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 →

Otto Robert Frisch's Hippopotamouse

This charming, Edward Lear-esque drawing isn't by an illustrator or humour writer, but a nuclear physicist! 

View full article →

Wandering in Kew Gardens: Illustrations from a Victorian Guidebook

Do you recognise any of these scenes at Kew Gardens in 1857? The illustrations are from a charming book, Wanderings Through the Conservatories at Kew, published less than two decades after Kew's incorporation as a national botanical garden.

View full article →

The Family Tree or, the Hoax-o-Graph

This is one of the strangest items we've ever had in stock, The Family Tree or, The Hoax-o-Graph, probably published in 1913 by Dow and Lester, the firm that was also responsible for Cecil Henland's famous novelty album The Ghosts of My Friends.

View full article →

A Bus to the Moon: The New Luna Conveyance Company

Elon Musk eat your heart out. In celebration of tonight's full moon we have an unusual 19-century cartoon depicting "the New Luna Conveyance Company", an omnibus service ferrying passengers “to the Moon” and advertising routes “to the Seven Stars” and “the Milky Way”.

View full article →

I Sold That! The Chicken in Trousers Manuscript

One of the delights of being a bookseller is that occasionally something you work on strikes a chord with the general public and goes a little viral. Recently I sold what may go down in history as the "Chicken in Trousers Manuscript"  a wonderful mathematical workbook by an 18th-century boy named Richard Beale, who seems to have spent as much time doodling as completing his homework. It was a real pleasure to link the manuscript with the rest of the family's papers at the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading, which was then able to purchase it with the help of a generous donor.

I wasn't online much last week, and was pleasantly surprised when the Museum got in touch about all the press attention their tweets generated, including some love from JK Rowling! The day-to-day work that booksellers do in researching stock and placing it with the right clients is often hidden, so I was thrilled that the Museum kindly gave me permission to highlight my association with the notebook. Read on for my cataloguing and some of my favourite doodles.

View full article →

Chic Parisian Infographics of the 19th Century

"Gas fittings" is not a term that screams elegance. Then again, the French have a way of making anything chic, as attested to by this remarkable statistical manuscript. 

View full article →

Victorian Advertising Paradise - A Chromolithographic Pharmacy Catalogue

Imagine walking into a drug store and seeing these exuberant, enticing labels all around you. They're part of what's probably the most colourful item in our stock at the moment: a chromolithographic pharmacy catalogue dating from the 1890s.

View full article →

Atomic Reactors Serve Peace: A Soviet-Era Czech Guide to Nuclear Power

For many people nuclear energy conjures horrific images - barrels of radioactive waste that can't be safely stored, or the hulking sarcophagus of Chernobyl. But during the 1950s nuclear power had very different connotations. For the men and women who lived through the Second World War, the atomic bombing of Japan, and the rise of the Cold War, nuclear energy for civilian use represented the hope for a better future, one that would be powered by almost unlimited supplies of clean, inexpensive power. It would be "Atoms for Peace" instead of war, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower put it in a speech to the UN in 1953.

View full article →

A Look Inside the Brunels' Thames Tunnel

In a city that's famous for its tunnels, one stands out. The Thames Tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping was the first tunnel to be successfully constructed under a body of water. It was designed and built by the engineer Marc Brunel, whose soon-to-be-famous son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, also worked on the project. Among the new technologies involved was Brunel's innovative tunneling shield, which supported the structure of the tunnel as workers dug it out and paved the sides. This was the precursor to modern tunnel boring machines, such as those used to build Crossrail today.

View full article →