Dibner Library Lecture | October 2001
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Dibner Library Lectures 1992-
The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology at 25 Years: Celebrating a Collector's Vision and Its Legacy

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by Ron S. Brashear, Head of Special Collections

The National Museum of American History, Behring Center on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology is located on the first floor, west wing. NMAH
Visionary collector Dr. Bern Dibner Dr, Bern Dibner
The Reading room of the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. A window at the rear of the space provides a glimpse of the library's vast rare book and manuscript holdings. Dibner Library Reading Room
2001 Resident Scholar Dr. Alberto Martinez working in the Dibner Library reading room. 2001 resident scholar
From Collector to Reader: Bern Dibner and History of Science Collections
by Roger Gaskell
Figure 1
A volume from the library of John Tyndall (1820–1893) containing five tracts on matter and motion. Tyndall himself probably determined the contents of the volume, which serves as an important demonstration of the way he chose to organise his collection.
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Figure 2
Julius Robert von Mayer (1814–1878) Bemerkungen Über das mechanische Aequivalent der Wärme (Heilbronn, 1851), Dibner ‘Herald’ no. 157. This is one of the pamphlets in the volume owned by John Tyndall that is illustrated in figure 1; before Tyndall, it was owned by Heinrich Debus (1824–1916). Mayer did important work in thermodynamics, which Tyndall drew attention to when he translated several of Mayer’s papers.
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Figure 3
Pencil notes by John Tyndall in the volume illustrated in figure 1.
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Figure 4
A book from the library of Jacques Auguste de Thou (1553-1617), French historian, statesman, Royal librarian and bibliophile, whose father was a friend of Jean Grolier. The work is Archimedes Opera (Basle, 1544), the first printing of Archimedes’ works in the original Greek. A typical ‘fine book’ of the period, the most up-to-date scholarly text of an important work, elegantly laid out and carefully printed. De Thou’s books remained together until 1789, when they were dispersed in a series of sales. Dibner ‘Herald’ no. 137.
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Figure 5
The German edition of Vitruvius, 1575, from the library of Robert Hooke (1635–1703). This classic treatise on Roman architecture was first printed in 1521. As a practising architect, Hooke would have been familiar with the text of Vitruvius; as a collector, he was interested in the history of the book and owned several other editions.
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Figure 6
The endpaper of Robert Hooke’s copy of Vitruvius illustrated in figure 5. Hooke’s annotation reads ‘paid 2 shillings Millington’s auction 1689 R Hooke’.
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Figure 7
The endpapers of a book presented to Robert Hooke by Henry Oldenburg on behalf of the author, Robert Boyle (1627–1691). It is Boyle’s Experiments, notes, &c. About the Mechanical Origine or Production of Divers Particular Qualities: Among which is Inserted a Discourse of the Imperfection of the Chymist’s Doctrine of Qualities; Together with Some Reflections upon the Hypothesis of Alcali and Acidum (London, 1675), a typical Boyle production made up of several separate tracts. After Hooke’s death, it passed through a number of other hands, and the bookplates and inscriptions provide an unusually complete record of ownership, from the author giving his book to a respected colleague to the copy’s present home. Dibner ‘Herald’ no. 56.
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Figure 8
Hooke’s notes on various passages in Boyle’s work illustrated in figure 7
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Figure 9
This image depicts an imaginary visit by Louis XVI to the Paris Académie Royale des Sciences and was intended to advertise Louis’ patronage. Engraved by Sébastien le Clerc (1637–1714) and Jean Goyton (d. 1714), it serves as the frontispiece to Denis Dodart (164–1707) Histoire naturelle des plantes (Paris, 1676). Dibner ‘Herald’ no. 84.
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Figure 10
Royal presentation binding on Veterum mathematicarum (Paris, 1693), a collection of ancient Greek and Latin texts edited by members of the Académie Royale des Sciences from manuscripts in the Royal Library. Like the Dodart in figure 9, this book was published for presentation purposes. Dibner ‘Herald’ no. 84.
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Figure 11
The signature of the astronomer and pioneer historian of science Stephen Peter Rigaud (1774–1839) on the endpaper of Jakob Bernoulli (1654–1705) Ars conjectandi (Basle, 1713), a major contribution to probability theory. Dibner ‘Herald’ no. 110.
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Figure 12
Titlepage of the book owned by Rigaud illustrated in figure 11 with the stamp of the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford. After his death, Rigaud’s books were purchased by the Observatory as an important collection in the history of science and as the working library of an important scientist. The books were dispersed at auction in 1935.
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Figure 13
A book from the library of the great French historian of science, Pierre Duhem (1861–1916), Joannes de Sacro Bosco (fl. 1230) Sphaera Mundi (Venice, 1499).
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Figure 14
Colophon of the book illustrated in figure 13
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Figure 15
The bookplate of J.L.E. Dreyer (1852–1926) in a copy of Kaspar Peucer (1525–1602) Hypotheses astronomicae (Wittemberg, 1571). Born in Copenhagen, Dreyer wrote the standard biography of Tycho Brahe and spent his working life as an astronomer in Ireland.
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Figure 16
The title page of Dreyer’s copy of Peucer illustrated in figure 15 showing earlier marks of ownership
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Figure 17
The endpapers of a volume of early astronomical treatises by Sacrobosco, Regiomontanus, and Peurbach from the collection of the English historian of science, Charles Joseph Singer (1876–1960). The volume is an example of the practice of binding several small, separately published, works together in one volume, both for economy and convenience. This volume was probably assembled in the late fifteenth century: a nineteenth-century example is illustrated in figure 1.
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Figure 18
The first page of Joannes de Sacro Bosco (fl. 1230) Sphaera mundi (Venice, 1488) in the volume illustrated in figure 17. The arms of an unidentified contemporary owner, perhaps the first owner, are painted at the foot of the page.
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Icons of Understanding: Celebrating Bern Dibner's Heralds of Science
by Own Gingerich
Figure 1
From Roberto Valturio, De re militari, Verona, 1472.
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Figure 2
Fuch’s herbal features illustrations of botanicals from the New World. Pictured here is ‘Cucumer marinus,’ commonly known as a pumpkin. From Leonhart Fuchs, De historia stirpium, Basil, 1542.
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Figure 3
Title page of Johannes Kepler, Astronomia nova, [Prague], 1609.
Figure 4
From Carlo Fontana, Templum Vaticanum, Rome, 1694.
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Figure 5
Manuscript of Joannes Regiomontanus, c. 1475.
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Figure 6
From Sacrobosco (Joannes de Sacro Bosco), Sphaera mundi. Leipzig, [1489].
figure 6

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