Glassblowing and our Chemistry Collections

September 23, 2016

We call your attention to tomorrow’s regional meeting of the American Scientific Glassblowers Society, at which Prof. Catherine Jackson of the UW-Madison Department of History of Science, with Tracy Drier, scientific glassblower in the Department of Chemistry, will explore the birth of scientific glassblowing via an apparatus called the kaliapparat.

Their investigations add much to the standard story of glassblowing and its history. As recounted by “writers of eminence” in the second volume of the Encyclopædia of chemistry, theoretical, practical, and analytical, as applied to the arts and manufacturers (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1877-1880), the glassblowing “tools represented by Blancourt, in his work ‘On the Art of Glass,’ which was printed in London in 1699, are almost precisely the same as those now in use; and the author’s account of their mode of working might almost [!] be taken.” Prof. Jackson will show there is much more to 19th-century scientific glassblowing than this description might suggest.

Vol. 2, page 27, Encyclopaedia of chemistry (Philadelphia, 1877-1880). From the Cole Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Encyclopædia of chemistry is part of the Cole Collection of Chemistry in Special Collections (call number: Cole Coll C 1397). The work to which the Encyclopædia refers is The art of glass by Jean Haudicquier de Blancourt. The title in full is The art of glass. Shewing how to make all sorts of glass, crystal and enamel. Likewise the making of pearls, precious stones, china and looking-glasses. To which is added, the method of painting on glass and enameling. Also how to extract the colours from minerals, metals, herbs and flowers (London: Printed for Dan. Brown, Tho. Bennet, D. Midwinter and Tho. Leigh, and R. Wilkin, 1699). The title page went on to describe it as “A Work containing many Secrets and Curiosities never before Discovered,” and noted an “Appendix, containing Exact Instructions for making Glass-Eyes of all Colours.” This volume, translated from the French, has a Thordarson Collection call number (Thordarson T 1919) but bears the bookplate of another noted collector of books on chemistry, Denis Duveen.

Plate opposite p. 27. Jean Haudicquier de Blancourt, The art of glass (London, 1699). From the Thordarson Collection.
Plate opposite p. 31. Haudicquier de Blancourt, The art of glass.
Plate opposite p. 31. Haudicquier de Blancourt, The art of glass (London, 1699).
Description of the "principal instruments that are used" in The art of glass.
Description of the “principal instruments that are used” in The art of glass.

Should you want to read further, the full text of The art of glass is available through the Early English Books Text Creation Partnership.

The Duveen Collection, also in Special Collections, contains the title from which The art of glass was translated: De l’art de la verrerie (Paris: Chez Jean Jombert, 1697). Its subtitle is likewise long: “où l’on apprend à faire le verre, le cristal, & l’email. La maniere de faire les perles, les pierres précieuses, la porcelaine, & les miroirs. La méthode de peindre sur le verre & en email. De tirer les couleurs de métaux, mineraux, herbes & fleurs : ouvrage rempli de plusieurs secrets & curiositez, inconuës jusqu’à present” (call number: Duveen D 791).

Folding plate opposite p. 40 in Haudicquer de Blancourt, De l'art de la verrerie (Paris, 1697).
Folding plate opposite p. 40 in Haudicquer de Blancourt, De l’art de la verrerie (Paris, 1697).
Plate opposite p. 48 in De l'art de la verrerie.
Plate opposite p. 48 in De l’art de la verrerie, showing the principal instruments used.

By the way, Ferguson’s bibliography of chemistry dismisses Haudicquier de Blancourt’s work as “little more than a translation of Neri’s L’Arte vetraria.” Special Collections also holds editions in English, Latin, and German of Neri’s work on glassmaking, making it possible to compare numerous translations and borrowings of an influential text.