Caring for our Collections: National Manuscripts Conservation Trust

We are delighted to announce that we have been awarded a grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust towards the conservation of material relating to the history of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews. This generous grant is made possible thanks to the support that NMCT receives from The Pilgrim Trust.

Periodic Table, printed by Lenoir & Forster, Vienna, c.1879-1886

The conservation project will restore a number of items to good condition, including a very early Periodic Table of the Elements. It appears to be the only surviving example of this version of the table. An early printed version of Dmitri Mendeleev’s periodic table, this was used as a teaching aid in one of the University’s lecture theatres. This table shows Ga (Gallium), discovered in 1875, and Sc (Scandium), discovered in 1879, but not Ge (Germanium), which was found in 1886.  This makes it possible to date the table to between 1879 and 1886. The noble gases have been added in chalk.

Left: Detail of paper damage. Right: Chalk additions to Periodic Table.

We would love to hear from anybody who can help us date the table more accurately. Please email speccoll@st-andrews.ac.uk if you can help us!

The project will also benefit manuscripts acquired for the University by John Read, Professor of Chemistry at St Andrews from 1923-1963, and scholar of the history of science, including alchemical manuscripts and volumes of notes of Joseph Black’s lectures which were made in the 1770s by Henry Beaufoy whilst a student at Edinburgh University.

Joseph Black (1728-1799) was a lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, 1756 to 1766; Regius Professor of Anatomy and Botany, 1756, and Regius Professor of Practice of Medicine from 1757 to 1766.  Black originated the theory of specific and latent heat, in which he collaborated with his friend James Watt.  However he published very little – his great discoveries were communicated in his lectures, which were not published until after his death in 1799.

Below are some images of the manuscripts before treatment by specialist accredited conservators. We look forward to sharing new images of the manuscripts early next year to demonstrate the progress of the conservation project.

Top: Joseph Black, Lectures in Chemistry, 1775. Bottom: Novvm Lumen Chymicum, early 17th century

The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust helps preserve important manuscript and archive collections by awarding grants for their conservation. Since the NMCT was founded in 1990 it has awarded grants of nearly £3m which have enabled the conservation of hundreds of musical, literary, architectural and other vital historical documents that would otherwise have been lost or faced an uncertain future. The NMCT is the only UK grant-giver that focuses solely on the care and conservation of manuscripts in the UK.

Gabriel Sewell
Assistant Director of Library Services (Special Collections)

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