The Wenner Collection

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October 12, 2018

The Wenner Collection

How Did We Get Here?

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David Wenner at his home with the collection. 

In The Big Move, you learned about the journey of a collection of rare books as they traveled from the Florida home of a collector to the stacks of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives. But what exactly is this collection? How did we get here, and what does this collection mean to the NBL&A?

Until recently, we focused our collecting on the history of modern physics, a timeframe which we defined as post-1840. In the nineteenth century, physics evolved from natural philosophy to something that aligns with our modern sense of science, and the various topics of physics – light, sound, heat, electricity, magnetism, and energy – began to converge into what we recognize as physics today. However, going further back in time and broadening our collection scope would allow us to look at the birth of modern physics and learn more about the context in which in developed. We knew this was a goal of ours when we learned of an amazing opportunity to acquire an entire collection of this scope.

 The Wenner Collection of rare books and manuscripts contains nearly 4,000 books and publications that document the important discoveries in physics and physical sciences, stretching back 400 years, including works by Ptolemy, Galileo, Huygens, Halley, Newton, and Curie, among many others. In retirement, the collector, David Wenner (a fascinating person in his own right) curated the collection as he explored the origins of our universe.  Over the decades he spent collecting, he got to know this collection very well and compiled his own book, History of Physics: The Wenner Collection, which describes every item in the collection in the context of its broader historical significance.  After completing his collection, he began looking for a permanent home for the books – preferably in a library where the collection would remain intact and be easily accessible to researchers, instead of hidden in his private home library. That is where we came in!

The acquisition of the Wenner Collection vastly expands the scope of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives backwards in time to include the foundations and the evolution of the field of physics. Now that our collection and acquisitions efforts are broadening we have exciting plans to continue growing our special collections through targeted acquisitions and donations in the future.

So, as you all know, the Wenner Collection has arrived, but…what’s next? Our immediate goals are preservation and access. The first step of providing access is to conduct a thorough inventory in preparation for cataloging. Preservation is a little bit trickier. The books are safely housed on the shelves in the NBL&A archives stacks, but that isn’t their final resting place. We are now beginning the work to create a space that is appropriate for housing these books in a sustainable way. Thanks to the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, we are launching a project to construct a new storage vault to house the Wenner Collection alongside our other treasured collections. The vault project officially launched on October 11, 2018 – stay tuned for updates from me and the rest of the NBL&A team!