Anke’s third article for The Book Collector’s Alchemy in Britain series tells the remarkable story of the alchemical book collection of James ‘Paraffin’ Young (1811-1883): a large collection of alchemical books made possible by the economic and intellectual climate of Victorian Britain, and wealth generated in the chemical industries.
While Young spent several decades collecting his books, often of Germanic origin, and building a collection of ca. 1,400 items in total, it took his bibliographer, John Ferguson (a chemist at Glasgow University), more than three decades to prepare his seminal catalogue of the collection, the Bibliotheca Chemica (1906). Without their persistence, much knowledge on alchemy, book production, and the transmission of alchemical knowledge might have been lost or forgotten. To this day, Young’s collection – which remains at Strathclyde University in Glasgow – is one of the most significant of its kind.
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