Sources of the Philosophical Transactions at US-icu.

I had been studying the copy of the Philosophical Transactions at he University of Chicago Library Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center on a Robert L. Platzman Memorial Fellowship.

During my fellowship, I saw an excellent talk at the Linda Hall Library. Aileen Fyfe described her ongoing work studying how the Royal Society distributed copies of the Transactions and Jamie Cumby described the Linda Hall’s copies of the Transactions. It’s worth watching in full. The book on which it is based is available now via open access.

I’ve been looking at lots of copies of the Transactions acquired piecemeal from various sources, long after their production. The talk made me wonder what it would look like to try to understand the sources of a run of Transactions that was assembled as a reference resource, but long after many volumes had been printed.

In previous posts, I described tracing the sources of the various volumes of the Transactions. I hypothesized that the history of a library’s copies of the Philosophical Transactions coincides with the history of the library. To test that hypothesis too, I traced more volumes and prepared the visualization above on this website.

The visualization puts the volumes of the multi-century Transactions into twenty-five year sections. The left of the visualization occurs in 1665 the right in 2025. The events and sources are placed roughly in the quarter century in which they belong.

The white space to the left can make the image hard to read, but represents visually the amount of time that passed before the University of Chicago existed to begin acquiring these old books. Here’s a full-sized version as PNG and a PDF version that is easier to print.

Today, the volumes of the Transaction can be found split between the rare book collection and the on-site high-density storage in the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. But these volumes come from a variety of sources.

Calvary bookshop

The first acquisition comes via the Calvary bookshop and I’ve written about those elsewhere and described their typical appearance.

The only new evidence that looking at all these volumes uncovered is a binding ticket in volume 161 that otherwise looks like the typical Calvary bookshop binding.

Chicago Job Book Bindery ticket

While the volume looks quite similar to other Calvary volumes, it also has repaired cloth hinges, lighter marbled paper, and lacks the stamp for the University of Chicago that others have. It’s possible the the Chicago Job Book Bindery repaired this book—no other book in the two hundred or so I’ve looked at has a similar ticket. It’s also possible that the Chicago Job Book Bindery bound this one to look like those volumes. Two other volumes, number 150 and 148, have the lighter marbled paper like this one and their spines are exposed. They’re lined with brown paper, not Berlin-based newspapers.

Brasenose College

The second acquisition comes from Brasenose College, Oxford. Volume 11 (1676) has ‘Liber Aula Regiæ | & Collegij de Braſenoſe.’ on the page facing the title page and volume 169 (1878) has an ownership stamp.

Brasenose ownership stamp

The Calvary accession has been combined with the Brasenose accession, but some volumes in the on-site storage have their original binding still. The upper boards are paneled calf, mostly detached like this one from volume 133:

Vol 133 upper board

Their spines have matching lettering pieces and volume 133 has an original Dewey card with no evidence of circulation between 1902 and the present day.

Vol 133 circulation card

Volume 125 has the bookplate typical of this accession and what must be the shelf mark from Brasenose. Volume 113 has a similar shelf mark reading “A.26.19” instead.

Vol 125 plate and mark

The letter possibly refers to the shelving bay, the second number the shelf, and the third number the volume on a particular shelf.

John Crerar Library

The John Crerar Library is now located on the University of Chicago campus, but had been at several other locations. The first librarian, Clement Walker Andrews, established subscriptions for current materials and sought older, rare titles. The volumes that bear marks from the Crerar library, or have digital records recording their source, begin slightly before the foundation of that library and continue to the present day. A typical binding is like the one on volume 179B that names the library right on the spine.

Volume 179B spine

Volume 179B also has a bookplate indicating its source, perforation for the library, and a penciled Dewey call number prefixed with the letter L.

After the Crerar Library merged with the University of Chicago in 1984, that library continued to acquire the new volumes of the Transactions. The copies acquired today are still purchased for and by the John Crerar Library, but stored in the on-site storage facility rather than a separate collection.


Herman H. Fussler’s 1964-65 annual report for the University of Chicago Libraries explains that “[s]ince the early days of the University, the great bulk of the Library’s binding has been handled at the University Press” but that during that year they had been using “outside commercial binderies” to deal with increasing needs. Furthermore, “a major effort has been devoted to the improved physical care of rare books.” (p. 6 of Fussler, Herman Howe. Papers, Box 17, Folder 1, Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.)

The copies now held in the rare book collection have a uniform binding that dates from 1964, which must have been one of the early cases of improving the care of rare books. The volumes come from two sources, but the bindings all look the same. None of the Crerar volumes have this binding because of the timing of that conveyance.

Newberry bindings

The bindings have a stamp that suggests that these were bound at the Newberry library as a set August, 1964.

Vol 105 stamp

Although the bindings no longer distinguish the copies, the accession numbers can be used or other marks. For the Brasenose accession, there is often browning where the original leather was in contact with the preliminary pages.

Vol 105 browning

On-site storage

The vast majority of volumes can now be found in the high-density storage that’s part of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. Some of the evidence survives only in these volumes.



This sketch has been necessarily brief, but I think supports my hypothesis. To understand the volumes of the Transactions available at the University of Chicago, is to understand not only the history of the institution but also the history of libraries in Chicago and how they cooperated with each other. The physical form of the Transactions improved knowledge by encouraging cooperation between longstanding Chicago institutions themselves aiming to improve knowledge.