Thursday, March 22, 2012

Friends from another century

I've spent the last two months reading 10 years worth of a 19th century chemistry journal (
Chemical News, which served as one of the models for Nature, which began publication about a decade later). That would be about 250 pages a day, on average. It's an immersion experience, I sometimes had a tough time remembering that the people whose names appear in these pages were real, at other times, they seemed so real I was ready to jot them a note to ask about some small point or another.

Like old friends, some names appear again and again (Bertram Blount and H. Droop Richmond). Others, whose acquaintance I would quite like to make, appear but once (Wilhemina Green, an analytical chemist who determined the caffeine content of tea infusions). Some were already known to me (Ramsay and Crookes), others new (Helen Abbott, a plant chemist at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy). And imagine my surprise this afternoon to round a corner and come face to face with a portrait of E. Squibb (of pharmaceutical fame), whose delightfully humble letter to the editor acknowledging an error in a previously submitted paper I'd read yesterday.

But some names are so over the top that have made me laugh. My top two? Spencer Umfreville Pickering, MA and W. Popplewell Bloxam. They sound like something out of a children's novel -- but they lived and breathed a century back -- and at least in the case of Mr. Pickering, did quite a bit of interesting chemistry.

Cartoon is from XKCD.


  1. Dickens should have looked through chemistry journals, obv.

  2. I'm loving the mental image of what Mr. W. Popplewell Bloxam must have looked like, complete with top hat and cane. H. Droop Richmond, though, I picture as more of a 19th-century "Doc Brown."

  3. I don't have photos of either, Barb, but H. Droop Richmond was a descendant of the Plantagenets! Of royal blood! I think Mr. W. Popplewell Bloxam must also have had an enormous bushy mustache....