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Collective Voice: The Magic of Paris

As mentioned previously, several members from the CHF Special Collections staff – including myself – recently traveled to Paris to attend the “Renewing the Heritage of Chemistry” conference. The conference itself was an incredible opportunity, but while in Paris we also discovered another treasure: the Librairie Alain Brieux, an antique and rare book shop that specializes in science and medicine. Robert Anderson, historian and curator of chemistry and a CHF board member, let Rosie Cook and me in on its secrets.

Located in the beautiful Saint Germain quartier of Paris, the shop immediately evoked Old World charm. Its windows were full of incredible specimens of science and medicine including engravings, retorts and glassware. Stepping inside we found our dream store: walls lined with tall shelves full of old books, maps, scientific apparatus, and instruments. Hanging from the ceiling was an alligator, just as you might have found in an alchemist's laboratory.

Robert Anderson standing with the Ramsden friction machine in the Librairie Alain Brieux, Paris.

After meeting the shopkeepers, we quickly set to work exploring. We first zeroed in on an early 19th-century balance, unlike any CHF has, and a stunning piece of glassware that most likely would have been used in a pharmacy. A static electricity generator also caught our eye. Dara, one of the shopkeepers, asked about our collections and then revealed a surprise hidden under the generator: a Leyden jar battery. We have been looking for such a set for over a year!

The year’s search is over: a Leyden jar battery at last.

Needless to say that piece, along with several others, will be soon packed and on its way to Philadelphia, thanks especially to the generous supporters whose donations allow us to seize important opportunities like this. Stay tuned to the blog to see photographs and more information on the other pieces we are adding to the collection. If you are in the Philadelphia area, you can see the Leyden jar battery and static electricity generator on display in our museum by summer's end – no need to travel overseas.

Jenn Landry is Associate Director of Special Collections at CHF. Collective Voice, dispatches from CHF's Collections team, appears every second Friday on Periodic Tabloid.

Related:
Librairie Alain Brieux
Collective Voice: Gumshoe [Periodic Tabloid]

Posted In: History | Technology

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