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

First Monday Library Chat: University of Pennsylvania Library

Last month, I was excited to meet with Mitch Fraas, PhD, Curator of Digital Research Services, and Katie Rawson, PhD, Bollinger Fellow in Library Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania. We met in the newly renovated Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts on the top floor of UPenn’s Van Pelt Library, where they displayed recipe-related collection highlights dating back to the 14th century.

Katie Rawson and Mitch Fraas with rare books
Katie Rawson and Mitch Fraas at UPenn. 3 September 2014.

Please give us an overview of the scope of your collection of recipe books. Roughly how many do you have? What tips can you offer to help users find them via your catalog or finding aids?

The Penn Libraries have over 7,500 cookery books in its collections. We have several large collections of books and other material relating to cookery and the history of food. Researchers can find lists of these materials in our online catalog under the following names:

Chef Fritz Blank Culinary Archive and Library (over 2,000 items cataloged)

Laurie Burrows Grad Collection (over 5,000 items cataloged)

Esther B. Aresty Collection of Rare Books on the Culinary Arts  (over 500 items cataloged)

The Aresty Collection is also accompanied by the Ester B Aresty papers which document her life as cookbook collector and culinary historian. See the finding aid for more information.

UPenn has quite a large collection of some very significant recipe books. Can you tell us about your history of collecting recipe books? What are some of the major collections you have, and why were these a collection priority?

In the 1990s Lynne Farrington, the Curator of Printed Books in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library here, saw the potential in growing the collections around food studies. Over the last twenty years she helped bring in three major collections relating to cookery as well as many more individual acquisitions. These three large collections come from Chef Fritz Blank (who passed away last month), Laurie Burrows Grad, and Esther Aresty. Though related to food and cooking broadly, each has a particular strength. The Esther Aresty collection has a host of rare early printed books related to food, including one incunable. The Blank collection includes cookery pamphlets, community cookbooks, menus, and other items as well as manuscripts and printed cookbooks, some going back to the 18th century. The Grad collection documents the explosion of cookbooks in the late-20th century, many of which focus on diets, celebrity chefs, and international cuisine.

Have you collected recipe books that fall outside of these significant collections?

In addition to our named cookery collections, Penn has built a collection of manuscript recipe books over the years which record cooking practice at the level of the individual or family. The majority of these come from England and the United States and date from the 18th century to the mid-20th.

Regalia Cucumbers Manuscript
Kidder, Receipts of pastry and cookery, UPenn MS Codex 625

Can you give us a few highlights from Penn’s collection?

We had a hard time choosing from the collections, but here are a few pieces to show its range:

“Ms. Codex 625 – Kidder, Edward – Receipts of pastry and cookery : for the use of his scholars” (pictured above) seems at first glance to be a printed book of recipes; however, the recipes in it are handwritten by a person who would have been enrolled in a cooking course in the 18th century.

The New-England cookery, or, The art of dressing all kinds of flesh, fish, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plumb to plain cake : particularly adapted to this part of our country, compiled by Lucy Emerson, is a wonderful exemplar of the regional cookery books in our collection, which give readers a sense of early American cuisine construction, through its recipes and front matter.

We also have recipes as parts of archival collections, including a cache of documents relating to the Waldorf Astoria in New York as well as its sister hotel in Philadelphia. Within the collection are notes, ingredient lists, menus, recipes and correspondence from the hotel restaurants and their chefs.

Recipe for the Waldorf Hotel
Waldorf-Astoria recipes, UPenn MS Coll. 332

Though it doesn’t include a recipe, we couldn’t resist showing off this sixteenth-century table setting regulations for the pricing and sale of bread.  See the illustration of bread shapes above each loaf!

16th C table setting regulations for the pricing and sale of bread
Assise of all man[n]er of breade, UPenn LJS 238

Have your recipe books been digitized? Are there any digital exhibitions we should know about?

We have digitized over 40 manuscript recipe books and we plan to digitize more, including printed cookbooks. We also have several older digital exhibits that explore our cookbook collections.  From the Penn Culinary Collections page, users can find “A Chef and His Library: An Exhibition Selected from the collection of Fritz Blank” and “Household Words: Women Write from and for the Kitchen“, which explore two of our major culinary collections, including images of menus, pages, and other materials from the collections. While they were created in an earlier moment of web exhibits, the content in these pages, especially Janet Theophano’s discussions in “Household Words”, still offer helpful frameworks for exploring culinary collections.

Do you know of any recent research or outreach projects featuring your recipe books that might interest readers of our blog?

Our collections are being used in a few research projects right now. Lauren Klein, a food studies scholar at Georgia Tech, is using three of our digitized manuscripts for her students to research and create online exhibits. Penn graduate students Marissa Nicosia and Alyssa Connell have been cooking recipes from our early modern cookbooks and discussing modern and early modern culinary practice at Cooking in the Archive. Bollinger Fellow Katie Rawson is working on a project that connects NYPL menus to their context, including a collection of business records and handwritten recipes from the Waldorf Astoria. In addition, the collection has seen use in the reading room from Penn and beyond.

Thanks, Mitch and Katie, for chatting with me! If you’d like to visit the Kislak Center, please email them at Visitors to the Van Pelt Library should consult the Visitor Information page to learn how to access the collections. 

First Monday Library Chat: Wangensteen Library

Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat. Today we’ll be learning more about the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine  at the University of Minnesota. Dedicated initially to the history of medicine and surgery, the collection has grown considerably over the past fifty years to cover all academic health center disciplines, including nursing, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, and the history of biology. The collection has 80,000 rare books, manuscripts and serials ranging from 1480-1930. Today I’m talking with Lois Hendrickson, curator, and Emily Hagens, PhD Candidate in the History of Medicine.

Can you give us an overview of some of the rare and unique items in your collection?

Having just finished installing our most recent exhibit celebrating the 500th anniversary of Vesalius’s birth, we’ve re-examined many books from our deep and rich anatomical atlas collection. We have an especially complete collection on Vesalius and the history of early modern anatomy, including a rare German edition of Vesalius’s Epitome (1543). I’m especially taken with items that resonate with other materials in the collection. A recent manuscript acquisition, an inventory of an unnamed apothecary shop in mid-17th century Toulouse, has the potential to shed light on our growing collection of medicinal recipe books and our pharmaceutical materials.  Divided into sections, it lists merchandise, equipment, and client accounts, all offering a rare picture of the activities and contents of a pharmacy.

Manuscript describing a 17th-Century apothecary shop in Toulouse
Inventory of an apothecary’s shop in Toulouse, 1645. Courtesy of Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine.

The history of biology (natural history) materials are also compelling. Many rare books from our conchology, bird and insect collections have been borrowed and featured in recent  exhibits on Audubon, shells, butterflies. A particular favorite is Danish physician Ole Worm’s Museum Wormianum (1665). The frontispiece of his catalog depicts a cabinet of curiosities ranging from native artifacts to fossils, and inspires many conversations with students about collecting and classification.

I’m fascinated by the Pamard archives, which represent the work of seven generations of a French family of opthalmological surgeons founded in Avignon in the late 17th century. Are there any recipes in here? Are there related letters and diaries that might help us contextualize these recipes?

Among the  extensive personal and professional papers, students’ notes, correspondence, hospital records, public health notices, statistics, and poetry, there are remedies, recipes, and diaries. In particular, the papers of Nicolas Dominique Pamard (c. 1702-1783) contain numbered remedies, lists of items related to them, and dosing advice. Another of his undated bound books is labeled as a “Collection of Secrets and Remedies of Experienced Knowledge.”  His grandson, Jean Baptiste Antoine Bénézet Pamard (1763-1827) used local interactions and experiences to study the health needs of the general public. He published a medical topography of Avignon including observations on climate, water supply, and the nature of the local people.  His personal notebook, which he referred to as his ”journal of observations on myself‟ is a mix of medical etiology and family observations.  It was a place of self-reflection, and shaped the way he viewed himself.  It may be interesting to see if there are parallels in medicinal recipe manuscripts; how did the authors view themselves, and did they have similar experiences to physicians when distinguishing between symptoms (a patient’s report) and signs (markers of disease). These records have been the basis for the masters thesis Constructing Identity in the Romantic Age: The Medical Writings of Jean-Baptiste Antoine Bénézet Pamard (1763-1827), but much more could be gleaned from this rich collection.

I understand that you have a growing collection of manuscript recipe books. Can you tell us more about the scope of your collection? Why do you consider this genre to be of importance?

We collect manuscript recipe books with a medical focus.  They range in date from 1552 to 1890, and while many are in English, we also have some in French, German and Chinese. The Wangensteen Library’s primary identity is as a teaching library. On a very basic level, manuscript recipe books are powerful resources that resonate with students because they contain tangible evidence of actual historical people. The evidence of practice helps students connect with early modern history, and leads them think about how individuals formed relationships with particular kinds of knowledge, as well as knowledge producers around them, and how they applied this to everyday problems. Students come to the Wangensteen Library with a background in a variety of disciplines, including the expected (History of Medicine and Science) and the unexpected (English as a Second Language, Art, and Rhetoric). Because of this, we’re always trying to think of new ways to make the collection relevant to a broader group of disciplines. Knowing that recipe books cover so many topics, we have planned an interdisciplinary workshop on recipe books for spring 2015. Funded by a small grant, we expect graduate students and faculty from the departments of Spanish & Portuguese, History, the History of Medicine, as well as special collections staff to participate and see what we can uncover together within the same sources.

Can you highlight one or two of your favorite items?

It is hard to pick just a few books to highlight! Emily’s favorite book is a 1542 De Historia Stirpium by Leonhart Fuchs that is completely colored. The way readers have adjusted the images and heavily annotated the text helps students understand the fluidity of, what they view as, obvious botanical knowledge in another time period. Lois likes our collection of patent medicine almanacs which  promoted and sold compounds as medical cures.  The intersection of medicinal recipe manuscripts, pharmacopeia, herbals, botanicals and self-help manuals juxtaposed against the variety of patent medicine almanac’s promotional styles – color comic books, song books, and calendars helps students understand the continuum of ‘cures’ and the nuances of scientific inquiry coupled with the influences of social sciences and humanities.

Fuchs, 16gh-century herbal, hand colored
Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, 1542. Courtesy of the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine.

Will any digitized versions of these manuscripts be available online?

Yes! The Wangensteen recently won a grant that will allow us to digitize a subset of the recipe books. They will hopefully become available online in the next year.

That’s great news! And have you found pedagogical value in these recipe books? Do any U of M undergraduate or graduate students use these manuscripts in their coursework?

We frequently use the Mary Pewe’s recipe book in history of science and medicine courses that visit the library. It is convenient to teach with because it is in English, but more importantly, the handwriting is easy to read and students can recognize a lot of what they see in it. We always try to have it open to the page that lists a recipe from Queen Elizabeth, a name that always gets some ooh’s and aah’s. We also have an 18th-century recipe book from the southern United States that is useful in class visits. The combination of medical and culinary recipes in it forces students to reevaluate their own ideas about the intellectual space that both practices occupied.

17th century manuscript recipe mentioning Queen Elizabeth I
Mary Pewe. Medical Receipts. 1637? Courtesy of the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine.

Emily frequently uses the recipe book collection. When she became interested in them as a genre, it was great to have access to several items from different time periods to work with for course papers. The scope of the Wangensteen Library in general has provided her with access to many supporting materials as well, such as printed recipe books, herbals, and medical manuals that early moderns probably used when compiling their manuscript recipe books. Other graduate students have used the Pewe to investigate sugar, moving beyond global trade, to thinking about its’ use and availability to the general populace as evidenced in recipe books. Still others have used it to brush up on their paleography skills of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts.

Thanks, Lois and Emily, for chatting with me! The Wangensteen Historical Library is available to students, alumni, and the general public. Please contact the Wangensteen for more information.

First Monday Library Chat: Rijksmuseum

Today’s First Monday Library Chat will kick-off a series of blog posts featuring the Rijksmuseum, the museum of the Netherlands, located in Amsterdam. Within the main building is the Rijksmuseum Research Library, which holds the most extensive art history library in the  Netherlands. Like the museum, the Library’s primary collecting focus is Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages onwards.

Today I’m chatting with Geert-Jan Koot, Head of the Rijksmuseum Research Library, and Dr. Marjolijn Bol, University Lecturer for Conservation & Restoration and Art History at the University of Amsterdam and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Hamburg.

The Rijksmuseum has just undergone a significant restoration project. Can you tell us a bit more about this? How has it affected the Research Library?

New spaces have been designed for the Rijksmuseum, and old spaces have been given a new meaning. It was recognized that the building had been neglected. The museum had been turned into a labyrinth. Every aid to orientation had been cut away or camouflaged.  The library too, was completely hidden, and not accessible from the main building. Visitors had to go outside and use a separate entrance.

The restoration of the library hall was part of the concept of the New Rijksmuseum. This means that the alterations that were made in the past were reversed and the original features, which were still largely discernible, properly restored. For the first time in history, the general public can now access this part of the museum. The use of the library will now be closest to the architect’s conception of the building being more accessible.

Could you talk about the relationship between the Rijksmuseum and the Rijksmuseum Research Library? It strikes me that Art History is a discipline where access to both museum and library collections would be equally important to and utilized by your patrons.

According to the Rijksmuseum’s vision, the reading room in the library hall is intended for visitors who, inspired by what’s on offer in the museum, want to go into further detail on the history and art of the Netherlands and elsewhere. Museum visitors are welcome to look something up or linger to enjoy their visit a little longer. There is no doubt that it is a unique experience for visitors of the Rijksmuseum to get a look inside this magnificent space. Nowadays one might find more museum visitors in the library hall than scholars. However, compared to the time before the reading room in the library hall opened its doors, the number of scientific library users grew as well. In the attached study room the special collections can be examined: rare books, prints, drawings and photographs. Because of its lighting conditions and calmness, the study room is also ideally suited for scholarly research.

In 2014, the Rijksmuseum launched an extensive fellowship program for pre-doctoral students to pursue dissertation research that shows a clear relation to the museum’s collections and expertise. The library will become the meeting place and the research center for the ten fellows we hope to welcome this and in following years.  The aim of the library is to provide research resources and to facilitate research, thus strengthening international research on Dutch art.

Rijksmuseum Library Reading Room
One of three tables in the reading room in the Rijksmuseum’s library hall

Your artists’ recipes are, of course, of great interest to readers of this blog. What recipe-related items do you have in your collection? Are they primarily in print or manuscript?

The Rijksmuseum collection of art technological sources covers primary documentation concerning the practical aspects on the application and use of techniques, materials, tools and machines for the making of objects of art and culture from the middle ages until today. The extensive collection of artists’ manuals and drawing books is also of eminent importance.

This collection lists over 950 printed and written art treatises, dating from 1525 to the present day. Most of them are printed, only a few are manuscripts. A list of these titles is available in our web catalogue.

Many decades ago the museum started collecting these books and this collection is growing annually with a few dozen titles. New titles are publicized in our lists of acquisition highlights.

A fine example of a recently acquired early and rare German recipe book is the Künstbuechlin, gerechten gründtlichen gebrauchs aller kunstbaren Werckleüt (Augsburg, 1535).

16th century recipe book
Künstbuechlin (Augsburg, 1535)

Why does the Rijksmuseum have this special collection of artists’ recipe books?

Visitors to the museum and people interested in art and culture often like to know how objects were made and also from what materials they were made. To stimulate these questions, the Rijksmuseum performs research into the history of artistic materials and techniques. This research improves conservation methods and the restoration of the objects in the museum. The library contributes to these goals by bringing together a collection of international artists manuals and instruction books and recipes.

How are these recipes helpful for learning about artists’ processes and materials?

The study of art technology is increasingly recognized as an important source of information. This is not only to determine the material history of an art object and its conservation, but also to contribute to knowledge about the cultural aspects of the production of a work of art: aesthetic, economic, social, religious, etc.

Our aim is to make the collection of recipe books in the library more widely and freely available. A project to digitize these practical treatises is about to be realized. The proposal to connect the artist’s recipe book collection to the ColourContext database of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin has been well received.

I understand Dr. Marjolijn Bol’s recent course Art Technological Source Research at the University of Amsterdam held some classes at the Rijksmuseum Research Library. Can you talk more about the pedagogical value of bringing student groups to a special collections library? What extra value does this offer?

In an age in which more and more historical sources are made accessible online, it is of great value to be able to confront and familiarize students with original source material. This teaches them not only where to find the originals, but also why it is still very important to study them in situ.

Thanks, Geert-Jan and Marjolijn, for chatting with me!

The Rijksmuseum Research Library’s reading room is open Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm. If you wish to view rare or fragile works, please email to make an appointment.