HISTORY: For over a millenium, 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.

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.

SCOPE: 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. Not only Hitchcock's philosophical interests, but also the history of science to his time is represented in this collection, which spans the Renaissance and early modern period, to the nineteenth century.

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

ACCESS: 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). Some of the collection may be photocopied, digitally scanned or photographed, depending on condition.