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The Gmelin Handbook : an Overview

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Gmelin handbook The 8th Edition of the Gmelin Handbook of Inorganic and Organometallic Chemistry is the most extensive printed compilation of information and data on metallic chemical elements and their compounds and alloys. It was compiled by the Gmelin Institute, part of the Max Planck Institute, and published in over 400 volumes between 1924 and 1998 by Springer-Verlag. All information in the Handbook was derived from the primary journal and patent literature of chemistry, physics, and metallurgy, and then critically appraised and organized by chemical element and species.

Gmelin is typically used to locate factual information on specific compounds. This information includes any or all of the following for a chemical compound:

Text is augmented by tables and graphs in many places. All information is accompanied by the source literature reference. See a page listing journal abbreviations used in older Gmelin volumes.

Coverage: Gmelin vs. Beilstein

For the most part, the content of the Gmelin Handbook and its organic chemistry counterpart, the Beilstein Handbook, is mutually exclusive: compounds covered in one are by definition excluded from the other. Beilstein covers only organic carbon compounds with the elements H, O, N, S, Br, I, Cl, and F (with a few narrowly defined exceptions). Gmelin covers most everything else: pure elements, ionic inorganics, salts, coordination compounds, organometallic complexes, and alloys. Metal-containing natural products, biological substances, and macromolecules are excluded. While dense, the Gmelin Handbook is more textual and less abbreviated -- and thus somewhat easier to use -- than the Beilstein Handbook.


The volumes of Gmelin are organized and shelved alphabetically by chemical element symbol (as indicated by the yellow shelf dividers). All known elements, including inorganic carbon and ammonium, are represented, though some elements are combined into a single set of volumes. Elements were assigned System Numbers, and compounds were assigned to an element volume based on the highest system number present in the formula. Within each element set, compounds are arranged by increasing order of complexity and number of constituent elements. In practice, a user does not need to know anything about this classification system, since compounds are most easily located using the formula indexes.

Although Gmelin was published over many decades, the series was not uniform in its currency. Some elements are represented only by slim summary volumes published in the 1930s, with no further updates. Other elements (such as Fe, B, S, F, U, etc.) have numerous supplements. In most cases, later supplement volumes focused on an element's organometallic compounds (Organische Verbindungen). Each volume indicates a literature coverage date on the back of the title page.

Before 1982, Gmelin text was in German, with English tables of contents, section headings, and sidebar tabs to guide the non-German reader. After 1982 it was published in English.

The Gmelin Handbook is shelved in the library's reference stacks, near Beilstein, Houben-Weyl, and Landolt-Börnstein. Volumes are non-circulating. [Catalog Record]


The Gmelin Formula Indexes (GFI) were published in four sequential sets covering the Handbook through 1995. To be sure you're not missing an entry, all four sets must be checked in turn. The indexes list in alphanumeric order all elements and defined compounds included in the Handbook. The Gmelin empirical formula indexes are in strict alphabetic order by element symbol, not in the more familiar Hill Order found in organic formula indexes, or in typical cation-anion order of common inorganics. Thus, CuSO4 would be found in the index as Cu O4 S. Other expamples:
PBr3 = Br3 P
(CH3CO2)2 Mn = C4H6MnO4.
The index entry provides the conventional formula, Element designation, volume, part, and page numbers where that compound can be found.

CuO4W ........ CuWO4 ........ 60 (Cu): Hb/B3--1236/7

Information on this compound will be found in the Copper (Cu) volumes, Main series (Hb), in volume B3, pages 1236-7. You can ignore the System Number (60) because these are no longer used in the shelving arrangement.

The Gmelin Database

The database version of Gmelin, as reflected in Reaxys, is not equivalent to the print. Most of the numeric data contained in the printed Handbook volumes up to 1975 are in Reaxys, but not the text, tables, or graphics. Data from the 1976-97 Handbook volumes are not represented in the database. For these reasons the print Gmelin is retained in the library.

Journal coverage in the Gmelin database has always been very uneven. After 1976 the Institute extracted data from about 110 journals. Coverage and currency faltered after 1995, when the Gmelin Institute closed, and there are still large gaps in the data thereafter. Gmelin data is currently owned and compiled by Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh) and licensed to Elsevier for distribution in Reaxys. From the late 1990s about 60 journals were monitored for content, but coverage expanded a bit after 2009, though not retrospectively.


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