily on the work for cataloging, arranging, and describing our materials. In my case, I am working through the massive new acquisition of the Robert Dalton Harris, Jr. Collection of the Atomic Age in order to prepare it for various forms of description and access.
This collection includes three major parts. The first to be opened for research will be the Collection of Atomic Age Ephemera. This wide-ranging collection presents a thorough view of the impact of the atomic age on modern culture and society, through thousands of pieces of printed ephemera in dozens of material types, including brochures, calendars, stamps, advertisements, pamphlets, posters, and more. The second part of the Harris Collection, the archival collections, will be processed over the coming years. Currently there are 25 separate collections identified, which include compelling manuscript materials from servicemen and servicewomen, participants of the Manhattan Project, power plant engineers, uranium miners, and many others. Finally, the third part of the Harris Collection is the book collection, which includes thousands of titles covering all aspects of the Atomic Age, and for which cataloging will be ongoing.
The broad range of the Harris Collection is part of why we considered this collection to be an excellent match to OSU’s strong existing collections on nuclear history. But, this overlap also means duplication of our existing collections will occur. When potential duplicate titles are encountered, items are examined against each other in a comparative process to ensure they are true duplicates. This exercise is a necessary step – shelf space is at a premium in our holding areas, and we must ensure it is used responsibly. Most potential duplicates end up being true duplicates, which are then discarded through our surplus property protocols, or by the conditions specified by the donor.
As I worked through the Harris Collection, there was one book which gave me a thrill each time I uncovered yet another duplicate copy. Whenever I spot this distinctive mustard yellow color, I become excited to meet another copy of this title. For this modest-looking volume can be considered a sort of Gutenberg Bible of the Atomic Age, in that it is the first printed document of a new era of humanity. Commonly known as the “Smyth Report” for its author, physicist Henry DeWolf Smyth, and released to the public just after the United States obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the first atomic bombs, A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes was the official government report detailing the work of the Manhattan Project. (Internet Archive).
Smyth (pronounced with a long i sound as in ‘wife’) wrote this report knowing it would be a foundational text of the new atomic age. Though the bombs were built with science known before the war, it was not widely known whether, or how, this information could be applied to create a weapon. As Smyth reflected in 1976, “it was only a question of time” as to when the dots would be connected. When leaders of the Manhattan Project knew that the atomic bomb would be a viable weapon, they also knew that the general public would need a clear and concise explanation of this new destructive force as soon as it was unleashed.
Smyth hoped his readership would be professional scientists “who can understand such things and who can explain the potentialities of atomic bombs to their fellow citizens” (Preface). Though he did not expect the whole literate public to fully understand the scientific concepts, he did expect scientists in turn to understand, explain, and engage their fellow citizens with the “potentialities.” Smyth’s task was to report and explain new information to the entire world, but he also wanted them to think beyond the words on the page to understand the consequences of the information for every citizen of the world.
Smyth’s additional goal was to convey the administrative history of the Manhattan Project, showing how the atomic bombs came into existence. However, project leaders also required that certain information be kept hidden from the public. With General Leslie Groves’s close advisor, Richard C. Tolman, Smyth developed strict guidelines for managing and evaluating the information that would be reported in the document, ensuring that what needed to be secret would remain so in the final product.
The critical need for secrecy governed the report’s early duplication and distribution. When Smyth finished his penultimate draft in mid-July 1945, fifty copies were mimeographed in secret by project staff, then delivered by hand to selected Manhattan Project leaders under armed guard to review and return immediately. Much later, in 1976, Princeton Library Curator of Rare Books Earle E. Coleman worked with Smyth to painstakingly reconstruct the timing of various early printings and establish primacy in a detailed checklist. This first, closest-to-final version of the Smyth Report became known in Coleman’s checklist as the “mimeograph version” (Coleman 1).
(Despite the fact that no copies of the “mimeograph version” are known to exist outside of Smyth’s personal papers, later owners, collectors, dealers, and describers of this title frequently use this term “mimeograph” with wild abandon to make their copies sound more primary than they actually are.)
After final corrections were made, one thousand copies were lithoprinted in heavily secured facilities at the Adjutant General’s Office in the Pentagon. These copies were stored in a safe at the Pentagon until August 9, after the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, when President Truman made the decision to release it to the public. These copies went to members of Congress, Manhattan Project leaders and scientists, the press, and other select individuals. This version became known as the “lithoprint version” in Coleman’s checklist (Coleman 3).
Once the secret was out in print, the press could reproduce any and all of the information in the book without consequence, due to the unusually direct and encouraging copyright statement appearing on all printed versions: “Reproduction in whole or in part is authorized and permitted.” (However, this was tempered with a secrecy warning from General Leslie R. Groves in the Foreword: “Persons disclosing or securing additional information by any means whatsoever without authorization are subject to severe penalties under the Espionage Act.”) Smyth and Tolman’s secrecy guidelines meant that many details were missing intentionally; for example, how much fissile material was required to make a bomb and the rate at which the production plants could produce bombs.
From this point on, the report’s impact could be seen rippling out through public understanding as references to the “Smyth Report” began to appear in newspaper articles, editorials, and scientific resources in mid-August. After a scramble involving a wartime paper shortage, Princeton University Press printed and released 30,000 copies in the first trade edition (Coleman 4) on September 15, which sold out within two weeks. Another version of 10,000 copies was produced about the same time (“September 20 plus or minus five days”) by the Government Printing Office (Coleman 5).
Pauling’s Puzzling Early Versions
With the multiple duplicates added from the Harris acquisition, SCARC now has 22 copies of this matchless text, in nearly every iteration, including two very early versions in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. It is unknown how Linus Pauling came into possession of these copies; he reports that he got them in “summer 1945,” but does not name the source(s).
One copy, which Pauling designated “copy 2,” has been optimistically misidentified in the past as a “preliminary draft copy in mimeographed version.” However, this copy’s characteristics more closely match Coleman 2, the “ditto version.” As Coleman specifies, this copy is printed in “ditto purple” on single sheets, with a blue paper wrapper.
Coleman also notes that two identifiable typewriters were used in the production of the ditto version: one with serifs on the numerals, and one without serifs on the numerals. (Serifs are edges or strokes attached to the main stroke of a letter within a typeface. In the case of the Smyth Report, the serifs in question can be most easily spotted on the numeral 9.) Pauling’s copy 2 has exactly the pattern of alternating typewriters that Coleman specifies. The typewriter without serif numerals typed the front matter, Chapters I-IX, XIII, and Appendices 1-5. The typewriter with serifs typed chapters X-XII. Coleman also specifies that in the ditto version, paragraph 12.50 is in the middle of the page. In Pauling’s copy, however, paragraph 12.50 falls at the top of a page. This copy, therefore, seems to have elements which do not follow Coleman’s description of the ditto version.
The ditto version is also the most mysterious in terms of primacy. After interviewing those involved with producing the report, Coleman concludes, “It seems plausible…that after all the corrections had been recorded on the master copy of the mimeograph version (which had been sent to the project leaders and others), copies were made by ditto from the master copy for the final approval of General Groves and any others he might wish to review the text before lithoprinting.”
Coleman concluded that the ditto version likely precedes the lithoprint version, meaning that Pauling’s copy 2 is rare indeed, if it is indeed the ditto version.
Once bound in a three-hole punched black report cover, Pauling’s other copy is even more intriguing, and also does not clearly match any of Coleman’s described versions.
In the description for the lithoprint version (Coleman 3 and the only other early version described, besides the ditto and the unobtainable mimeograph version), Coleman notes again that the same two typewriters, one with serifs on the numerals and one without, were used in preparing the stencils for lithoprint version. He gives a careful collation of the seven copies of the lithoprint version he had examined. However, Pauling’s copy 1 is largely the opposite of this collation. (See this table for a detailed comparison). Pauling’s copy matches the Coleman 3 lithoprint description for only Chapters V, VIII, X-XI, XIII, Appendix 1, and Appendix 5, but is the reverse of what Coleman describes for all other chapters. When the title page in particular in this copy is examined closely, certain irregularities in the type can be spotted; for example, the capital M is somewhat malformed, as are several other capital letters, and overall the spacing and formation of the letters appear somewhat odd.
Further, Coleman makes no mention of the ink color of the lithoprint version, but assumedly that was because it was printed in standard black ink. This copy’s title page is printed in “ditto purple,” and continues in purple until page I-17, when it changes in the middle of the chapter to black. The ink is black until Chapter VIII when it turns again to purple for one chapter. Chapter IX is back to black which continues until the end. The black pages are printed on a heavier paper than those printed in purple and those in the ditto version, and different from the paper in the lithoprint version as well.
Coleman and Smyth acknowledge that in the copies they consulted, missing and repeated pages indicate that “the gathering of leaves was done in haste under the pressure of tight security precautions.” Neither of Pauling’s copies have repeated or missing pages, but each clearly departs from Coleman’s carefully checked bibliographical details. To fully understand how Pauling’s mysterious copies fit into the Smyth Report timeline, a complete line-by-line collation of each copy, along with a detailed comparison of other similar early copies and a full provenance investigation, would be required. For now, this secret will stay waiting for future researchers to uncover.
According to the check-out sheet attached inside the front cover, Pauling made this copy and the other available to staff in the Gates and Crellin Laboratories at Caltech beginning late September 1945. But he was strict about how long the report could be circulated, specifying that it “may be borrowed overnight. (Return next day.)” This log shows that both copies circulated for weeks among staff, well into the potential availability of the Princeton edition (suggesting perhaps that the limited Princeton first edition was more difficult to get on the West Coast).
Pauling’s lab copies were so popular that his bold, underlined directions about circulation were clearly ignored. The difference in pencilled names in the far column suggest that copies were handed around between multiple staff during one checkout period. This fascinating log is a record of how even Caltech scientists were hungry for new information, and eager to understand the force that had just changed their world. It is also a record of when certain individuals first saw the Smyth Report. William Lipscomb, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was prompt in returning his loan. Crystallographer David Shoemaker accepted a handoff from J. Hendrickson but still turned the copy in on time. Jerry Donohue, who would go on to play a critical role in Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA, was also an early reader of this copy.
How interesting It would have been to hear this group of chemists discuss their impressions of the Smyth Report. Many chemists and engineers, including those involved in the Manhattan Project felt their important work was wholly neglected in the physics-heavy explanations. As Rebecca Schwarz has argued, the report’s silence on the critical nature of chemistry and engineering to the Project would deepen existing rifts between these fields for years to come.
In addition to Pauling’s early copies, The History of Atomic Energy Collection contains a copy of the lithoprint version signed on the title page by Smyth, along with multiple copies of the first Princeton edition, later translations, and later editions. With the additions from the Harris Collection, these make a notable set. Many of the copies were signed or inscribed by their early owners. These owners often make a point to mark the date of their acquisition, which often falls within months of its first publication. Several bear witness that Smyth’s intended audience of professional scientists were doing their part to explain and disseminate the report to citizens. One Manhattan Project engineer, Spud Spiers, proudly explained his role in the flyleaf inscription given to Alex Allan. Another copy was gifted by Manhattan Project chemist Henry A. Keirstead to his future wife Anne E. Williams in September 1945, which she then annotated extensively. Atomic energy industries were already getting a boost from powerful supporters such as Arthur Pew of the wealthy Pew family, who inscribed a copy to “a real friend of an industry which will never be second.”
But why would SCARC keep so many copies of the same book? What research value can there be, when these are just the same words in different packages? Though they may appear the same at first glance, differences and unique traits abound among these items, making them rich ground for teaching and learning. Because we have so many examples, they can be used to sharpen students’ close observation skills, or to explore now-unfamiliar methods for print and near-print production in this era such as mimeograph, ditto and lithoprinting. When paired with contemporary documents from physical and digital collections such as book reviews and newspaper articles, the Smyth Report offers important lessons in contextualization and critical source evaluation techniques.
Our group of reports can also be used to teach provenance research and the movement of information through different channels. Nearly all the items have evidence of former owners, in the form of gift inscriptions, signatures, or other elements, which means they invite further biographical research. Answering questions such as “who read this book?” and “how did readers interact with this book?” can help us understand its importance to and influence upon various audiences, as well as the flow of vital new scientific information.
Finally, because our editions are treated both archivally and as cataloged books in our collections, they present a lesson in discovery by demonstrating that the same source might appear in both the library catalog and archival finding aids, and in how to search in both environments. Within these catalog records and finding aids, there are numerous variations in historical description practices and levels of accuracy, which can teach powerful lessons on the challenges of archival search and discovery as well as the role of archivists as mediators in description and access.
Over the coming months we anticipate final release of the Robert Dalton Harris, Jr. Collection of Atomic Age Ephemera, paired with ongoing cataloging for the book collection and description of the archival collections. In future posts, we will explore some fascinating intersections of the Harris Collection with existing SCARC nuclear history collections, as well as their potential applications to research, teaching, and learning.
Smyth, H.D. “The ‘Smyth Report.’” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 37, no. 3 (1976): 173–89. https://doi.org/10.2307/26404011.
Smyth, H.D. “Publication of the Smyth Report.” International Atomic Energy AgencyBulletin 4 (1962): 28-30.
Coleman, Earle E. “The ‘Smyth Report’: A Descriptive Check List.” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 37, no. 3 (1976): 201–18. https://doi.org/10.2307/26404013.
Smith, Datus C. “The Publishing History of the ‘Smyth Report.’” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 37, no. 3 (1976): 190–200. https://doi.org/10.2307/26404012.
Carter, John and Percy Muir. “The Atom Bomb.” Printing and the Mind of Man. Munchen: Karl Pressler, 1983.
Wellerstein, Alex. Restricted Data : the History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2021.
Schwartz, Rebecca Press. The Making of the History of the Atomic Bomb: Henry DeWolf Smyth and the Historiography of the Manhattan Project. Dissertation, Princeton University, 2008.
Contributed by Anne Bahde, Rare Books and History of Science Librarian
The start of a new academic year always carries such hopeful anticipation about the future. This is the annual moment designated to define our best academic selves, to pin due dates on the calendar, to imagine the possible achievements of the new year. In September, we collectively make the effort to throw off the limitations of the past, heave our hopes into the future, and breathe in the freshness of new potential.
Though it may seem incongruous, rare book librarians think a lot about the future. Navigating the inherent conflicts between our dual goals – preserving materials and making them accessible – takes forethought and strategy. Lately, my thoughts as a rare book librarian and archivist have been swirling with uncertainties around the future of research, academic libraries, and unique materials. How does the concept of rarity change as academic libraries continue to discard physical collections? What will special collections reading rooms look like in a year, in three years, in twenty years? How will researcher demand for special collections and archives change as we find our way in a new research reality over the next few years? How will the advancing climate disaster challenge our missions, and will we be able to adapt? With others in my profession, I am anxiously scanning the horizon for what might be coming.
Before the pandemic when we were onsite, I would take a walk in the rare book stacks when my mind started spinning with thoughts like these. I would pull something interesting off the shelf to help me interact with the past and put things in perspective. Though we are now transitioning back to more onsite work, for the past 20 months I haven’t been able to handle any of the books in our collections for more than a few minutes at a time. There is one book I have missed more than others, and I am looking forward to seeing it again.
Published by Erhard Ratdolt in Venice in 1480, the Fasciculus temporum (rough translation: ‘little bundles of time’) is an illustrated timeline of historical events from biblical creation up to the year of publication. (A digitized copy of the 1481 edition can be found via Google Books here.) German Carthusian monk Werner Rolevinck compiled the first edition in 1474 from a variety of sources. His text quickly became a bestseller due to both its practical features and its engaging content, and was republished dozens of times as a popular title promising easy profit to the printers in the burgeoning European marketplace for books.
The 1480 Ratdolt edition, his first of five over the next few years, begins with an index of events sorted alphabetically by first name or title of event. In our copy, a past reader has helpfully highlighted these first letters in an earthy yellow color for easy reference. This orderly presentation moves past the solid block of an introductory page (supplied in facsimile in our copy), but quickly turns to a typographical riot of of lines, circles, text, and illustration, all mixing together to represent the notable events, people, and relationships throughout history. Ratdolt based his layout on previous manuscript and printed versions of the Fasciculus temporum, but his lively, challenging pages have a special movement in them. The reader is pulled into the flow of time and bobs from event to event in the rivers of information.
In the first part of the book, the two timelines settle into parallel tracks. The upper timeline dates the years since creation (year 1), while the lower timeline, which Ratdolt has printed upside down and in reverse chronology, counts backwards to the year of Christ’s birth, after which it resets to year 1 and turns right side up. This layout, supplemented throughout with rough woodcuts depicting cities and events, is as eye-catching and engaging now as it was meant to be in 1480.
During this infancy period of the new art of printing, printers signed their work in a statement at the end of the text called the colophon. A (very) rough translation of the colophon in the Fasciculus temporum would be: “Here ends the chronicle, which is to say, a bundle of time, so issued by a certain Carthusian. Now the second edition amended with some additions to this our time. Printed in Venice at the interest and expense of Erhard Ratdolt from Augsburg in the Year of our Lord 1480 on the 24th of the month of November and Doge Giovanni Mocenico, builder of the city. Praise be to God.”
When he printed this book, Ratdolt was at the height of his creativity as a printer. He had been born at the right moment in time to be a teenager when Gutenberg introduced his printing press to Europe. Ratdolt grew into adulthood while witnessing the birth of the printed word, and in a sense he guided and shaped the new form as it evolved from that birth. He was the first printer to figure out how to print in three colors on the same page (in order to represent the phases of an eclipse); and the first to print in gold ink. He was the first to represent constellations in print. He was the first to date books in Arabic rather than Roman numerals. He created the first printer’s type specimen as a needed tool for his busy printing business. He invented my own favorite paratext, the woodcut initial. He also gets the credit for designing the first title page resembling our modern format. (Though dated, Redgrave’s article still has the most entertaining and thorough exploration of Ratdolt’s accomplishments.)
Ratdolt was also the first to figure out how to represent geometric diagrams, in his triumphant 1482 edition of Euclid’s Elementa (HathiTrust copy, OSU restricted). I have had the privilege of handling many beautiful rare books in my career, but the thrilling experience of handling the copy of his Euclid at a previous institution (San Diego State University) is among the most memorable. Quarter bound in black and green cloth, its front binding joint was very tender and it always had to be opened with care. But after that initial physical hesitation, the reader was instantly drawn into the geometric genius of the work. Page after page of labeled figures are set into and around the explanatory text, a printing invention that would change how the world learned geometry from then on. Margins meant nothing to Ratdolt, and he used the page space to the purpose he needed without the constraints of conformity. His Euclid, and indeed all his other creations, are delights of text and other page elements interacting in spirited, stimulating ways.
Ratdolt continued his contributions over a long and illustrious career. One biographer, Moritz Cantor, reports that Ratdolt “continued his business with undiminished distinction to an old age.” He died in 1528, so he even got to see his earlier work reinvented to its maximum when his new title page format finally solidified in the early 16th century (and he probably had a hand in that somewhere too). Despite this decorated career and notable impact, Ratdolt has a sadly puny Wikipedia entry. A biographical site linked there is rife with link rot. (What would this print innovator make of link rot?)
When this book was published, the familiar forms of the book that we know today were still being shaped, and that freedom from tradition is palpable on the pages. Ratdolt couldn’t know what the future of publishing would look like, but he had some ideas and ran with them, and ended up changing the way humans learned and read, now still up to our own time. His boldness, confidence, creativity, and unfettered vision still leap from his pages and inspire the reader, nearly 550 years after he had those ideas.
My favorite part of this book, though, is not among the printed pages. Our copy, in an early binding, has many indications of past reader interactions – marginalia, manicules, and other notes are scattered throughout. A musical staff is sketched next to the entry for that invention as a handy reference. One artistic early reader even added pen flourishes and decorative lines to enhance features throughout the book.
Perhaps it was the same past owner who gave this artifact its lasting power. Bound in after the very last page of the printed text are new, clean pages, neatly lined in a parallel timeline imitating Ratdolt’s design, waiting to be filled in so the reader could faithfully track events yet to happen.
These empty pages take my breath away and make my heart skip a beat, every time. Most times, my eyes tear up too. The manuscript timeline, lined in a confident hand and stretching on for a dozen pages, conveys so much readiness and anticipation. These blank lines are hope itself to me, propelled forward by the imagination of what might come next.
Living at the end of the Anthropocene, through a human time defined by uncertainty and rapid change, it is easy to get lost in prophecy or dwell on what could have been. At this moment, we are disoriented and distracted. In every other Zoom meeting, someone mutters, “time has no meaning,” as they try to remember when something did or is scheduled to happen in this blurry era.
Artifacts from the past such as this one help me live in hope, anchor me in possibility, and focus my energy on creating the future. As we begin the new year, SCARC will be back in our 5th floor reading room welcoming researchers by appointment only. If, like me, you need to feel a spark of hope and fresh anticipation, I urge you make an appointment to see this book, and to wonder: what will you be first at? What event will you number your years from? How will you manifest your talents to improve the world? What will you look back on with satisfaction in your later years? How will you live outside the margins? What are your additions to this our time, and how will you make them last? What future will you create?
Best wishes for a safe and inspiring Fall 2021.
October is Oregon Archives Month, and we will be featuring other SCARC staff favorites from our collections here on Speaking of History.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Redgrave, G. R. Erhard Ratdolt and His Work at Venice : a Paper Read before the Bibliographical Society, November 20, 1893. England: The Society, April 1894-September 1895, 1895.
Bowers, Diana. “The Physical Text is History”: Erhard Ratdolt’s Editions of Werner Rolewinck’s Fasciculus Temporum,” History of Art & Design Theses, Pratt Institute, 2015, accessed September 1, 2021, http://hadthesis.pratt.edu/items/show/62.
Bühler, Curt F. “Erhard Ratdolt’s Vanity.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 49 (1955): 186–88.
Bühler, Curt F. “The Laying of a Ghost? Observations on the 1483 Ratdolt Edition of the “Fasciculus Temporum”.” Studies in Bibliography 4 (1951): 155–59.
Josephson, Askel G.S. “Fifteenth-Century Editions of Fasciculus temporum in American Libraries.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 11 (January 1, 1917): 61-65.
This is Part 4 of a research exploration by Cataloger Vance Woods and History of Science/Rare Books Librarian Anne Bahde. Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.
With these details confirmed, Vance could finally prepare the catalog record for the item. The time spent on cataloging proper is by far the least time-intensive of the process; the key is to have all the pertinent information at hand so that when one begins working on the bibliographic record most of the necessary data is readily available.
As it happens, Vance was in the middle of a rare books cataloging class, and was able to incorporate some of the things he learned in the class into the record as he went. For one thing, having not worked with too many items of such early date, this was Vance’s first foray into the wonderful world of signatures (otherwise known as a collation, an indication of how the printed leaves were meant to be folded and gathered for binding). In this case, the situation was complicated by the fact that the symbol used was the Greek letter eta, which is not available in most cataloging systems, and therefore required bracketing and “transcription”: “Signatures (in Greek characters): ē4.”
Through each step of our research process to answer our initial questions “what is this item?” and “how did it come to OSU?,” we both had to call on our primary source literacy skills. Primary source literacy is defined as the set of skills needed to successfully find, understand, analyze, interpret, and use primary sources such as rare books and archives in research.
Developed in 2015-2018 by a team of 12 special collections and archives educators (of which Anne was a proud member), the SAA/ACRL-RBMS Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy show why these skills are critical for students of all ages engaging in any research involving original sources. Fluid flexing of these skills allowed us to find information quickly and efficiently through the research process for our Libavius item.
At the beginning of our process, we drew on the item to generate and refine our research questions, moving from “what is this item?” to exploring its role in the alchemical debate and the potential complications of its publication (1C). As sources were discovered and knowledge was extended, our questions took on different angles and elements, and new information was gathered at each step. We integrated that knowledge into our searching, and searched in different ways for the item in different places (1D). To place the item in a disciplinary context, we pursued secondary sources and used our knowledge of the relationships between secondary and primary sources. (1A). We examined the item and factored in material elements to understand the piece through the communication norms of the period (3A, 4E). Because we understood that the title might exist in a variety of iterations, excerpts, transcriptions, or translations through time, we searched for it across multiple platforms and adjusted our search terms as needed. (3C).
As we learned more about the item, we evaluated it critically in light of what we knew about the creator and his personal biases, as well as the original purpose behind its publication (4B). We were able to situate the source in context by applying knowledge about the time and culture in which it was created, while considering its publication history and format (4C). Our consultation of trusted expertise helped us identify and consider the reasons for gaps and contradictions in the potential publication history of the item (4D).
When examining its provenance and movement through the centuries, we articulated what might serve as primary sources to answer this question: purchase receipts, communication with dealers, descriptions from rare book dealers and auction records (1B). We identified possible locations of these sources in other collections using a variety of strategies and pursued those leads for more information (2A, 2B). We encountered policies that affected our access to primary sources and recognized their potential impact on our research (2E). When considering new sources, such as the auction catalog, we assessed their appropriateness for meeting our goals (4A). We met the actors in our story with historical empathy and understood how their moment in history affected their actions (4E). Finally, through our reports here, we communicated the content of sources with attention to the context of their production (3E). We examined a variety of sources to construct our research claims (5A), and practiced appropriate citation and copyright practices (5B, 5D).
With the catalog record completed, the Libavius pamphlet can take its place at last among its partners in the History of Science Rare Book Collection and join a strong concentration of rare books on the history of pharmacy and chemistry. Because we now know some of its hidden stories, the item can now function in a variety of ways to teach these primary source literacy skills. It might used to support classes or research involving early modern scientific discourse or communication, or the history of pharmaceutical use of metals, or the effects of war on the human condition, or the movement and dispersal of collections over time.
For each of these approaches, this same Libavius pamphlet could be used in class activities or research, but for each context it can hold a different teaching power, and be used to teach and learn various primary source literacy skills in partnership with other complementary sources.
The resources needed to complete quality descriptive cataloging of materials are significant, and the effort must nearly always be collective. We complete our stage of this work with questions still turning in our heads: Was the full text for our preface ever published? Might there be a record of anyone using or referencing it? Were there more prefaces printed? If so, where did they go, and if not, why not? How might this text have affected alchemical arguments of the time? Knowing that research is iterative, and that there will always be more questions than time, we place the item in the collection and wait for others to take up these paths of inquiry.
Acknowledgements Professor Bruce Moran, University of Nevado-Reno Brad Engelbert, Oregon State University Library and Press Cali Vance, University of Washington Special Collections Allee Monheim, University of Washington Special Collections Thüringer Universitäts- und Landsbibliothek in Jena, Germany staff
Bibliography and Further Reading
Principe, Lawrence M., ed. Chymists and Chymistry: Studies in the History of Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry. Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications, 2006.
Moran, Bruce T.. Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry, and the Scientific Revolution. United Kingdom: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Moran, Bruce T.. Paracelsus: An Alchemical Life. United Kingdom: Reaktion Books, 2019.
Moran, Bruce T.. Andreas Libavius and the Transformation of Alchemy: Separating Chemical Cultures with Polemical Fires. United States: Science History Publications/Watson Pub. International, 2007.
Debus, Allen G.. Chemistry and Medical Debate: Van Helmont to Boerhaave. United States: Science History, 2001.
Newman, William R. Atoms and Alchemy : Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
For more on u/v historical usage:
McKerrow, R. B. An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927.
Leslie, Deborah J. and Benjamin Griffin. Transcription of Early Letter Forms in Rare Materials Cataloging. 2003. https://rbms.info/files/dcrm/dcrmb/wg2LeslieGriffin.pdf
This is Part 3 of a research exploration by Cataloger Vance Woods and History of Science and Rare Books Librarian Anne Bahde. Part 1; Part 2.
We were heartened by Professor Bruce Moran’s response to our inquiries, though they had introduced new questions. We sent scans of the rest of the pamphlet to Moran, and told him of our discovery of the title in this index, to see if he could shed any further light. He replied:
“I can affirm that this is a preface to a work that is focused on the Disputatio de auro potabili of Thomas Erastus. Libavius admits that the man (Erastus) is dead [Erastus died in 1583], but that what he wrote is still alive; and he points out that Erastus, in his book, has brought together nearly all the arguments that “we recollect he wrote and said against our opinions/ views.” So, this is very much a counter-thrust, but without seeing the text itself there is no way of knowing what kinds of arguments Libavius has in mind. The main thing is, you have here only the preface to the work itself. I looked at the library in Jena to see what it has. That copy also has only the preface. So, it too is not complete and has no text beyond what you have. The interesting thing is that the preface refers to the Disputatio as having been edited fourteen years before. We know that the book appeared in 1578, so that would make the composition of the Libavius text, if not its publication, 1592. I have no idea where the date 1596 in the index comes from. The Jena copy has no date. Perhaps the text went to print later. But since both you and Jena have copies that have no date and only include the preface (and nothing else), perhaps the text was never published (for one reason or another) and all that remains are a few copies of the preface itself.”
Professor Moran’s interpretation provided some fascinating answers, but yet again we had more questions than we began with. We knew now that the item was likely meant to be used in an educational context, and was intended to be presented in direct juxtaposition to Erastus’ work on Paracelsus and the ingestion of gold. But we also knew that what we held was only a fragment of what was intended to be part of a larger product; because it had been potentially separated from its original context, we could not fully appreciate how it was intended to be used and understood.
We puzzled further over the item’s provenance and began tracing its potential movements from the date of its publication through various owners, and ultimately to SCARC’s backlog. A review of acquisition records confirmed that we lacked clear documentation about how or when it was acquired by OSU.
We began this research from the ownership mark we did have, the bookplate from pharmacologist Emil Starkenstein. Starkenstein was one of the most important figures in European pharmacology in the 20th century. He published prolifically on a wide range of topics in the field and held respected teaching positions. He had a passion for book collecting early in his career, and he built an unrivaled pharmacological collection.
But this brilliant life was among the six million murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust. According to an oral history from rare book dealer Ludwig Gottschalk cited in Starkenstein’s Wikipedia entry, Starkenstein’s family agreed to sell the collection to him before Starkenstein was sent to Mauthausen in 1942. But “when Gottschalk faced deportation to the camps himself, he secreted the library in several locations in the Black Forest and went into hiding. After the war, he reassembled the Starkenstein books and for nearly half a century sold items from the collection under the name Biblion, Inc., in Forest Hills, New York.”
Our pamphlet likely laid hidden in the forest with the rest of Starkenstein’s collection during the war. This heartbreaking report urged us to consider the awful decisions Starkenstein, his family, and Gottschalk had faced as they were persecuted for their faith. Making the decision to part with a lovingly acquired, splendid collection must have been achingly sad; perhaps that sadness was only outweighed by the immense fear Starkenstein must have felt for himself and his family.
Gottschalk selected those hiding spots for the precious books hoping to live through the war and come back for them. As keys to his potential economic survival after the war, he must have hoped desperately that they would still be there. What had seemed at first an unassuming pamphlet now stood to us as a potent symbol of the profound losses of the Holocaust.
As far we as could tell from other compiled provenance data for our collections, we held no other books with Starkenstein’s bookplate. As we reviewed internal historical acquisitions files, Anne found a typed dealer description for our item. Though no dealer was listed on the page, the format and style matched many other items in our collection with dealer descriptions from the well-known Los Angeles book dealer Zeitlin & Ver Brugge.
It is unknown how the pamphlet moved from Gottschalk’s Biblion to Zeitlin & Ver Brugge, but we began to look closer at how it may have moved from Zeitlin & Ver Brugge to OSU.
Upon Jake Zeitlin’s death, his stock went to Swann Galleries to be sold. This sale took place in two parts in 1988. We were able to consult a copy of the catalog for Part 1, and asked a library holding the catalog for Part 2 (University of Washington Special Collections) to consult their copy, which they graciously did despite having very limited access to collections during COVID.
The Libavius title is not listed in the catalogs to either Part 1 or Part 2 of this sale, but could have appeared in one of the “10 uncataloged shelf lots” listed at the end of Part 1, which consisted “primarily of works in chemistry, physics, and medicine.” OSU’s Special Collections department was founded in 1986, and librarians at the time were building history of science book collections through bulk purchase.
While we don’t have direct evidence of an OSU purchase, we do have indirect evidence that an OSU special collections librarian was at the Part 1 sale in April 1988, in the form of an unrelated piece of correspondence from that time. It is likely that this item was purchased at the Swann sale to add to our growing history of science collections. (If this is true, the item has stumped catalogers and lingered in our backlog for over thirty years!)
In Part 4, we will reflect on what we have discovered and the research skills helping us arrive at these answers.
This is Part 2 of a research exploration by Cataloger Vance Woods and History of Science and Rare Books Librarian Anne Bahde. Find Part 1 here.
From here, we could branch our research into different directions to expand our knowledge of the work. We now had pending questions about the title’s content, production, context, and story, as well the physical item’s origin and provenance. First, Vance reached out to the other holding library in Germany. They responded to Vance’s message, but did not have any more information than we did about the piece. (However, after our own discoveries, Vance reached out to them again to share what we had learned; they are in the process of updating their own records accordingly.)
We began filling in our gaps in knowledge about the historical context of the item. A typed bibliography of history of science holdings at OSU produced in 1988 identifies the piece as an “introduction to Libavius’ response to Thomas Erastus’ attack on Paracelsus and the Ioatrochemists. Erastus had attacked Paracelsus in his Disputation Concerning Potable Gold, Basel, 1578.”
This note gave us some excellent starting points to dig deeper. We confirmed that description and built our contextual understanding by quickly finding a few other secondary sources. Our crash course in early modern alchemy yielded a deeper understanding of the significance of this item.
Andreas Libavius was a most eminent figure in early chemistry, an alchemist who attracted his share of controversy during his career. As an alchemist, he was interested in the transmutation of metals into gold. As a physician, he was also interested in the practical value of medical chemistry and the particular medicinal qualities of gold.
His emphasis on pharmaceutical applications put him in opposition to Paracelsus, another physician and alchemist who emphasized the more mystical elements of alchemy. Thomas Erastus, a Swiss physician and defender of medieval Galenic medical practice, was also an outspoken opponent of Paracelsus, and attacked the Paracelsian belief in the transmutation of metals. But Libavius did believe transmutation was possible, and passionately so. He refuted Erastus’ position in a series of publications around the time our pamphlet was published. Our pamphlet seemed to be related to this exchange.
While we began to understand more about the historical context of the item, we also continued to look for the title or fragments of it in Google, HathiTrust, and other digital repositories.
This title presented a common challenge when seeking information about books published in Latin during this time. In the Roman alphabet, there was no distinction between the letterforms V and U. By the time this book was printed, printers were beginning to distinguish between the consonant V and the vowel U, and the rules for using these letters in printing varied over time.
Later catalogers of these items may or may not have transcribed these letters into their modern usage. These variations in spelling, printing, and cataloging practices over time, along with modern variability in optical character recognition of digitized texts, means that when U’s and V’s (or I’s or J’s) are involved, using a variety of spellings in keyword searches will yield the best results.
However, despite many different variations of the title searched across multiple platforms, we found only one result for a title fragment via Google Books (a further indication of the item’s potential rarity). This book, printed in 1600, lists our title among others in an index format.
Vance determined that this book was a compilation of publications between 1593 and 1600, and that the marginal numbers were dates of printing. To test this, he looked for other titles listed in this book in Worldcat and found that they corresponded to the dates listed here. This title therefore suggests that our title was published in 1596.
As we researched the historical context of the item, one name kept coming up in our secondary sources: Dr. Bruce Moran, a scholar of Libavius and early modern chemistry at the University of Nevada, Reno. Moran’s definitive scholarship on Libavius has included a number of Libavius’ known works and editions. Vance reached out to him with a scan of the title page to see if he could help us identify the piece. He graciously replied with some intriguing answers.
Moran’s translation of the final line of the title page indicated that a copy of the Erastus text in question was meant to be attached to this counter-text by Libavius for the purposes of comparison and censure. However, Moran also indicated that he had never heard of this title before, and that the item was stumping him as much as us. While we now had some understanding of this piece, previous questions still lingered just as new ones had been raised. Part 3 follows next week.
Throughout the pandemic, catalogers at OSULP have been working hard to complete projects and make progress on others. One ongoing project for the Special Collections and Archives Research Center is the creation of new catalog records for our old books.
Most libraries have an imbalance between the materials needing to be cataloged and the professional resources devoted to that work. OSULP is no different, though we are proud in SCARC that our ‘backlog’ is fairly minimal after years of progress by dedicated catalogers.
To prevent materials languishing between acquisition and cataloging, we proactively move acquisitions through descriptive processes at a steady rate. However, the backlog is still a place where mysteries can turn up, and one such mystery appeared there recently.
A short, six-page pamphlet in an unassuming binding immediately presented more questions than answers when Cataloger Vance Woods set out to create its record. Vance and History of Science Librarian Anne Bahde teamed up to find some answers about what this intriguing item was and just how it ended up in our backlog. We will explore our research over four parts presented weekly in August.
From the title page, there were a few clues to glean about what this item could be. Though neither of us read much Latin, the title of the book presented familiar Latin word roots that could at least give us indications of the time period and subject matter. For example, ‘mineral-,’ ‘corpor,’ and ‘chymia’ suggested that we were dealing with something having to do with minerals, the body, and chemistry.
A quick pass of the title through Google Translate allowed us to guess further at content and meaning in the title through a rough translation. We looked closely at the large printed mark near the bottom of the page. This spot is typically where a printer’s device would go, but in place of that identifying image, there is a decorative ornament instead. At the very bottom of the title page we typically find the publisher’s imprint, which often lists details such as the place of publication, publisher, printer, or date of publication.
We found none of those details in this section, and instead spotted Latin roots such as “sincer’ (sound, genuine, true) and ‘censur’ (judgment, opinion) here. The contemporary handwriting at the very bottom of the title page “Libavius [–ind] Paracel—” associated these apparent names to the title, along with the name Erastus which appears on the page twice. All these details began to suggest an unusual item related to the history of chemistry.
Several physical material clues intrigued us as well. The typeface and printing style suggested a printing date of the late 16th century, but confirmation of that suspicion was not found in any other elements of the item. The paper used was of a rougher nature, and the pages are now age-toned. But, no obvious clue to publication place or date could be found among the few pages.
Bindings can sometimes give hints about where or when an item was published, but in this case the binding was a simple set of brown marbled boards, probably dating to the late 19th or early 20th century given the style and condition of the binding materials. Sometimes, this type of slim, nondescript binding can suggest separation from a sammelband or nonce volume, both types of collections of pamphlets.
Though the piece lacked stab holes or other markers of prior gathering, a thin strip of discoloration does run down the length of the inner margin, suggesting that it was removed from some other binding environment at some point in the past.
The first place we both turn to when searching for items is Worldcat. Considered to be the most comprehensive catalog of materials in libraries around the world, Worldcat offers special insight when trying to track down a difficult title. A catalog record in Worldcat can tell us not only further bibliographical details about an item, but also which libraries around the world currently hold this item, thus giving a basic indiciation of distribution and rarity.
Despite search experiments with different spellings and other searching efforts, we found only one record with one holding library, the Thüringer Universitäts- und Landsbibliothek in Jena, Germany.
Deepening this line of inquiry, we followed the Libavius author entry in Worldcat, then examined each item in that list of 382 records. This is a laborious but useful Worldcat trick and can sometimes turn up some potential matches or clues for difficult-to-find items. But this effort still did not yield any further hints about this title. It slowly became clearer that we could be dealing with quite a scarce item.
The item presented one further curious detail – the striking bookplate depicting two entwined poppy heads pasted inside the front cover. As physical signs of ownership, bookplates offer important evidence about the provenance of an item, and help later researchers track an item’s movements during its life. By searching for the name printed on the plate and looking at Google Image results, Vance discovered it was the bookplate of Emil Starkenstein, a Czech Jewish pharmacologist who was killed in the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1942. It was clear to us now that this was no ordinary book, and we began to pursue answers to the many questions the book had now invited. Part 2: Rare Books and Research follows next week.
The Special Collections and Archives Research Center is delighted to announce the acquisition of the R. Buckminster Fuller Collection of Joe Moore and Trevor Blake. The hundreds of manuscripts, books, ephemera, and artifacts in this collection tell the story of Fuller’s visionary contributions to the worlds of architecture, the human built environment, design science, and sustainability.
This collection intersects with existing collections in fascinating ways. Fuller’s radical vision of collective progress, peace, and equity is echoed within the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers many times over; together, the documents in these collections help us understand how the hopes of their era might yet be realized in ours. ‘Bucky,’ as he liked to be called, embodied a bold, independent, and unapologetic approach to the pursuit of humanity’s benefit, which can be paralleled with Pauling’s similar approach.The contents of these two rich collections will be in constant interaction and conversation with each other, on topics as diverse as shelter, renewable energy, marriage, molecular biology, world government, and technological change. Indeed, the vibrant Fuller collection will complement and expand subject concentrations found in many other collections in SCARC, ranging from environmental activism to energy production to information history.
Humanity still may have lessons to learn from Bucky. Students in OSU Humanitarian Engineering, Materials Science, and Design and Human Environments programs will find a wealth of historical sources in their fields, as will those in Environmental Arts and Humanities. It is our hope that this collection will attract students and researchers from a number of different disciplinary routes, and that the Special Collections and Archives Research Center can use it to further interdisciplinary conversation around Fuller’s visions and their modern evolutions and parallels.
Though the restrictions in place due to COVID will impair our progress for some time, we hope to make the collection available to researchers as soon as possible. We are delighted to be the steward of this fine collection, and look forward to many years of making it accessible to researchers at OSU and in the global community of scholars.