Early Printed Books on Alchemy and Mineralogy

The University of Delaware Library’s Special Collections are home to a vast selection of primary sources on the history of science and technology, at the core of which is the Unidel History of Chemistry Collection, which holds nearly three thousand rare books and manuscripts on the history of chemistry and its precursor, alchemy. The collection had its origins in the 1968 acquisition, with the support of the Unidel Foundation, of over 2000 volumes that had been assembled by an Italian chemical engineer. To this day, Special Collections continues to add to its holdings on the history of science.

This exhibit presents a selection of Early Modern books and manuscripts related to alchemy, minerology, and other related sciences. Although it may seem strange today to see alchemy in the company of the sciences, the two were once linked closely together, and alchemy’s own golden age occurred in the Early Modern period alongside the Scientific Revolution. Although many of alchemy’s precepts have long since been discredited, the discipline did place a focus on practical work combined with theoretical speculation, which led to experiments and investigative techniques similar to the scientific method that is used today. The selected items on display showcase the variety of scientific and pseudo-scientific work that was performed in past centuries, and which, in some cases, has paved the way to the scientific research of today.