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M-108: The Ethan Allen Hitchcock Alchemy Collection

DATE: ca. 14th century - 19th century.

CREATOR: Hitchcock, Ethan Allen (1798-1870)

SCOPE: This collection spans the Renaissance and early modern period, to the nineteenth century, and represented philosophical subjects as well as the history of science, alchemy, and medicine.

EXTENT: 350 bound volumes of early manuscripts and printed books, some illuminated.

HISTORY & PROVENANCE: For over a millennium, the field of alchemy gathered to it strands of religion, the occult, chemistry, pure science, astrology and magic to form a broad world view that was, quite apart from the stereotypical image of the charlatan gold maker, concerned with the formation of a basic knowledge on all aspects of life's great mysteries. Alchemy was a beacon for centuries for those looking for a philosophical basis to the better understanding of life and its philosophical underpinnings. Over the centuries, certain individuals stand out for their authorship of vast texts in this philosophy; others as collectors of a literary genre.

Ethan Allen Hitchcock showed both of these tendencies as author and collector regarding the subject of alchemy. Born in 1798, this soldier, the grandson of Ethan Allen of Revolutionary War fame, and military tactical expert and instructor at West Point, continued to collect and author treatises on his true avocation, a deep interest in alchemical philosophy. Hitchcock lived intermittently in St. Louis, reached the rank of Major General, and produced a valuable set of memoirs concerning his life on the frontier and in service during the Mexican War. At the time of his death, he had amassed over 250 volumes on the subject of alchemy, which his nephew, Henry Hitchcock, a St. Louis attorney, presented to the Mercantile Library on July 17, 1884. This significant private library is a fascinating testament to the tastes of the remarkable individual, E.A. Hitchcock, who was so involved in important military and political events of his day. 

The collection, originally numbered item by item, has been virtually preserved as the day acquired. During the past century, the Hitchcock collection served to attract related books to the Library, and these materials were added to the collection from stack holdings as the collection was studied and catalogued in the 1980s to modern bibliographical standards under the terms of a grant for this purpose given by National Endowment for the Humanities.


ACCESS: Please contact the staff in advance of your visit to coordinate access to these materials for research purposes.

Special Collection M-108 has been catalogued and fully described on OCLC. A published calendar exists, A Guide to the Ethan Allen Hitchcock Alchemy Collection in the St. Louis Mercantile Library, (1990).

This collection is available for on-site use only in the Rare Book and Manuscripts Reading Room. Some of the material in Special Collection M-108 may be photocopied, digitally scanned or photographed, subject to condition. For collections marked limited access, researchers are advised to contact the library at least three business days in advance of their visit to submit a request to view the physical material.

Researchers are advised to call ahead concerning changes in hours due to University intersessions and holidays. The St. Louis Mercantile Library is located on levels one and two of the Thomas Jefferson Library building.

In observance of security procedures, certain services may not be available shortly before the daily closing time.

Preferred Citation: When citing the material from this collection, the preferred citation is: From the Special Collections of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.