Recently, Kim Sims, university archivist, and Christina Luers, archives collections specialist, had a unique opportunity to tour some of the scientific apparatuses and artifacts at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. William & Mary recently made a long term loan to the NMNH into a permanent gift: a four-foot tall feather and guinea physics teaching apparatus. Click here to see a demonstration of how a feather and guinea experiment works.
While Kim and Tina were in the scientific apparatus room to see the item the College gifted, they had an opportunity to see many other scientific items collected and maintained by the museum: Terrestrial and Celestial Globe sets, an array of tuning forks, chemistry and physics devices, and an abundance of early dyes and synthetic materials. Of particular note was the vast collection of Bakelite and early plastics. While the term “plastic” was not introduced until 1925, the NMNH had thousands of examples of early polymers and celluloid specimens. It was a wonderful opportunity to see so many rare objects and to witness the preservation of the evolution of a material that has grown to become such an embedded part of everyday life.
It seemed to be quite a coincidence that one such early specimen of “plastic” would fall into our own collections at William & Mary’s Special Collections Research Center. Pictured below is a photograph album belonging to Sally Daingerfield and dated 1867. The cover of the album is made from a cellulose polymer, which was essentially nineteenth-century plastic.
Along with the uniqueness of the material, the book contains extensive marginalia with most of the photographs, carte de visites, and tin types, identifying the individuals and their relationships to one another. Included with views of the plastic is the front cover of the album, with Miss Sally Daingerfield’s name inscribed with the date (1867) and an image of her likeness. This is the only such dated cellulous polymer within the SCRC's holdings, making it a rare and unique new object indeed.
Sources consulted for this blog post: