Alembic Blog

Prints from Life: Ernst Wilhelm Martius and the History of Nature Printing

Does this print illustrating the belladonna plant look unusual to you? It's from a wonderful 18th-century book that we recently acquiredNeueste Anweisung, Pflanzen nach dem Leben abzudrucken by Wilhelm Martius. Compared to most botanical illustrations of the period (and even modern ones) this example is exceptionally detailed—you can see tiny veins in the leaves, the texture of the stem, and areas where the edges of the leaves have folded over on themselves, as if a living plant was preserved between the book's pages. And that tells us we're looking at, not a typical engraving first produced in wood or metal by an artisan, but a work of nature printing—an impression taken directly from a plant or animal.

View full article →

How to Start Collecting Rare Books

As a rare book seller I regularly meet people who love old books but aren't sure that book collecting is the right hobby for them. Popular culture creates the idea that it's for older, wealthy men who attend glitzy auctions and have beautiful libraries. But in reality, book collecting is a very accessible hobby, and you don’t need to become an overnight expert or spend vast sums to build a meaningful library. To get you started, this article provides guidance for those new to rare books, with links and suggestions for additional resources.

View full article →

Watermarks & Foolscaps: Exploring the History of Paper Production

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen this intriguing watermark in my 1672 first edition of Nehemiah Grew's The Anatomy of Vegetables Begun, the first work of scientific botany. Watermarks are often obscured under text, but in this case I was lucky, as it happened to coincide with the blank portion of a folding plate. Most of the watermarks I'd seen had been smaller, simpler and more condensed, so I was immediately fascinated by this sprawling, seemingly abstract symbol. With a background in book history as well as science, I was also interested in this as evidence of the book's production history, and decided to investigate further.

View full article →