Hofmann Library

Collection with changing locations: Hofmann Library

Under the name of its founder, the library of the former German Chemical Society has gained worldwide recognition. The eventful fate of this collection is a reflection of the respective social conditions.

August Wilhelm von Hofmann (1818-1892) was one of the most renowned chemists of his time. After studying under Justus von Liebig in Giessen, he went to London and participated in the establishment of the Royal College of Chemistry. In England, Hofmann became familiar with the close interrelationships between chemistry as a science and its technical application. The mediating role of the Royal Society of Chemistry was a formative experience for him.
After returning home, Hofmann took over the chemistry chair from Eilhard Mitscherlich at Berlin University. Here he demonstrated his outstanding abilities not only as a university lecturer and researcher, but also as a science organizer. In 1867 he founded the German Chemical Society (DCHG), whose members included Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, Justus von Liebig and Friedrich Wöhler. Today, more than 27,000 members belong to this professional organization under the name Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh).
One of the main achievements of the DCHG is the establishment of a large central library for chemistry. Due to the limited financial situation of the Society (the circumstances then were obviously no different than today!), the establishment initially proceeded only by book donations and by exchange with the "Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft". Ten years later, the books of the late Alphons Oppenheim, now largely unknown, were added as a special stock, and in 1893 the valuable estate of August Wilhelm von Hofmann was integrated into the library, which finally gave the library its name. After handwritten ownership entries and dedications had sufficed before, the first stamp including inventory number was now due: "Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft - Berlin W10 - Sigismundstr. 4". After a disposition fund had been created in 1889, the library was able to supply itself with the most important new publications; by the Second World War it had reached a volume of a good 8,000 volumes.

Fortunately, the library was moved out in time during the 2nd World War; the building was completely destroyed. The storage in the Rüdersdorfer Kalkwerke, however, did not do the books much good. The further "rescue" went towards Moscow. It is documented with stamps in Cyrillic letters: "Academy of Sciences of the USSR - Library - Department of Chemistry". Some stamps of individual institute libraries are also found. But always, as usual in libraries, the stamps of the previous owner were invalidated, here with red pencil or by blackening. Evidence shows that this did not happen until 1953 and thus did not last long, because in 1956 most of the library was returned to Berlin and placed under the care of the Chemical Society of the GDR, which was founded after the war. And again a stamp? Strangely enough, not this time; and the Moscow stamps remained untouched. Instead, however, the books were catalogued: alphabetically in a card catalogue and factually according to a very detailed system created especially for this purpose, which was also noted in the book. In 1990, the circle came full circle: after the dissolution of the Chemical Society of the GDR, the library returned to its original foundation. As the "Hofmann-Bibliothek" collection, it is now part of the branch library of natural sciences of Humboldt-Universität, and we too have put our stamp on the books (for the first time on the back of the title page!) and have again entered a new inventory number.

The collection holdings are invaluable and can be characterized as homogeneous. The two bequests mentioned form the most important part, not only from the point of view of the history of science, but also from the point of view of cultural history, and some of the books available here cannot be found anywhere else after our research. Several hundred volumes, published between the 17th and 19th centuries, are considered rarities. In addition to the most important handbooks of this period, one can find here, for example, first editions by Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben, Leonhard Euler, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Alexander von Humboldt and others. Fortunately, works from Hofmann's circle of friends and acquaintances have also been preserved. Thus the complete works of Friedrich Wöhler, Justus von Liebig, Gustav Magnus, Eilhard Mitscherlich, Jöns Jacob Berzelius and others are almost completely present. The new publications acquired by purchase reflect the development of chemistry from the turn of the century to the Second World War.

Text: Julia Fontius / Dr. Bernd Fichte

The library can be used for scientific purposes, but we kindly ask you to book in advance:


Phone: +49 30 2093-99725 or -99700

Fax: +49 30 2093-99705

E-mail: nawi@ub.hu-berlin.de