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Dalton, John

A New System of Chemical Philosophy. Part I. Second Edition

  • Second edition of Dalton’s major statement on the constitution of matter, presentation copy inscribed by him to his engravers on the front free endpaper, “To Bradshaw & Blacklock, presented by John Dalton, D. C. L. - F. R. S. &c.” A superb copy in the publisher’s cloth, the contents entirely unopened. The second edition is uncommon on the market, not appearing in recent auction records.

    The concept of atoms as the foundation of all matter had been hypothesised since the classical period, but the theories put forward were often “vague and unsatisfactory... Dalton's theory was clear and useful. Arguing from physical properties he identified the origin of chemical distinctness, and showed how the chemical distinctness of compounds could be attributed to a simple natural characteristic: each element is composed of atoms, identical with all the other atoms of that element. A compound of two elements is composed of units each consisting of small whole numbers of atoms. What was then original in Dalton was not that atoms exist, but that each element is distinguished by the characteristic weight of the atoms of which it is composed and that this characteristic proportionate weight can be determined by systematic quantitative analysis” (ODNB).

    One of Dalton’s great insights was that atoms themselves do not change in chemical reactions, only their relationships to each other. “Dalton’s work with relative atomic weights prompted him to construct the first periodic table of elements (in Vol. I, pt. 1), to formulate laws concerning their combination and to provide schematic representations of various possible combinations of atoms. His equation of the concepts ‘atom’ and ‘chemical element’ was of fundamental importance, as it provided the chemist with a new and enormously fruitful model of reality” (Norman 575).

    A New System of Chemical Philosophy was first published in two parts in 1808 and 1810. The first part was the most significant, laying out Dalton’s theory in full and including the important plate of atomic symbols; the second part reported the results of experiments, both original and well-known, in order “to demonstrate the applicability of his atomic theory and the means of determining atomic weights” (Hartley, “John Dalton and the Atomic Theory”, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. 300, no. 1462, p. 302). A second volume appeared much later in 1827, but was already considered out of date. This, the second edition of 1842, reproduced only the key statement of theory: the first part of the first volume published in 1808. This edition appeared only two years before Dalton’s death in 1844, and his age and poor state of health — he suffered several strokes around this time — account for the shaky hand in which this copy is inscribed. The recipients, Bradshaw & Blacklock were the Manchester firm of engravers and publishers who were responsible for the engravings in this edition; they are best known for the Bradshaw’s railway guides.

    Norman 575; Dibner, Heralds 44

  • London: John Weale, 1842.

    Octavo. Publisher’s brown horizontally ribbed cloth, printed paper spine label. Contents unopened. 4 engraved plates. Some tiny worn spots at the extremities, spine label darkened, a few small spots and scuffs to the cloth, occasional tiny spots to the contents but overall quite fresh and clean. Excellent condition.

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