Alembic Blog

A Rare Biographical Sketch of Rosalind Franklin by Her Mother

Dying at age 38 is a tragedy for anyone, but it is a double tragedy when that person is potentially a Nobel Prize winner with many more years of productive science ahead of them. When biochemist Rosalind Franklin died of ovarian cancer in 1958, only a few years after her work contributed to the discovery of the structure of DNA, her mother was distraught not only for the loss of a child but for the international recognition that her daughter had not achieved in life. The result of her grief was this touching autobiographical sketch, Rosalind, published privately a few years later, ostensibly for the much-loved nieces and nephews who would grow up with only dim memories of their aunt.

View full article →

Two Georgian Era Magnifying Lenses

New in the shop today are two pretty, Georgian Era magnifying lenses, a jeweller's loupe in lignum vitae and an entomologist's lens in tortoiseshell.

View full article →

Victorian Infographics: Reynolds's Pictorial Atlas of Arts, Sciences, Manufactures, & Machinery

One of the most exciting aspects of recent print & design culture is a renewed emphasis on infographics. But we're certainly not the first generation to be caught up in the visual display of information. In Europe and the United States the Victorian Era saw a flowering of infographics as the industrialisation of printing made it easier and cheaper to create books with detailed colour illustrations.

View full article →

All the Animated Beings in Nature: An Illustrated Natural History Dictionary Published in 1802

New in our shop is this delightful natural history book which describes itself as a "Complete Summary of Zoology. Containing a Full and Succinct Description of all the Animated Beings in Nature".

View full article →

Seeing Inside: The Golden Age of Anatomical Flapbooks

Today almost everyone has seen inside a real human body. We have access to an incredible array of visual resources: high-resolution photographs, x-rays, MRI scans, videos of surgical procedures, and even the cryogenic slices of the Visible Human Project. But throughout most of history there were only a few options - viewing bodies in real life, which was generally not very pleasant and sometimes illegal; as expensive hand-made models; and as illustrations. Among the most interesting of anatomical texts from this period are flapbooks. Rather than depicting the body statically as in most book illustrations, they are an attempt to create a deeper understanding of organ systems as they relate to each other in three dimensions, with the viewer an active participant who "dissects" the body by opening the flaps.

View full article →

A Quaker Education Part 2: Priscilla Wakefield's Introduction to Botany

Last week I wrote about a fascinating mathematics textbook "for the use of young ladies" by a Quaker education reformer, and how members of that religious community played an outsized role in the push for women's education and civil rights. Today I catalogued another book written, with young women in mind, by a Quaker activist: An Introduction to Botany in a Series of Familiar Letters, by Priscilla Wakefield.

View full article →

Tardigrades and other "Marvels of Pond Life": A Classic Book on Microscopes by Henry J. Slack

By the mid-19th century central London was the teeming metropolis recognisable from Victorian literature, but its outskirts were not yet urbanised and there was ample opportunity for amateur naturalists to explore local woods, heaths, ponds, and streams, many of which have now disappeared. If you chanced on one of those ponds in 1860 you might have found a man eagerly scanning the shoreline, examining the clarity of the water, dipping his walking-stick in to draw out clumps of algae and aquatic plants, and collecting samples in small bottles. Following him home, you would see him sit down at a microscope and carefully prepare slides from these samples, peering into the eye-piece and taking notes, perhaps with his wife at his side sketching the little world in each drop of water.

View full article →