CHF Acquires Rare Collection of Alchemy Manuscripts

Philadelphia, PA—The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) has acquired a rare collection of very early alchemy manuscripts, some dating from before the invention of printing.

Of the nine manuscripts in the collection, seven date to the 15th century, as early as the 1430s. Among them is Petrus Bonus’s Pretiosa margarita novella (The Precious New Pearl), ca. 1450-1480; it is one of only six known complete copies of that work in existence. The collection also includes three framed illuminated miniatures of alchemical imagery from around 1450.

On purchase, the manuscripts became part of the rare-book collection of CHF’s Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library of Chemical History. Previously the earliest dated book in CHF’s collections was a printed copy of the Bible from 1478.

“This acquisition expands our historical reach and allows us to provide greater resources to the growing community of scholars of the history of alchemy,” said Carsten Reinhardt, CHF’s president and CEO.

The acquisition was made possible with the assistance of CHF board chair Laurie Landeau, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and an anonymous donor, through a fund created specifically to allow CHF to make strategic acquisitions for its collections.

Eight of the manuscripts and the illuminated miniatures were formerly owned by the collector Joost R. Ritman in Amsterdam. CHF was given the opportunity to acquire the collection in its entirety prior to it being sold publicly as separate lots by Les Enluminures, a gallery specializing in manuscripts and miniatures from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with locations in Paris, Chicago, and New York.

“Because of the extreme rarity of this kind of material, it would have been difficult to make the commitment to collect it one piece at a time,” said James R. Voelkel, CHF’s Curator of Rare Books. “The acquisition of this collection as a whole launches CHF into the position of one of the leading collections of 15th-century alchemical manuscripts in North America, and it will serve as a core collection to build on in the future.”

While the manuscripts are mostly in Latin, one is in Italian, one in French, and one includes some English written around 1446. Many important early alchemical authors are represented, including Johannes Rupescissa, Arnaldus of Villanova, Petrus Bonus, Pseudo-Llull, and Christophorus Parisiensis. 


About the Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library of Chemical History

CHF’s Othmer Library of Chemical History collects, preserves, and makes accessible materials relating to the history of science, technology, and medicine, with an emphasis on chemistry and chemical engineering from ancient to modern times. The Othmer Library houses approximately 160,000 print and microform volumes, rare books and manuscripts, significant archival materials, and historical photographs of great value to researchers and our cultural heritage. Together these collections, spanning nearly 6 miles of shelves, form an unrivaled resource for the history of chemistry and related sciences, technologies, and industries.

About CHF

The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) is a collections-based nonprofit organization that preserves the history and heritage of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related sciences and technologies. The collections are used to create a body of original scholarship that illuminates chemistry’s role in shaping society. In bridging science with the humanities, arts, and social sciences, CHF is committed to building a vibrant, international community of scholars; creating a rich source of traditional and emerging media; expanding the reach of our museum; and engaging the broader society through inventive public events.

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