Alembic Blog

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. 

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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.

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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.

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Carriages Without Horses Shall Go: One of the First Books About Cars

There's no question that automobiles were one of the most transformative technologies of the 20th century, and the rise of autonomous vehicles will continue that tradition of innovation. But in the 1890s cars were little more than a novelty, and few were prescient enough to predict the automotive revolution. One who did was the British engineer Alfred Robert Sennett, whose book "Carriages Without Horses Shall Go" was one of the first books on automobiles. 

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Victorian Machines & Manufacturing: The Boy's Book of Industrial Information

New in the shop is The Boy's Book of Industrial Information, a delightful illustrated children's book on Victorian technology.
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Los Alamos to Princeton: Top Secret Manhattan Project Lectures

This book is rather unassuming - it bears the ownership signature of a Princeton student and looks like it could be any mid-century educational text in an inexpensive brown binder. But in fact, this is a rare and highly classified set of lectures printed for high-level employees of Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. How it came to be in the possession of a Princeton student a year before its contents were declassified is a fascinating story.

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Original Photos of the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War, including Nagasaki

Our most recent acquisition is an evocative collection of photographs documenting life in the Pacific fleet at the end of the Second World War, including the ruins of Nagasaki less than two months after the detonation of the atomic bomb.

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A Wheel Within a Wheel: Bicycles & Women's Rights

As specialist in science and technology I'm not interested in discoveries and inventions only for their own sake, but also for how they affect people's everyday lives, sometimes in unexpected ways. A wonderful example is the adoption of the bicycle by late-19th century women as both a practical tool and a symbol of freedom. In A Wheel Within A Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle (1895), the American suffragist leader Frances Willard describes her attempts to master this new technology, as well her belief that the bicycle will transform women's lives and their fight for equal rights.

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What Does Sloth Taste Like? A Victorian Guide to Meats of the World

As a rare book seller you spend a lot of time working with books you already know pretty well, the famous or infamous works that have had an out-sized impact on history. But the most fun part of the job lies in the chance encounters - in finding the strange, unusual and near-forgotten volumes that can teach us about the past. Recently I found remarkable Victorian book on how animals were used for food around the world: The Animal Food Resources of Different Nations with Mention of Some of the Special Dainties of Various People Derived from the Animal Kingdom (1885), by Peter Lund Simmonds. In addition to providing detailed information and statistics on the usual domestic and game animals, the book contains passages on the preparation and flavour of a staggering number of exotic creatures.

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How Men (and Women) Fly: Gertrude Bacon & Early Aviation

'Have you ever seen a man fly?' A few years ago this question was too ridiculous to be worth answering seriously. A very few years hence it will be equally pointless. As well ask, 'Have you ever seen a man drive a motor-car, or ride a bicycle, or push a wheelbarrow?'

 So wrote the inimitable Gertrude Bacon, the first Englishwoman to fly in a plane, in the opening lines of How Men Fly, a significant early work on aviation.

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