By Dr. Samuel Koslov
As a freshman at Columbia College in 1943, with an intense interest in the history of science, I made the fascinating discovery that the Rare Book Room on the upper floors of the Butler Library held many of the volumes I had only read about.
Alchemy being my passion of the moment, I rushed to the elevators and requested a volume (Basil Valentinas, I think). The librarian produced it with alacrity, held it open some four feet in front of me and asked which page I wanted to look at. While this discouraged my visits to rare book rooms for many years to come, I continued to prowl through the bins and shelves of the Fourth Avenue book shops.
Appointed to the faculty of Stevens Institute in 1957, I made a more functional discovery. If class schedules were arranged properly, it was only a short ride on Thursday afternoon's to Swann Galleries. Even on an academic salary, I could buy some of the volumes otherwise seen only at arm's length. Serious book collecting began in ernest!
My memories of the early 1930s are always surrounded by books. My father's business often took him to the Lower East side of Manhattan. Wonderful hours were spent browsing through the push carts of Orchard Street. Tom Swifts and Rover Boys (and an occasional Fu Manchu) could be found for 5 per volume. Another regular venue for trips with my father were the book shops that clustered around the Boro Hall area of Brooklyn, where larger and deluxe sets of history could be found in the $3 to $5 range. Circa 1936, on my birthday, Aunt Lina took me to Macy's for my first purchase of new books I had only read about in the New York Times Book Review. Triumphant, I returned with A Child's History of the Animal World, Detmold's Book of Insects and Bob Ripley's Believe it or Not!
Throughout some 40 years of various posts in government, academe and private industry, I've had the good fortune of both living near "bookish" cities (New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C.), and frequent opportunities for travel (domestic and foreign). Book browsing is a delightful, but usually lonesome activity. My wife Elaine, and later my children Geoffrey, Lisa and Gary, were frequent companions. Two friends, now booksellers, Lou Geller (Elgen Books) and Richard Yann (Bader Books), were also frequent companions (and competitors). I can fondly recall many (but not all) of the booksellers who contributed a large part of the items offered here.
Holding a variety of management, research and teaching positions, I have enjoyed working in many varied fields, thus my fondness for polymaths (Kircher and Scott). My book interests have tended to vector parallel to both professional interest and personal curiosity. In teaching and in writing, I've always tried to point out that science and technology are not only derivative from each other, but are also part of, and contribute to the society and economy of their time. Science is not something alien and seperate which seems to reflect much of today's attitudes. It's rather sad how little knowledge many in technical fields have of their own history.
My own activities have involved nuclear and particle physics, quantum electrodynamics, plasma physics and controlled fusion, nuclear energy and saftey, microwaves (and their interaction with biological systems), military and intelligence collecting systems, and other technical and biomedical areas. Personal interests have included the interactions of religion and superstition, bark illustration and their associated arts, and particularly printing in color. I've always held the firm belief that real progress in science and technology occurs most often in areas that tend to bridge two or more classically defined areas. This has certainly been proven in the last few decades. These and other related interests are represented in the catalogue before you.
The most valuable books in the collection were purchased between 1957 and 1969. At the beginning of this decade, it was possible to aquire many scientific, technical, medical and other antiquarian books at very modest prices. The interests of the book-buying community appeared to give scant attention, or value, to these gems. Little did I realize, until the middle 1960s, that I was approaching the "bottom of the barrel," when the supply suddenly appeared to dry up. The bottom had been reached. At long last, Thomas Frognall Dibdin's comment of the early nineteenth century that rare books are becoming hard to find had been realized.
Apologies are in order to some of this auction's patrons in that very little appears of direct interest to microscopy. I retain a fairly extensive library in the history and practice of microscopy and photomicroscopy, my primary scientific or technical activity of the moment, together with an extensive reference library. Obviously, there is some regret in seeing many of my favorites move on, as they eventually must, however, with the sincere hope they will receive warm and appreciative homes.
SCIENCE, MEDICINE & TECHNOLOGY