Alembic Blog

The First Full Biography of Isaac Newton

This beautiful little volume, published in 1831, is the first full biography of the great Isaac Newton, written by David Brewster, a fellow scientist who would eventually uncover Newton's deep interest in alchemy and his unorthodox religious views.

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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.

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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".

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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.

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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.

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A Quaker Education: William Gawthrop's Arithmetic for Young Ladies

Some of my favourite books to have in the shop are the ones that combine my interests in science and women's history, and today I had the pleasure of cataloguing a rare and delightful book on mathematics for "the use of young ladies". The Scholar's Introduction to Arithmetic; Designed for the Use of Young Ladies and the Junior Classes in Boys' Schools was published by William Gawthrop in Liverpool, probably in the 1820s or early 1830s (an owner's signature in this copy is dated 1832). It speaks to us not only about mathematics teaching in early-19th century Britain, but also about the history of women's education and the role that the Quaker religious community played in its advancement.

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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.

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A Colourful Diptych Sundial & Compass by Beringer

Our latest acquisition is this lovely combination sundial and compass that was probably produced in the workshop of the German craftsman David Beringer during the late 18th or early 19th century. Previously, sundials of this type were luxury items of engraved ivory or metal, but Beringer was one of the first compass makers to realise that using wood and printed paper would bring the price down and widen the market. His workshop flourished between about 1777 and his death in 1821, and his name became synonymous with portable, wooden diptych and cube sundials.

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Photo Album & Scrapbook by an American Woman in Occupied Japan

My favourite finds as a bookseller are often journals, commonplace books, and scrapbooks that offer a window onto the past as it was experienced by ordinary people. One of our most recent acquisitions of this type is a remarkable photo album and scrapbook compiled in Occupied Japan by Marguerite Barker (below), an American employee of the Far East Asian Services during and after the Second World War. 

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Relics of Rhoda Sale, a Near-Forgotten Female Physicist

In recent decades historians have made great strides in uncovering the hidden history of women in STEM, but many female scientists' stories remain obscure. Most of them were not Nobel Prize winners like Marie Curie, or famous authors such as Rachel Carson, but still talented and hard-working women whose efforts contributed to the progress of science at a time when their gender's participation was often undervalued or rejected outright. We recently acquired an evocative record of one such scientist, the physicist Rhoda Sale.

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