HistoryofScience.com Blog

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Most Famous Theoretical Work in the History of Computing, and a New Price Record for a Published Work of 20th Century Science

On June 19, 2013 I was pleased to purchase for 205,250 GBP (about $316,000) at Bonham's in London the copy of the offprint of Alan Turing's On Computable Numbers (1936) along with the offprint of Turing's Correction to the paper (1937) that Turing presented to the philosopher R. B. Braithwaite. This represented a new price record for any published work of 20th century science, a new price record for any offprint, and a new price record for any work on the history of computing. The offprint of On Computable Numbers was inscribed to Braithwaite by Turing; the offprint of Turing's "Correction" was signed by Braithwaite. Documented in the standard biography of Turing by Andrew Hodges, this is one of the most famous copies of the most famous theoretical work in the history of computing. The pair of offprints was later presented by Braithwaite to the English philosopher Timothy Smiley, who may have been the consignor. Turing received and distributed very few copies of these offprints, so it is conceivable that this set of offprints may be the last complete copies in private hands.


posted by Jeremy Norman @ 5:53 PM   0 Comments

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Introducing Database Maps for From Cave Paintings to the Internet

Over the ten years or so that I have been writing From Cave Paintings to the Internet I have been thinking about ways of visualizing the data beyond text, images, and links. In late August 2012 we introduced our first database mapping program.  This lets you review the data by theme, era, or region, or combination.  After you make your selection the map populates depending upon what happens to be in the database.  Then if you click on one of the markers a portion of the data appears. Clicking further takes you to the full database entry.

When I began writing the database I never imagined approaching the data geographically. Much later, after I thought of it, I had to go back and review all the entries to include latitude and longitude information whenever appropriate. This gave me the opportunity to revise and improve some entries--an ongoing process. Then Jessica Gore worked her programming magic to bring this concept to life

I hope you find From Cave Paintings to the Internet Database Maps fun; I do.

posted by Jeremy Norman @ 1:58 PM   0 Comments

Monday, June 25, 2012

Appraising the Benoit Mandelbrot Papers



Last week I finished appraising the Benoit Mandelbrot papers for donation to Stanford University. Comprised of 215 bankers boxes, this archive of one of the most famous mathematicians of the second half of the 20th century concerned mathematics, physics, mathematical economics, information theory and computer graphics.  Mandelbrot is best known for the invention of fractals and fractal geometry and the Mandelbrot Set, but his work has impacted many other fields in science from geology and oil exploration to the design of fractal antennae in cell phones.  I posted a portion of my appraisal on our website which you can download here. The images in this blog piece are of the Mandelbrot Set taken from the Wikipedia article on the subject.

posted by Jeremy Norman @ 9:37 AM   0 Comments

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Probably the Funniest Method of Reading Ever Invented


On January 6, 2012 The New York Times published an article entitled "Turning a Page the Joseph Herscher Way, describing a Rube Goldberg device constructed by computer programmer and kinetic artist Joseph Herscher.

The caption to the image read:

"Joseph Herscher drinks his coffee (1) which pulls a string which yanks a pencil (2) which tips paintings one by one as the balls roll down. The third ball rolls onto a shelving unit (3) and swings a ladle, which pours glycerin from a jug into a cup which combines with potassium and combusts. A fuse catches fire and burns, which releases the pool balls (4) one by one. The fourth ball lands in a hanging green shot glass (5) which turns on the gas . Meanwhile the fuse (still burning) ignites the gas, which boils the liquid and sends steam into a sponge (6) which becomes heavy and tips, sliding a fly swatter (7) up which releases a ball which rolls along the top of the books, knocking the other balls, and eventually knocking a Velcro-covered ball. The weight of the Velcro ball tips a book (8) out of the bookcase which opens it and allows a small marble to roll out of the book and knock a vase (9) off the table. Headphones (10) are pulled by the vase which releases an orange glass (11) which rolls along the slanted table, sticks to the tape (12) and yanks a pencil in the computer (13). The screen shuts and the computer falls off the table which pulls a cable switching on a hair dryer (14) which annoys the hamster (15). He runs which causes the cage to tip. The pool ball (16) rolls along the top of the cage and drops, which knocks a baking pan (17) off the table which pulls the hair dryer with it and causes tape (18) to roll across the table, sticking to, and turning the front page of the newspaper (19)."

The best way to appreciate this is to view the video:


posted by Jeremy Norman @ 7:38 AM   0 Comments

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Kinky Side of Book Collecting: Bindings in Human Skin

During the past 40+ years of my experience in the book trade I have only seen two books bound in human skin, and I have never actually bought and sold such a volume. Books bound in this way are very rare, and hardly ever appear on the market. My favorite of the two I have seen is a volume of rare anatomical pamphlets by Albinus, including the first color-printed anatomical illustrations by Jan Admiral. One of these pamphlets by Albinus is on human skin, and presumably for this reason its early twentieth century owner, Hans Friedenthal, thought it would be appropriate in 1910 to have it bound in human skin. This before Friedenthal appears to have perished in the Holocaust. His volume is preserved in the Lane Medical Library at Stanford.

To some, just the thought of a book bound in human skin connotes evil like lampshades made of human skin in SS concentration camps. Or perhaps the idea of having books bound in human skin suggests gruesome behavior like cannibalism. Yet the two books bound this way that I saw over the decades were innocuous in their appearance, and were we not told from notes inside the books that the bindings were made from human skin, we might not even notice, as the tanned leather made from human skin can look similar to bindings made from calf or goat.

Recently I happened to be rummaging through a reference volume on my shelves entitled Bibliologia Comica or Humorous Aspects of the Caparisoning and Conservation of Books by the former FBI Special Agent, Librarian, and Professor of Classics, Lawrence S. Thompson. Thompson's misuse of Caparisoning in the title was probably an "in" joke. As the final chapter of that book, Thompson issued perhaps the definitive English language account of books bound in human skin, with a suitably obscure Latin title, Religatum de pelle humana. As Thompson recounts, the practice has a long and arcane history. For the curious we have posted Thompson's complete essay in the Traditions section of our website.

Regarding the binding of rare anatomical books I pose the question, "Would it be appropriate to bind a rare book on human dissection in the skin of a dissected cadaver, after it had been appropriately tanned, of course?"

posted by Jeremy Norman @ 12:57 PM   0 Comments

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Marking a Milestone with a Record Three Catalogues!

Though we were having our first office at 442 Post Street in San Francisco remodeled by late 1970, we did not open for business until early 1971, so 2011 is our 40th year in business. This year I also reached my 66th birthday.

Reflecting increased business activity rather than less, in 2011 Diana Hook and I issued three catalogues, all as PDFs. This was a record for us, especially since some years we issued no catalogues. The 39th catalogue was distributed in February for the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair, the 40th in July, and the 41st in late October. All can be downloaded from the Catalogues and Special Items page under the Rare Books tab at historyofscience.com. We will issue our next catalogue, number 42 for the Los Angeles Antiquarian Book Fair in February 2012.

posted by Jeremy Norman @ 3:49 PM   0 Comments

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Introducing Historyofinformation.com


On February 8, 2011 Jessica Gore created a new website for my chronological and thematic studies on the history of information and media at historyofinformation.com. There you will find the latest version of my database, From Cave Paintings to the Internet, as well as a nifty new Outline View of the database, and some essays on themes related to the database under the Narrative and Analysis tab.

Now all I need to do is add about a thousand more images. Coming soon: images and captions for the essays in the Narrative and Analysis sections.

posted by Jeremy Norman @ 2:59 PM   1 Comments

Friday, December 24, 2010

How to Advertise a Library


A snapshot I took in Las Vegas airport.

posted by Jeremy Norman @ 9:18 AM   0 Comments

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Bookbinding for Your MacBook Pro or Your iPad? Why Not?





We have TwelveSouth.com to thank for book-style cases for both the MacBook Pro and iPad.

I have to admit that these products look really good, even though they are unimaginatively titled "BookBook." Eventually I may spring for one to cover my iPad.

Note that they tout these book-style cases as security devices for three reasons:

1. To protect your computer.

2. To conceal your computer. Since these "stealth" cases conceal the valuable electronics in dull, old book covers, owners reduce the risk of having their computers stolen. I guess that anyone who would steal a computer would never want to steal a book.

3. To protect your individuality by setting you off from the crowd.

posted by Jeremy Norman @ 8:33 AM   0 Comments

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Dedication Copy of Mauriceau's Work Founding the Science of Obstetrics





Over the past 40 or more years it has been my privilege to handle many of the greatest copies of the greatest classics of science, medicine, and technology. Recently I was excited to sell the greatest copy of the most famous work in obstetrics, Mauriceau's Des maladies des femmes grosses et accouchees. . . . You will find more information and references in From Cave Paintings to the Internet.

Ever the self-promoter, Mauriceau issued his book with a frontispiece drawn by Antoine Paillet and engraved by Guaillaume Vallet, which included a cameo portrait of himself and a notice in small print at the foot of the page with the address of his office where he could be consulted as well as its cross-street, just to be sure people could find it. Incidentally you can enlarge all the images in this blog piece, and if you enlarge the image of the frontispiece you can pretty well read Mauriceau's address at the foot of the page. Advertising a medical practice like that at the foot of frontispiece a serious treatise was a unusual in the seventeenth century.

Mauriceau published a dedication in his book "A tous mes chers confreres: Les Maitres Chirurgiens Jurez de la Ville de Paris." This was the illustrious Confraternite de Saint-Come, established in the 13th century.

The dedication copy of the book, which Mauriceau presented to the Paris surgical society, was bound in contemporary red morocco, gilt, emblazoned on the front and back cover with an inscription that read "Ce Livre Appartient a la Compagnie des Maistres Chirurgiens Jurez de Paris." At the end of the printed dedication Mauriceau signed with his paraph. Later he noted in manuscript the publication of each new edition, in 1675, 1681, and 1694, by writing a notice to that effect and signing it, thus signing the final page of the dedication a total of four times! In addition, all pages of the text were red ruled by the binder--a highly unusual practice for a medical book. If you click on the image of the autograph inscriptions you will be able to enlarge it well enough to read the details and see how each inscription is written in a slightly different color ink.

posted by Jeremy Norman @ 5:35 PM   0 Comments


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