When Books Lie: Unraveling the Bibliography of Lemery’s “Cours de chymie”

Lunchtime Lectures
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a talk by James Voelkel, curator of rare books and Beckman Center resident scholar at the Science History Institute.

Nicolas Lemery’s Cours de chymie was easily the most successful in the burgeoning field of French chemico-pharmaceutical textbooks in the 16th and early 17th centuries. From the first edition in 1675 until the author’s death in 1715, it went through 10 editions. But it didn’t stop there. There were posthumous 11th and even 12th editions. Altogether the book appeared in 32 different editions or imprints. Lemery’s Cours de chymie is a bibliographical nightmare. There are two each of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th editions, most—but not all—appearing in different years. And identical Lyons imprints often sport four or five different title pages with different imprints. Unraveling this mess will take us to the intersection of chemistry and the regulation of printing under the French absolutist state. It will also answer the question, Would a book lie? Yes, it most certainly would.

About the Speaker


James Voelkel headshot

James Voelkel.

A historian of early modern science, James Voelkel is the author of The Composition of Kepler’s Astronomia nova (Princeton University Press, 2001) and the biography Johannes Kepler and the New Astronomy (Oxford University Press, 1999). Voelkel has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at MIT, Harvard University, and Johns Hopkins University. He is a longtime contributor and senior consultant to the Chymistry of Isaac Newton project. He also teaches the course “The Scientific Revolution” at the University of Pennsylvania. He previously curated the rare-book exhibitions The Alchemical Quest and Books of Secrets in the Institute’s Hach Gallery. Voelkel holds degrees in astronomy and physics from Williams College and in history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University. He received his PhD in history of science from Indiana University.

About the Series

Lunchtime Lectures are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.