Chemical Heritage Foundation receives rare early texts valued at $10 million

05/26/04

Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library comes to CHF

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) has received the most important private collection of rare chemical texts in the world. The Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library adds depth and breadth to CHF's extensive holdings of chemical books and manuscripts, alchemical artwork, scientific instruments, apparatus, and other artifacts. The conservation of this magnificent collection for future generations was made possible through the generous action of Gordon and Betty Moore. Gordon Moore, a chemist, is the cofounder of Intel Corporation and author of what has become known as Moore's Law (the observation that the processing power of computers increases exponentially).

"This is an absolutely phenomenal collection," said Lawrence Principe, a leading historian of science from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Neville Library will attract scholars from around the world and keep them busy for generations."

Acquiring and cataloguing the books in this collection has been the work of a lifetime for Roy G. Neville. A consulting chemist by profession, and a passionate bibliophile by avocation, Neville began collecting books almost 60 years ago, while he was still an undergraduate. The earliest books in his library date from the late 1400s; the most recent are from the early 20th century. Neville's collection includes many of the most important works in the history of science and technology between these periods, including:

  • De re metallica (1556), by Georg Agricola, which displays the origins of metallurgy;
  • The Sceptical Chymist (1661), by Robert Boyle, a foundational work of modern chemistry;
  • Micrographia (1665), by Robert Hooke, famed for its illustrations of the discoveries Hooke made using a microscope;
  • Principia Mathematica (1687), by Sir Isaac Newton, the key text in the history of science;
  • Traité élémentaire de chimie (1789), by Antoine Lavoisier, which defined the language of chemistry;
  • "New System of Chemical Philosophy" (1808), a pamphlet by John Dalton announcing the publication of his landmark book on chemical atomic theory;
  • Osnovy khimii (Principles of Chemistry; 1869–1871), by Dmitri Mendeleev, the discoverer of the periodic table of the elements.

Important manuscript materials, unique pamphlets, and dissertations, including Mendeleev's 1856 master's thesis in chemistry from St. Petersburg University, complement the astonishing collection of books and serials.

Commenting on the strengths of the Neville Library, and the appropriateness of CHF as its permanent home, Gordon Moore said, "Betty and I believe it is important to conserve for future generations the books and documents that record and reveal the remarkable progress of the chemical sciences through the past 600 years."

"This may be the single greatest addition to Philadelphia's rich holdings of scientific texts since the time of Benjamin Franklin," said Arnold Thackray, CHF president. "We will be working tirelessly to make this treasure available to scholars as soon as possible. Through this one act, CHF becomes a world-class research center with unique resources displaying the many centuries of endeavor on which modern science is built."

Cataloging the collection to make it available through CHF's online public access catalog is a complex task, requiring knowledge of multiple languages and an understanding of exacting descriptions of esoteric and technical material. CHF hopes to make significant parts of the collection available to scholars this year so that they can help develop a greater public awareness of chemical achievement.

"We are profoundly grateful to Gordon and Betty Moore, and also to the late Gordon Cain for additional resources. Now, for the first time, CHF can display to the world the depth, variety, and endurance of the tradition of chemical achievement on which modern civilization depends," Thackray said.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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