University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department


In 1968, with support from the Unidel Foundation, the University of Delaware Library acquired a collection of nearly 2,000 primary sources in the history of chemistry. The collection, formed over a thirty-year period by an Italian chemist, contained landmark works of chemical literature, often in many editions, in-depth holdings by less well-known figures, and extensive runs of early chemical journals. It included several manuscripts and incunabula, and many works in alchemy, natural philosophy, pharmacy, and related fields of physics, medicine and the occult sciences.

The collection, now called the Unidel History of Chemistry Collection, provides comprehensive documentation of the development of chemical crafts and industries, with well over half of the titles published prior to the chemical revolution of the 1780s. Close to 500 works from the seventeenth century, including extensive holdings of Johann Glauber, Robert Boyle, Andreas Libavius and Philippus Ulstadius, reflect the growth of chemical technology, in particular metallurgical chemistry. This development is also evident in 300 titles from the first three-quarters of the eighteenth century. In addition to major works by late eighteenth-century chemical leaders, for example Lavoisier, Berthollet, and Chevreul, the collection contains over 115 works by Justus Liebig, a result of the collector's work on a bibliography of Liebig, published in 1968. Holdings for the late nineteenth and early twentieth century are uneven, although several important items relating to the history of radioactivity and atomic physics are included. The collection is strongest in Italian, French, and German chemical literature, with only a small percentage of English imprints.

Over the twenty years since the Unidel History of Chemistry Collection was acquired, the University of Delaware Library has continued to strengthen existing holdings and develop less well-represented areas, in particular works by English authors. This is especially worth noting in 1991, the 300th anniversary of the death of Robert Boyle, often considered the father of modern chemistry in recognition of his rigorous experimental methods.

"From Liquid to Vapor and Back: Four Centuries of the First Chemical Separation Process", on view in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery, Hugh M. Morris Library, February 4 - May 31, 1991, illustrates one of many research topics supported by the Unidel History of Chemistry Collection. The history of chemical separation, now a highly specialized branch of industrial chemistry, encompasses chemical theory and laboratory practice. The exhibition traces this theme in early writers such as Biringuccio, Agricola and Libavius, who cover a wide range of chemical subjects from a practitioner's point of view; and later in later treatises, textbooks, dictionaries, and manuals. Works included in the exhibition from the nineteenth century and twentieth century demonstrate the increasing industrialization of chemical processes.

Although most of the works included in "From Liquid to Vapor and Back" have been drawn from the Unidel History of Chemistry Collection, other resources at the University of Delaware Library are also represented, including the papers of chemist and geologist James C. Booth, the first geologist in the state of Delaware; and the papers of Hippolyte Dussauce, an industrial chemist who set up a laboratory in New York following his emigration to the United States from France in 1860.

This exhibition and checklist, spanning 400 years of chemical literature, suggest the depth of resources available for use by students of the history of chemistry and related fields in the University of Delaware Library.

Alice Schreyer
Assistant Director of Libraries for Special Collections

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