Professor John Read photographic collection

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 227 phJREAD
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Physical Description
      29 drawers of glass negatives, 42 drawers of glass lantern slides, 3 additional drawers of glass lantern slides (48+44+44), plus four metres of framed and outsize flat material.

Scope and Content

The main series is made up of a run of glass negatives created from a variety of material including commercial photographs, prints, etchings and printed illustrations. These negatives were used to create a series of positive glass lantern slides which were used to illustrate a variety of lectures and talks. The collection reflects Read's personal interests in the history of chemistry, alchemy, the history of St Andrews, Somerset and Australia and includes topography, people, chemical compounds, diagrams and experiments. There is a small pile of 6 strays from the above sequences.

In addition there are three wooden boxes of glass lantern slides:

  • Commercial lantern slides to accompany 'Visit to Cambridge' by MA Cantab, 1889 with text;
  • Commercial lantern slides of 'A Tour through New Zealand', some colour, topographical and botanical, undated;
  • American Universities, marked 'Principal Sir James Irvine': Cornell (14), Princeton (7), Berkeley (4), Wisconsin (4), Illinois (7) and Michigan (8), all c. 1930.

There is material which pre-dates Read's employment by the University and which was most likely gathered by James Colquhoun Irvine, lecturer and later Professor of Chemisty and Principal of the University. There are good interior views of the chemistry laboratories, building works on what was later named the Irvine Building and views of St Andrews. There are markers for talks given using the slides on topics such as 'Zurich', 'HHC', 'Australia', 'Music/Alchemy', and 'St Andrews'. In addition there is a series of outsize and framed items which are unlisted.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Read (1884-1963) was trained under Raphael Meldola and the great stereo-chemist Alfred Werner, later working in collaboration with Sir William Pope in Cambridge. He held the Chair of Pure and Applied Organic Chemistry in Sydney, Australia from 1916-23 during which period he investigated eucalyptus oils. He was elected to the Chair of Chemistry in St Andrews in 1923 and continued to research the stereochemistry of the monocyclic terpenes. He was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1935. He was well known for his interesting and lucid lectures, many well illustrated.

His academic works included Direct Entry to Organic Chemistry (London, 1948) which won the first Cortina prize in 1949 and Textbook of Organic Chemistry: historical, structural and economic (London, 1926 and 1958). He was as well known for his writings on the historical and lighter aspects of alchemy and chemistry such as: Prelude to Chemistry: an outline of alchemy, its literature and relationships (London, 1936), The Alchemist in Life, Literature and Art (London, 1947), Humour and Humanism in Chemistry (London, 1947) and Through Alchemy to Chemistry, a procession of ideas and personalities (London, 1957). The illustrations for these books are largely drawn from the superb collection of alchemical and historical works he amassed for his Department. He still held his chair at his death on 21 January 1963.


There are two matching sequences with the same reference numbers, one of glass negatives and one of positive lantern slides. They are numbered sequentially. The lantern slide series appears complete but there are gaps in the early negative sequence, a complete run starting at 666.

The commercial slides within the additional boxes are numbered: Cambridge 401-450, but 411 and 447 are wanting so 48 of 50 are present; New Zealand 601-650 but 610, 620, 622, 625, 635 and 636 are wanting, so 44 of 50 are present.

Framed pictures, engravings and miscellanea are not listed though often there is a lantern slide or a negative made from the outsize material which is held in the main sequence.

Access Information

The photographic collections are currently the subject of a major digitisation project. It is the intention to have the entire archive captured in electronic form, and available (with sophisticated searching facilities) on line via the web. A full version of the software can be accessed in the Library and researchers are welcome to visit the library to use it but it is important that appointments are made in advance. Access to original photographic material may be restricted.


Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

There is a card index which covers the main sequence of glass negatives and lantern slides.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies of images held in the photographic collection (with the exception of any photographs which are held either without copyright or under other restrictions imposed by the donor or photographer) can be ordered. Photographs thus provided for purely personal or research purposes are not subject to any fee beyond the photographic costs (for which a scale of charges is available). Prior written permission must be obtained before any further reproduction is undertaken of images supplied, for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Reproduction fees may be charged.

True photographic reprints of most images can be provided, or computer-generated prints of an increasing proportion of the collection at low, medium or high resolution. Given the fragility of the original material our preference is to provide computer prints where possible. We can also provide transparencies and a range of electronic formats.

Custodial History

Transferred from Department of Chemistry, University of St Andrews.


Not expected.


Obituary in Alumnus Chronicle, vol. 54, 1963, pp. 7-8.