The image above is from the title page of Recueil de curiositez rares et nouvelles des plus admirables effets de la nature et de l’art published in 1685. It was published in English as Modern curiosities of art and nature. This edition was published in Leiden by the Dutch publisher Pieter van der Aa, who was best known for publishing maps in the 17th and 18th centuries. Although broadly a book about chemistry it also contains advice on cooking, gardening, making fireworks and toys, and painting.  

The book covers numerous recipes such as Bologna sausages, saucissons from Lombardy, Polish pike, as well as tips on fixing olive oil that has turned rancid. It also contains a recipe for flavoured ices, the first recipe for ice cream in French. The advice on the process for paper marbling was frequently reprinted and was used as the standard description of the practice throughout the 18th century. The book also contains many examples of decorative letters such as the one below.

There is debate as to the authorship of the book. Owing to the content and the time in which the book was published it has commonly been regarded as the work of Nicolas Lemery. The English version of the book describes the contents as having been based upon experiments carried out at the French court and attributes the book to the apothecary to the French king, “Sieur Lemery.” Some biographers of Lemery regard this as a mistranslation and a reason for the book being wrongly attributed to Nicolas Lemery. The edition in the IET Library attributes the book to “Sieur d’Emery”. Other library catalogues give the author as Antoine d’Emery.

The book is part of the library of Silvanus P. Thompson, which was purchased in 1917 by the IET. Although best known for his works on electricity, magnetism and acoustics, Thompson collected works on a diverse range of topics including astronomy, cartography, nature and several works on magic and mysticism.

Who was Nicolas Lemery?

Nicolas Lemery was a French Chemist born in Rouen in 1645. He is best known for being one of the first “mechanical chemists”, meaning he sought to explain chemical reactions through the interactions of small particles. He was also one of the first to develop theories on acid-base chemistry. The book he is best known for is Cours de Chymie, which was first published in 1675 and issued in a further 32 editions or imprints, becoming one of the most popular chemical textbooks in the world at the time.

Lemery was the fifth of seven children born to Julien Lemery and his second wife Susan Duchemin. Julien died when Nicolas was eleven years old, and when he was fifteen Nicolas entered an apprenticeship as an apothecary with his uncle in Rouen. In 1666 he moved to Paris to study under the pharmaceutical chemist Christopher Glasser. After this he moved to Montpellier where he studied and taught chemistry. In 1672 he returned to Paris and ran a successful pharmaceutical business as well as teaching chemistry to pharmacy apprentices. Lemery wrote two major works in the pharmacy field, Pharmacopee universelle and the Traité des drogues simples, which together represent a comprehensive dictionary of pharmaceuticals.

Increasing religious intolerance in France meant that Lemery, a Calvinist, was forced to leave France in 1683 and move to England when proceedings were started to close his laboratory and shop. He returned to France within a year and in 1686 converted to Catholicism which meant he could reopen his shop and practice as a pharmacist. In 1699 he was admitted to the French Academy of Sciences as an associate chemist. He died in Paris on 19 June 1715.


Collection reference: SPT/RB/8vo/195