Wrapped in Newspaper, or, an Experimental Binding for Robert Boyle’s Experiments

By Hanna de Lange |

The Latin trade has long been considered a one-way-street: books in Latin were imported in England, mainly the classics. It rings true that publications printed on the British Isles were overwhelmingly in English and catered to the local market. But more than once authors and publishers sought readers and trading grounds beyond the boundaries of the early modern English-speaking world. That was when they decided to translate works in Latin, especially for dissemination abroad. This is precisely what happened with the scientific writings of Robert Boyle (1627-1691). This scientist of Irish origin wrote his famous The Sceptical Chymist in English. It was published in 1661 ‘by J. Cadwell for John Crooke’ in London, carrying a title page in red and black ink and was followed just one year later by a Latin version, entitled Chymista scepticus. On the monochrome title page, even the imprint did not escape translation, hence:

London. Printed by J. Cadwell for J. Crooke, and are to be Sold at the Ship in St. Paul’s Church-Yard. MDCLXI,


Londini. Excudebat J.C. veniuntque apud Johannem Crooke sub Signo Navis, in Cœmeterio Divi Pauli. 1662.


It appears the Latin 1662 edition could not fulfil the needs of the interested continental customers, because in the same year the translation was published in London, it popped up in Rotterdam. Here printer Arnold Leers tried to cut a piece of the cake by printing Boyle’s book yet again, this time with a woodblock image on the title page and carrying the imprint:

Roterodami. Ex officinâ Arnoldi Leers. M. DC. LXII.

Regardless of the place of publication or the language the book was printed in, it consisted of two inseparable parts. The two works were meant to reinforce and complement one another. In most cases, despite a second, dated title page, the pagination is continuous from the first work to the next. In these dialogue-style writings, Boyle emphasised the importance of experiments as the basis of all scientific theories. He described his many experiments in great detail, not just the trials themselves, but also their outcome.

The Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, our PWRB partner, holds both English-language versions as well as Latin ones. There are two copies in Latin, both under the shelfmark KB 134, 43. One was printed in London in 1662 and the other in Rotterdam in the same year. On closer inspection, this last copy stands out in its remarkable, hybrid manifestation. The construction of this particular book leaves us in awe. The first thing one notices and expects is the (first) title page with the Rotterdam imprint. Surprisingly, though, there is a second title page in this binding. But this one was not printed in Rotterdam but found its origin in London. It bears the translated imprint, from English to Latin, with just the initials J.C. for J. Cadwell and the year 1662. Could the reason these title pages found their way into the same binding have been the consequence of a decision made by the owner? This does not seem to be the case, because an edition with exactly the same composition can also be found in the University Library of Leiden. Since Arnold Leers was known to have trading agreements with colleagues abroad, we may very well find ourselves looking at an example of a joint venture with the London printers.

Equally noticeable is the thrilling exterior. The bookbinder chose to bind these works together in a way modern environmentalists would applaud: he recycled an old newspaper. A German newspaper, to be precise. It was re-used to cover both the front and back panels of the book, inside and out. Going by the contents of the text on the covers, it seems to be handling the news from July and August 1711. Although we cannot be sure about the year, as only the places and dates of the reports are given: Haag, vom 10 Aug.; Rheinstrom, vom 4 Aug.; Dresden, vom 8 Aug.; Barcellona, vom 17 Jul.; or Hamburg, den 25 Aug.

shelfmark KB 134, 43
Waste-paper binding of Chymista scepticus. Courtesy of The Royal Danish Library, shelfmark KB 134, 43.

Archival finds like this leave us with more questions than answers: who was the owner, who was the bookbinder, which German newspaper was used, when exactly was it bound? However, it does tell us that even for scholarly works, like Boyle’s twin books of experiments, there was a spectrum of editions available to appeal to a wide range of Latin and English readers.


Hanna de Lange is a Universal Short Title Catalogue PhD student at the University of St Andrews. She graduated from the University of Amsterdam with a degree in Early Modern History. Her doctoral research is a study of the dissemination of English, Scottish and Irish books on the early modern European book market. You can follow her on Twitter.

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