All posts by Michelle DiMeo

Michelle DiMeo is Curator of Digital Collections at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. With Sara Pennell, she is co-editor of Reading and Writing Recipe Books 1550-1800 (Manchester University Press, 2013). She holds a PhD from the University of Warwick. You can follow her on Twitter at @MichelleDiMeo

First Monday Library Chat: Newberry Library

The Newberry Library is an independent research library in Chicago. Open freely to the public, the library is dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, especially in the humanities. Today I’m talking with Will Hansen, Director of Reader Services and Curator of Americana.


Can you give us an overview of the Newberry’s collection strengths?

The Newberry is a research library focused on the humanities disciplines; we acquire and preserve a broad array of books, manuscripts, maps, and other materials relating to the civilizations of Europe and the Americas. We focus our collecting on original or primary source materials in a number of core collecting areas, including American history and culture; American Indian and indigenous studies; Chicago and the Midwest; genealogy and local history; the history of the book; maps, travel, and exploration; medieval, Renaissance, and early modern studies; music; and religion. Our collections encompass, in very approximate numbers, 1.5 million books, 5 million items in manuscript and archival collections, and 500,000 maps. More information is available on the Core Collections page of our website.


What online catalogs and digital resources can the Newberry offer to off-site researchers?

The best places to start research in the Newberry’s collections are our online catalog and the Modern Manuscripts and Ephemera page for searching or browsing inventories and abstracts of over 800 collections from the mid-18th to 20th centuries. We also provide a variety of research guides to help readers find material in a wide variety of topics in our collections.

In addition, the Newberry provides many digital resources and publications featuring digitized materials from its collections. These range from large-scale digitization projects to digital versions of exhibitions to interpretive digital humanities projects. Finally, our Digital Collections for the Classroom provide digitized primary sources with contextual materials for use by teachers and students in primary and secondary educational settings.


Our blog readers are interested in historical recipes to learn more about the history of food, magic, art, science and medicine. As the Curator of Americana, can you tell me what relevant materials we could find in your collection?

Cookbooks and related materials have not been a major collecting focus in the Newberry’s history, but many great items have come to us thanks to connections with other collecting interests. The Edward E. Ayer collection, focused on the history and culture of Indians of North and South America, includes a manuscript “Schedule and catalogue of some Indian receipts & cures” compiled by Daniel D. Rogers, a resident of Stillwater, NY, in 1828-1838. It contains 269 American Indian and other recipes and cures.

Menu for Kinsley's (Chicago: 1867). Note the advertisements on the verso, including one for "Burnett's Cocoaine."
Menu for Kinsley’s (Chicago: 1867). Note the advertisements on the verso, including one for “Burnett’s Cocoaine.”

The Newberry also holds some rarities related to Chicago’s culinary history. Of particular note are the 88-page menu and description of Kinsley’s, thought to be the city’s finest restaurant, in 1867; and the only known copy of Isaac A. Pool’s The Cake Baker, published in Chicago in 1857–perhaps the first cookbook published west of Indiana. Both are the only copy located in a search of the WorldCat database. Another great rarity related to Chicago’s printing history is a series of promotional booklets showing the capabilities of R. R. Donnelley and Sons, a Chicago-based printer and publisher, to create high-quality cookbooks in the 1930s.

R. R. Donnelley and Sons, Lemon Pies or Wash Tubs (Chicago: 1934-1938).  Pictured here are promotional materials for Omar Blue Ribbon flour.
R. R. Donnelley and Sons, Lemon Pies or Wash Tubs (Chicago: 1934-1938). Pictured here are promotional materials for Omar Blue Ribbon flour.

Of some tangential interest might be the many items related to livestock, cattle brands, and the like in the Newberry’s Everett D. Graff collection, focused on the westward expansion of the United States.


Are there other collections across the Newberry where our readers might find relevant materials?

There certainly are. Jean S. Gottlieb’s published Checklist of the Newberry Library’s Printed Books in Science, Medicine, Technology, and the Pseudosciences ca. 1460-1750 is a good place to start for an overview of our early, chiefly European, holdings of rare books in these fields. They include some early cookery highlights, such as the 1480 (Cividale) and 1494 (Venice) editions of the first printed cookbook, Platina’s De Honesta Voluptate. The Newberry also holds a number of the major early English cookbooks of the eighteenth century, such as the 1771 second edition of Elizabeth Raffald’s Experienced English Housekeeper.

15th century recipe with handwritten marginalia by Platina
Platina, De Honesta Voluptate (Cividale, Italy: 1480), with marginalia by an early reader.

We also hold a number of early manuscripts that contain medicinal and workshop formulae or recipes, dating back as far as the fourteenth century.   A fifteenth-century Italian manuscript focuses on recipes and instructions for making inks, pigments, glue, and other materials related to book production—part of our great collections for the history of printing and the book. Another charming example is a 1591 English law text, Les Tenures de Monsieur Littleton, reused as a commonplace-book in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including manuscript recipes for glue, pickles, gooseberry vinegar, blacking polish, orange and cowslip wines, red currant jelly, cough syrup for whooping cough, and a tonic for consumption.


If our readers want to go to Chicago to use your materials, does the Newberry offer any fellowships or travel grants they should know about?

The Newberry has an active and robust fellowship program, supporting visits from one month to a full year. Information can be found on our Fellowships page on our website. We are also a new member of the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, which offers its own consortial fellowships.

Access to our collections is free and open to members of the public over 16 years of age with a research interest supported by the collections.


Thanks, Will, for chatting with me! If you have additional questions about the Newberry Library, you can email Will Hansen.

First Monday Library Chat: New York Public Library

Founded in 1895, the New York Public Library (NYPL) is the largest public library system in the US, serving more than 17 million patrons per year. NYPL holds nearly 10,000 archival and manuscript collections, comprising over 50,000 linear feet of material in nearly every format imaginable. Today I am talking with Thomas Lannon, Acting Charles J. Liebman Curator of Manuscripts in the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the NYPL.


Can you give us a broad overview of the scope of recipe books in the NYPL?

This is a difficult question to answer, but I could say the NYPL holds over 80,000 items, which includes over 15,000 cookbooks, over 25,000 menus, plus periodicals, prints, rare books and manuscripts related to culinary studies.

Any broad overview of NYPL’s culinary collections is difficult to prepare and quickly turns into a crowded list. Such a list might include references to standard American cookbooks such as American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796), with its recipes for Indian Pudding and Apple Pie, and the 1824 edition of The Virginia House-wife by Mary Randolph, among the holdings. European cookbooks begin with the 14th century manuscript of the Forme of Curry and also include early printed books such as Platina’s De Honest Volupata et Valetudine (1498), Girolamo Ruscelli’s The Secrets of Reverende Maister Alexis of Piemont (1558), and Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747.) My language skills would be tested to list the continental works of French gastronomists such as Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and Auguste Escoffier. And I have a hunch the German baroque cake designs in Neues saltzburgisches Koch-Buch (1719) are worth looking into. As the 19th century hit and its insatiable spirit for invention carried the day, The Library collected pioneering works on food technology and professional newsletters on food products, preservation and the manufacturing industry.

Also worth mentioning in an overview is the Whitney Cookery collection, primarily English works, including some of the rarest recipe books held at The Library. A gift from the estate of Helen Hay Whitney, a copy of The Good Hous-wives Treasurie (London, 1588) is among its highlights. I mentioned the Forme of Curry, the earliest English manuscript at The Library, is also from the Whitney Collection. The manuscript, Dissertations on Cookery, by Mary Ellen Meredith, daughter of the Romantic poet Thomas Love Peacock and first wife of the Victorian poet George Meredith is another resource to consider. In sum, there are 17 manuscript recipe books in the Whitney Collection composed between the 14th and 19th centuries and include manuscript receipt collections associated with Joane Yate, Lady Anne Morton, and Hester Denbigh.

Whitney Recipe 13
Whitney #13, Collection of Medical and Cookery Recipes. Inscribed: Mary Bromehead her book given her by Aunt 1761

Additionally, The Library has great resources on alcoholic beverages. The Liebmann collection of American historical documents relating to spirituous liquors boasts 226 manuscript items relative to the production and use of whiskey, rum, and brandy in the United States between 1665 and 1910. We’ve also recently added important new acquisitions documenting the long history of libations in New York City. The Henry Günther material on brewers’ guilds includes the Protokollbuch of the Vereins der Vereinigten Braumeister der Stadt New-York, or minute book of the Master Brewers Association of New York. Through this unique volume we can trace the founding of the German-American beer guild, its constitution, by-laws, meeting minutes, and discover a member list. This should be viewed by anyone interested in the story of lager beer in America.

We’ve also recently added the records of DuVivier and Co., a New York City-based importer and distributor of wine and spirits founded in 1856. DuVivier & Co. were the first to import brands such as Perrier-Jouet, Hennessy, John Walker & Sons, Jameson, Plymouth Gin, Guinness Stout, and Bass Ale into the United States. The DuVivier and Co. records are a large archive, over 75 volumes, and include accounts, operations journals, and salesman books. The operations journals are particularly interesting as they show how DuVivier not only imported alcohol, but created apéritifs in various combinations. Through these journals, researchers will be able discover recipes and formulas for many popular spirits found in fin de siècle New York City barrooms.

Cider Brandy Recipe
“Cider brandy” from Operations Journal, Vol. 38. Duvivier & Co. Records

How are these materials dispersed between different collections across The Library? I know you’re in Manuscripts and Archives, but are there other divisions we should consult within the NYPL?

Indeed, materials related to cookery are spread out over several collections, or locations within The Library. I think this fact is often overlooked and people assume there is some room dedicated to culinary material. Naturally, any library presents a challenge to the curious.

With tools like OCLC WorldCat and ArchiveGrid available freely over the internet, researchers should be able to locate anything held in most libraries. Locally, at NYPL there is a catalog for printed material as well as for unpublished, archival collections. If someone is looking for a specific periodical, it will likely be cataloged and anyone should be capable of locating it. The key to real achievement is to learn how to determine in a catalog record where some item is held, i.e. the item location.

Could you highlight a few recipe-related materials found in the NYPL’s Manuscripts and Archives Division?

I’d like to highlight here a few items which have only recently been made available to research in hopes that new researchers will emerge as a result of this blog post:

The Tolley baking records document the career of the Tolley family in American commercial baking industry. John W. Tolley and his son Albert E. Tolley were prominent bakers during the early part of the 20th century and affiliated with the Continental Baking Company and most importantly with the Ward Baking Company. The Ward Bakery Company had bakeries in several northeastern cities. For example, one of Brooklyn’s largest commercial bakeries was located on Pacific Street and Vanderbilt Avenue. The building was knocked down for the creation for the Barclays Center, but in the 1920s it produced millions of loaves of bread that would roll down their assembly line to feed the roaring suburb.

Tolley Baking Records
Tolley Baking Records

The Tolley baking records include the recipe books of Albert E. Tolley. The recipe for Ward’s Fine Bread is held in his Complete Set of Formulas Used in Eastern Bakeries 1924-1925. This recipe book includes an index of every major product created by the Ward Baking Company and tells the story of the rise of industrial baking in the United States.

With projects like What’s on the Menu?, the NYPL is also at the forefront of digital library initiatives. Do you have any new digital projects that may interest our audience?

With support from the The Polonsky Foundation, The New York Public Library is currently digitizing upwards of 50,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material. The Early American Manuscripts Project will allow students, researchers, and the general public to revisit major political events of the era from new perspectives and to explore currents of everyday social, cultural, and economic life in the colonial, revolutionary, and early national periods. The project will present on-line for the first time high-quality facsimiles of key documents from America’s Founding, including the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

George Washington's Small Beer Recipe
George Washington’s notebook as a Virginia colonel, “Recipe for Small Beer”


Drawing on the full breadth of The Library’s manuscript collections, we also hope to make widely available less well-known manuscript sources, including business papers of Atlantic merchants, diaries of people ranging from elite New York women to Christian Indian preachers, and organizational records of voluntary associations and philanthropic organizations. Over the next two years, this trove of manuscript sources, previously available only at The Library, will be made freely available through

We’ll be featuring the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey this month. Can you tell me more about the NYPL’s involvement with this project?

The Manuscript Cookbooks Survey is a database of pre-1865 English-language manuscript cookbooks. In compiling this database, the Survey team aims to give culinary historians, food writers, and others enhanced access to these important, fascinating materials, which too often lie neglected in our libraries, historical sites, and other public institutions. I encourage people to use the survey to find cookbooks in libraries and likewise I hope more libraries can include their records in the Survey. The project includes a database that can be browsed by institution and most of NYPL’s manuscript cookbooks can be found there. All credit goes to the team who created the database, including Principal Researcher Stephen Schmidt.  

Cake Recipes
Recipes for cakes from Matilda Livingston Rogers’s cookbook.

I’m sure our readers would love to use your materials! Are there links to digitized resources? What fellowships are available?

The NYPL’s Digital Collections platform features hundreds of the thousands of digital items, including 18,000+ menus that were digitized as part of the What’s on the Menu? project. Researchers can also stay up to date on archival collections which have been digitized.

The Library offers short-term fellowships for scholars interested in accessing material which has not been digitized. The purpose of the fellowships has been to alleviate travel cost and offer support for individuals needing to conduct on-site research in the Library’s special collections. In the last two years we offered additional fellowships for food studies with support from the Pine Tree Foundation.

If you have any questions about the NYPL’s recipe collections, you can email Thomas Lannon at

First Monday Library Chat: New York Academy of Medicine

Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat! Today we’re featuring The New York Academy of Medicine Library, one of the largest medical library collections in the United States. The majority of volumes in their Rare Book and Historical Collections date from the 15th through 18th centuries, and the collections also contain 85-90% of medical books printed in the US between the late 17th and early 19th centuries. The library serves both scholars and the general public. Today I’m chatting with Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Could you give us an overview of the print and manuscript historical recipe books in NYAM’s collection? Can you offer any search tips for finding them in your catalog?

At the heart of our culinary holdings is the Collection of Books on Foods and Cookery, presented to NYAM by Margaret Barclay Wilson in 1929. Wilson was professor of physiology and honorary librarian at Hunter College; she also advised the city of New York on food economy during wartime.

The Wilson collection includes about 10,000 items, including the Apicius manuscript (see below), menus and pamphlets that demonstrate the way cookery changed over time, and a large collection of printed books, beginning in the 16th century. Included here are works by Scappi, Platina, and Carême as well as many other milestones in culinary printing.  Especially exciting are the wide variety of everyday cookbooks we own that show what daily cooking was like in a range of households, across the world. Using our collections, you can also trace the changes that occur when people have access to new innovations—refrigeration, for example, or the gas range.

9th-century manuscript De re culininaria (sometimes De re coquinaria), attributed to Apicius
9th-century manuscript De re culininaria (sometimes De re coquinaria), attributed to Apicius

We have strong collections related to diet regimens and cooking for health, as well as cookbooks published during wartime when resources were scarce. More general texts on home economics and household management include much on cooking. Books on farming, viticulture and beer-making round out our strong print holdings.

The centerpiece of our food manuscripts is Apicius’ De re culinaria, one of two existing copies of an early Roman cookbook mixed with medical recipes, agronomical observations, and house-keeping advice. Our copy was penned at the monastery at Fulda (Germany) around 830 AD.

NYAM holds some significant early modern manuscript recipe books. Can you tell us more about these and give a couple of highlights?

Our library holds 36 manuscript receipt books, dating from the late 17th through the 19th century. The bulk of the manuscripts are German and English. The remaining manuscripts are American, Austrian, French, and Dutch. One of my favorites is the Choise Receipt book from 1680, which includes recipes for fruit preserves, baked goods, mead and beer, as well as hearty pudding and meat dishes. You’ll also find here a recipe ensuring a quick childbirth–central ingredient, baked eel livers!–as well as many other medical recipes. A tantalizing recipe for a “gam of cherries” is notable because the OED dates the earliest usage of “jam,” in any form, to 1736, almost sixty years after the date of this manuscript.

Index of late 17th-century manuscript “Choise Receipts”
Index of late 17th-century manuscript “Choise Receipts”

Elizabeth Duncombe’s manuscript offers recipes from a later period (1791). Food historian Stephen Schmidt has cooked several of these recipes, with delectable results! Highlights include a fish sauce more French than English in spirit (akin to today’s beurre blanc), and recipes for pigeon, hedgehog and potted mushrooms. References to milking and to cows suggest that this was the cookbook of a farm household, and not a city residence.

Could you tell us a bit more about the Pine Tree Manuscript Receipt Book Project?

The 36 early modern manuscripts described above were all in need of both conservation and cataloguing. All items needed basic stabilization and dry cleaning; in some cases, the bindings needed to be replaced with historically and structurally suitable materials. All can now be used by the public without worry of further damage. They’ve also been catalogued, and can be found by searching online here.

Both the conservation work and the cataloguing was funded by the Pine Tree Foundation, overseen by Szilvia Szmuk-Tanenbaum. Szilvia is a bibliophile and a culinary enthusiast, and has been wonderfully generous to us.

I heard that “Food” is NYAM’s 2015 programming theme. Do tell us more! How will recipes be included?

We’re thrilled that our 2015 programming will focus on the history of food and food systems, working with historian and writer Evelyn Kim. Throughout the year there will be food-related events, culminating in our October Festival where we will offer a mixture of talks, demonstrations, and workshops, with noted chefs and writers. In April, we will also be participating in the Food Book Fair in Brooklyn. We will be drawing on our historical cookery collection for insights into changing ideas about food and health, nutrition, diets and more. Watch our blog for images, recipes and details of lectures and workshops to come.

NYAM’s Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health (which includes the Library) hosts the blog Books, Health, and History. Could you give us an overview of some blog posts that were related to historical recipes?

Food historian Stephen Schmidt did a wonderful post for us on a recipe for bread crumb gingerbread. The recipe can be found in a manuscript cookbook from the early 18th century but is adapted from a much older recipe for a contemporary audience. Schmidt writes about the evolution of gingerbread as a stomach settler in the 17th-century to its 18th-century incarnation as a sweet dessert cake, made with molasses. Our manuscript offers recipes for both the old and the new gingerbread. Schmidt speculates that the old was probably made at Christmastime, the new, in everyday cooking.

Another highlight includes a blog featuring a staff member’s photo-documented chronicle of  her experiences making Mother Eve’s Pudding, featured in this recipe book, and a post on the recipe itself, which is cleverly—and sometimes cryptically—told in verse. Other highlights include posts offering recipes for an authentic 1914 Thanksgiving dinner and on a pamphlet, the “Canape Parade,” featuring a procession of winsome vegetables.

Mothers Eve Pudding
A recipe in verse for Mother Eve’s Pudding, late 18th-century

Thanks, Anne, for chatting with me! NYAM’s Library is open by appointment Tuesday through Friday from 10AM – 4:45PM. Please email the library at for more information and to schedule an appointment.

First Monday Library Chat: Chemical Heritage Foundation

Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat! In September, I moved across Philadelphia to join the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) as their first Curator of Digital Collections. CHF is a Library, Museum, and Center for Scholars that uses the history of science and technology to understand the present and inform the future. Today I’m chatting with CHF’s Curator of Rare Books, Dr. James R. Voelkel.

CHF has diverse collections: rare books, archives, oral histories, photographs, fine art, artifacts and instruments. Could you give us a general overview of CHF’s collections?

CHF is the home of the Othmer Library of Chemical History, which collects rare and non-rare books on subjects relevant to the history of chemistry, and chemical industries broadly. We like to say that if it has to do with “stuff” we’re likely to be interested in it. For the rare book collection, this means that we collect books on chemistry, mining and metallurgy, dyeing, distilling, saltpeter and explosives, poisons, toxicology, wine and beer making, balneology (mineral springs) and so on. Our collection goes back to the 15th century, when the term “chymistry” was used interchangeably for chemistry and alchemy, so our collection of alchemical books is particularly strong. Our collections are probably stronger in 16th- and 17th-century chemistry than in 18th- and 19th-century. The rest of the library collections hold primary sources after 1850, secondary sources for history of science, and an extensive journal collection, especially strong in obscure chemical and chemical industry publications.

Our archival collections hold important organizational papers (e.g. IUPAC—The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry), corporate papers (e.g. Rohm and Haas, and Dow), and papers of notable individual chemists, including several Nobel prize winners (e.g. Paul Flory). The image archive also has over 20,000 images of chemists and chemical sites.

The fine art collection has a very large collection of paintings of alchemical scenes, a large number of them 17th-century Dutch genre paintings. Altogether it has more than 90 paintings and 200 works on paper.

Finally, the artifacts and instrument collections are so large they can not all be stored in the building. We have chemical glassware, large analytical instruments like mass spectrometers and chromatographs, and a very large collection of chemistry sets. We also have objects illustrating chemistry in every day life, like Bakelite objects, synthetic dresses, and numerous ephemeral objects like advertisements.

Within the Rare Book Collection that you oversee, could you identify some items that might interest researchers working with historical recipes or books of secrets?

We have a number of books of secrets and a large collection of works by Kenelm Digby, including his Choice and experimented receipts in physick and chirurgery (London, 1668). We have numerous books in culinary history, from Denis Papin’s A New Digester or Engine for Softning Bones (London, 1681)—the first book on the pressure cooker—to Friedrich Accum’s Culinary chemistry (London, 1821). For the nefarious, we can also supply Accum’s A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons (London, 1820).

My favorite is Jacques-François Demachy, L’art du distillateur liquoriste, contenant le bruleur d’eaux-de-vie, le fabriquant de liqueurs, le débitant ou le cafetier-limonnadier (Paris, 1773). It embodies the ambitions of the French Enlightenment. This extra-large folio is one of the more than 100-volume Descriptions des arts et métiers on trades, occupations, and industry. Demachy’s contribution is on distillation of liqueurs but, being about the café owner occupation, it includes a section on making sorbet (with engraved plates!)

17th Century Recipe for Gunpowder
Recipe for gunpowder.  Vollenkommene Unterweisung/ (1660)

Fireworks books often have numerous recipes for explosives and different color flames. J. C. Stövesandt, Deutliche Anweisung zur Feuerwerkerey (Halle: J.J. Gebauern, 1748) has many pages of recipes in relatively modern-looking form. Going further back, the Vollenkommene Unterweisung/ wie Raketen/ Feuer- Wasser- Sturm-Kugeln/ Granaten/ Pech-Sturm-Kräntze/ und allerhand Lust nnd Ernsthaffte Feuer-wercke zubereiten (Osnabrück, 1660) has recipes and 50 instructive plates.

CHF recently purchased ten alchemical manuscripts, primarily dating from the fifteenth century. Do any of these manuscripts have recipes in them?

The oldest book of secrets we own is a manuscript from 1438 entitled “[Liber de] Secreti naturali”. It has more than 500 recipes ranging from metallurgy to cosmetics to veterinary cures, and a beautiful binding with 437 decorative nails forming a star with a circle. Many of the manuscripts are more theoretical in nature, like the three different Pseudo-Lullian works or Petrus Bonus’s Pretiosa margarita novella. But the youngest of the manuscripts, a French copy of Pseudo-Arnaldus of Villanova, Le petit rosaire has numerous descriptions with rather nice drawings of laboratory set-ups, which I believe must also include the ingredients.

Liber secreti naturali (Northwestern Italy, ca. 1438), Othmer MS 1.
Liber secreti naturali (Northwestern Italy, ca. 1438), Othmer MS 1.

I understand that these manuscripts will be included in CHF’s forthcoming exhibition “Books of Secrets: Writing and Reading Alchemy”, which runs from Dec. 5, 2014 till Sept. 4, 2015. Can you tell us more about the new exhibition? 

The exhibition, which I co-curated with CHF’s Curator of Fine Art, Amanda Shields, came about from the desire to showcase two of CHF’s holdings: the newly acquired alchemical manuscripts, and a number of paintings from our collection. The theme that links the manuscripts and the paintings is the centrality of the written word in alchemical practice. Though one might think that the activity of the alchemist was focused on the laboratory and the furnace, in fact, alchemists spent a large amount of time writing and reading. Alchemy was paradoxically both public and secret. Since it was nominally secret but alchemists still desired to communicate, they used code words and strange allegories to describe their processes.

When we started going through the collection, we discovered that almost all alchemical paintings have books or manuscripts somewhere in the frame. Very often the alchemist is deeply involved in pouring over manuscripts, and the furnace smokes remain neglected in the background. The books themselves also show evidence of hard-reading. They are dotted with reading notes and manicules (those little pointing hands readers have used for centuries to highlight text). One of them is even coated in soot, as though it had been held by the crucible-stirrer in the painting. It really is a wonderful synergy to exhibit the artifact alongside the depiction of that artifact in use. It really gets at the materiality of the practice of reading in a way that could not be accomplished with either the manuscripts or the paintings alone.

Manicule from Pseudo-Lull, Liber de secretis naturae seu de quinta essentia (Venice, 1498), Othmer Manuscript 4
Manicule from Pseudo-Lull, Liber de secretis naturae seu de quinta essentia (Venice, 1498), Othmer MS 4

To take the visitor through that arc, the exhibition is divided into three sections. First, there is a section on the writing of manuscripts, on the paper, ink, and techniques used to get the words on paper. Then there is a section on the use of manuscripts, on reading and note taking. Finally, there is a section on the continuity of manuscripts and print, noting the similarities between the manuscripts and some of CHF’s earliest printed books.

Is there a fellowship program that would allow researchers to visit CHF and use the collections?

CHF has a variety of programs to support the use of our collections. The Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry at CHF offers academic year (9 month) and short term (1-4 month) fellowships for researchers, post-docs and dissertation-writing Ph.D. students.

The Beckman Center also offers 1-2 week travel grants for researchers needing to see specific items in our collections.Though these are used primarily for library and archival collections, they can also be used for study of our art and artifacts collections. Sometimes, scholars who are thinking of applying for a longer term fellowship use a travel grant to scout our collections, which is certainly helpful.

Thanks, Jim, for chatting with me! The CHF Museum is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm. The Library’s Reading Room is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm, but is accessible by appointment only