University of St Andrews Chemistry Department Collection

Scope and Content

ms38176 'Alchimiae Tractatus', 14th Century manuscript. A volume of alchemical manuscripts written on vellum in various hands, probably of the fourteenth century, including diagrams of alchemical apparatus. A seventeenth century partial list of contents on the second preliminary paper leaf (associated with the binding) gives the title "Alchimiae Tractatus', and is signed J.C., 6th March 1651. It indicates that the volume contains twelve early treatises on alchemy. In Latin.

ms38177 Manuscript copy on paper of 'Novum Lumen Chymicum' (New Light of Alchemy) by Michael Sendivogius, from the edition of Geneva, 1628, signed H.A.R.M. (apparently by the scribe). In Latin, early 18th century.

ms38178 Notes from lectures in Chemistry given by Alexander Crum Brown, Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh University, 1869-1908, taken down by Robert Russell (1871-1939) in session 1887-88.

ms38179 Catalogue of the books and papers belonging to the St Andrews University Chemistry Class Library. Includes a separate list of books gifted by Mrs Connell, widow of Arthur Connell, Professor of Chemistry, St Andrews University, 1840-1862. The catalogue was brought up to date in September 1909, when the additions made by Professor Thomas Purdie were entered.

ms38180 Typescript lists of the books in the Connell, Dobbin and Irvine collections. Lists of books originally belonging to: Arthur Connell, Professor of Chemistry, St Andrews University, 1840-1862, (2pp), and annotated duplicate (2pp); Leonard Dobbin, Reader in Chemistry, Edinburgh University, 1880-1924. (3pp with note 'see corrected sheet'); and James Colquhoun Irvine, Professor of Chemistry, St Andrews University, 1909-1920, (2pp), and annotated duplicate (2pp). Also manuscript notes on Connell and Dobbin Collections (1p)., ca. 1970.

ms38181-38186 Manuscript copies of lectures made by students and others, 1771-1775.

ms38187 Album of photographs presented to Thomas Purdie (1843-1916), Professor of Chemistry at St Andrews University, 1885-1909, by the chemistry students of the University, on the occasion of his retiral from the chair of Chemistry, 1909.

ms38188 'Lapis Philosophorum' (The philosopher's stone). German alchemical manuscript, ca.1750. No title on manuscript, but "Lap: Philosopho' on spine. Scribe unknown. Contains 13 coloured illustrations, 3 large black and white drawings by G Schuch of apparatus for alchemical experiments, 8 vignettes, and a black and white drawing representing the generation of the metals (with the spirits of water, heaven, earth and fire) as a frontispiece, in German.

ms38189 An eighteenth century manuscript copy of 'Livres des figures hieroglyphiques' by Nicolas Flamel, Paris scrivener (1330-1418). Scribe unknown. Seven full-page coloured drawings on vellum from another source are inserted loose. Some representing 'figures of Abraham the Jew' which were painted on an arch in St Innocents Church Yard in Paris by Nicolas Flamel.

ms38190 'Philosophorum Praeclara Monita' (The most renowned maxims of philosophers). Alchemical manuscript by anonymous author, written in France, 1710-1712. It contains forty eight allegorical illustrations in colour from various earlier works ascribed to George Ripley, Arnaldus de Villa Nova, Ramon Lull, Nicolas Flamel, Eyraeneus Philalethes, Jean de Re and others. (Includes the "figures of Abraham the Jew'.) Also kept with the manuscript is an envelope containing the various marker slips found in the volume. These have been torn from miscellaneous manuscripts and printed material.

ms38191 Twenty five (loose) alchemical engravings etc mainly from printed sources.

ms38192 Extracts from The Universal Magazine, December 1747, pp.331-4. Including letter signed 'Chemicus' with accompanying essay about the history and usefulness of the "Art of Chemistry', March 1748, pp.135-8. Including letter signed 'Chemicus' with second essay on the "Art of Chemistry', April 1751, pp.175-182. Including letter signed 'J.D.' with third essay on the usefulness of the "Art of Chemistry'.

ms38193 Pierre Eugene Marcelin Berthelot (1827-1907), French chemist. Centennial glass medal with bust (half face) of Berthelot. 'Marcelin Berthelot ---- 1827-1927' printed around edge., 1927.

ms38195 Manuscripts on alchemy in the hand of Sir Isaac Newton, scientist and mathematician (1642-1727):ms38195 Manuscripts on alchemy in the hand of Sir Isaac Newton, scientist and mathematician (1642-1727):a. Copper. "The Hunting of ye Green Lyon". (2pp 18.6x30.5cm)a. Copper. "The Hunting of ye Green Lyon". (2pp 18.6x30.5cm)b. Alchemical writers listed by nationality. (1p previously folded into eight. 29.3x18.4cm)b. Alchemical writers listed by nationality. (1p previously folded into eight. 29.3x18.4cm)c. Miscellaneous notes. (1p 18.6x30.7cm), some in Latin, ca. 1700.

ms38196 Alchemical manuscript in the hand of Sir Isaac Newton, scientist and mathematician (1642-1727), consisting of abstracts and notes from Michael Maier's "Atalanta Fugiens' (1618). Each of the 50 engravings by de Bry in Maier's book has a title which was copied by Newton in this manuscript in Latin, ca. 1700.

Administrative / Biographical History

Some of the items in this collection relate in a general way to the history of the teaching of Chemistry in the University of St Andrews. Other items previously formed part of a more extensive collection containing printed books, manuscripts, illustrations and paintings. The collection related to alchemy and historical chemistry and was assembled by Professor John Read, with the aid of special funding from the University. It was familiarly known as the "John Read Collection' or "Alchemical Collection'.

John Read (1884-1963) was Professor of Chemistry at St Andrews from 1923 to 1963. His work covered a very wide field and he was described as "one of the most versatile of Scientists as well known for his literary accomplishments as for his researches in organic chemistry'. He was a prolific author, his publications illustrating his four major interests, namely West Country topography and dialect, alchemy and the history of chemistry, general organic chemistry, and his own research in stereochemistry and the chemistry of essential oils. Further details of the life and work of John Read can be found in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, London, 1963 vol.9 (per Q41.R6O2) which includes a full bibliography.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Special conditions apply to photographs.

Acquisition Information

Transferred from Chemistry department, March 1989. The one exception, "Alchimiae Tractatus', remained on display in the Chemistry department, and was deposited in the Library in December 1995.


The printed books are now held in the Department of Rare Books in the University Library. There is an author catalogue (sheaf) and they will eventually be added to the Library's on-line catalogue. There are about 350 printed works which are almost entirely devoted to alchemy and older chemistry texts. They are nearly all pre-1851; there is one incunabulum (Goff M-551) and about 150 pre-1701 items. Especially notable are the first and early editions (14) of works by Michael Maier (1568-1662).

Enquiries regarding the illustrations and paintings should be directed to the Keeper of University Collections.

In addition, the Manuscript Department also houses Professor Read's collections of lecture slides and negatives. They are not included in this database but there is an index to them, and the subjects represented reflect some of his interests - the history of chemistry, alchemy and (in a limited way) the history of St Andrews.

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project, based on information compiled for the Manuscripts Database by Cilla Jackson.

Other Finding Aids

The collection is fully listed and the listing is available on the website of the department of Special Collections, University Library.

Alternative Form Available

There are microfilm copies of some of these originals, stored in box one.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Custodial History

Some items collected by John Read at various times, individual provenances largely known, others originated in the Chemistry Department.

Related Material

GB 227 phJREAD Professor John Read Photographic CollectionGB 227 ms38302 Chemistry-related miscellanea (University of St Andrews, 20th century)


J. Read, "Alchemy and Literature", reprinted from Proceedings of the Chemical Society, May 1957 p.138.

Ms38189 See L'Oeil Revue D'Art Mensuelle, Paris, Nos.221 / 222, Dec 1973 / Jan 1974 - article by Michel Binda "Une version retrouvee de deux 'Figures d'Abraham le Juif''. Copy kept with manuscript.