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Searching the Chemical Literature before Chemical Abstracts

Modern chemical science had its origins in the Enlightenment period, and so did its literature. Papers on chemical topics were published in many scholarly journals, often those of various academies and philosophical societies throughout Europe and America. Journals dedicated to chemistry, such as Crell's Chemisches Journal (1778) and Lavoisier's Annales de Chimie (1789), began to appear in the late 18th century. Abstracts of literature appeared almost simultaneously in various publications, including Crell's. Yet for most English-speakers, 1907 -- the year Chemical Abstracts began -- is the watershed date that now serves as a somewhat arbitrary demarcation between "modern" and "historical" chemistry. Here are some resources that can be helpful in identifying pre-1907 materials, listed in rough order of usefulness and accessibility. Remember that your best resource in this area is your librarian.


If you don't already have a specific reference, use one of the index/abstract resources described below that covered the probable date range. This task is easier if you're starting with an author's name. Most chemical papers from this era had only a single author. Knowing the journal makes it easier still. Many journals published their own author and subject indexes annually, and some, such as Liebigs Annalen and Journal of the Chemical Society, helpfully cumulated these indexes every few years to make searching easier. Searching by topic is more difficult. If you're starting with a chemical compound, Beilstein (organic) and Gmelin (inorganic) are the best tools. Subject indexes do exist for some early abstracting sources and individual journals.

Note: 19th century authors often published multiple versions or translations of the same paper in different journals. The Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers is the best tool for identifying these variants.

Abstracting Timeline
SciFinder (Chemical Abstracts) star U.T. restricted
The CAPLUS file in SciFinder contains the full content of Chemical Abstracts back to 1907, when it began publication. All records have had CA indexing terms and Registry Numbers algorithmically assigned where possible. However, pre-1967 indexing was not as thorough as post-1967 indexing. In general, the older the record the more minimal its metadata is likely to be. Users should also be aware that some of the more powerful Registry-based search features in SciFinder and STN (e.g. CAS Roles other than "Preparation") query only the 1967-forward segment of the CAPLUS file. Only the Preparation role has been retroactively applied to Registry Numbers back to 1907.

CAS has carried out selective retro-indexing of pre-1907 literature:

  • JACS and J. Phys. Chem. back to their first volumes, plus selected landmark papers
  • Chemical Society journal archives (now Royal Society of Chemistry), 1841-forward, including J. Chem. Soc. Abstracts.
  • ca. 38,000 U.S. patent records from 1808-1906
  • ca. 70,000 machine-translated records from Chemisches Zentralblatt, 1897-1906 (see below)

Catalogue of Scientific Papers. (1800-1900) recommended resource
print Chemistry Reference Stacks; 19 vols.
This is the best source for identifying 19th century scholarly papers by author in all the sciences except medicine and surgery. It was compiled by the Royal Society of London. The Catalogue is an author index divided by date ranges: v. 1-6: 1800-1863; v. 7-8: 1864-1873; v. 9-11: 1874-1883; v.12: Supplementary volume, 1800-1883; v.13-19: 1884-1900. The Catalogue helpfully collates multiple versions and translations of the same article in a single entry. Separate subject indexes were planned, but only three were published, covering mathematics, mechanics, and physics. See also the Scholarly Societies Project.

e-book Various scanned library copies are also available via the Internet Archive.

International Catalogue of Scientific Literature. 1901-19
print Chemistry Reference Stacks (reprint)
The Catalogue of Scientific Papers was continued after 1901 by a multi-part index published by the Royal Society. Part D, in 14 issues, covered chemistry through 1914. Citations are found in each issue's author section; an elaborate classified subject index accompanies each. This unwieldy and expensive project ended due to World War I. It has not been digitized.

Journal of the Chemical Society: Abstracts. 1871-1925 recommended resource
print Storage; FILM
The Chemical Society's flagship journal contained a separate section abstracting chemical literature after 1871. This section merged in 1926 with the applied abstracts in the Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry to form British Abstracts, which continued until 1953. The JCS abstracts were not comprehensive, but they are the most readily accessible alternative for pre-1907 indexing of pure chemistry papers. Each volume has subject and author indexes, and JCS published collective indexes for 1841-72, 1873-82, 1883-92, 1893-1902, 1903-12, and 1913-22.
e-book The abstracts have been added to CAPLUS (SciFinder) as part of the Chemical Society journal archive. The abstracts can also be text-searched and PDFs retrieved directly from the RSC Archives.

Beilstein recommended resource U.T. restricted
The Beilstein Handbook covered the literature of organic chemistry fairly comprehensively from 1779 up to 1959. The indexing is primarily by chemical compound structure and reactions, but in Reaxys it can be searched in a variety of ways, including author name and bibliographic data. If you're starting from an organic chemical structure or reaction, this is your tool of choice.

Gmelin Handbook recommended resource
print Reference Stacks
This important German handbook series analyzed the literature of inorganic and organometallic compounds very well until the mid-20th century, when it became much more selective. The extent of coverage varies by element. But it is invaluable for identifying the early journal and patent literature on metal compounds. It is arranged by chemical element and compound, and there are no author indexes. Reaxys contains selected chemical data and references from the print Gmelin up to 1976.

Chemisches Zentralblatt. 1830-1969 recommended resource
print 1830-1896: FILM 7163; 1897-1969: 540.5 C42 Library Storage
This pioneering German abstracting journal began in 1830 as Pharmaceutisches Central-blatt, and later (1850-55) Chemische-Pharmaceutisches Central-blatt. After 1897 it was published by the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft. Although it is a challenge to use for the non-German reader, it is an important resource for historical chemical and pharmacy publications. CZ's expert coverage of European chemistry was superior to CA's until World War II, and many of the two million published abstracts were more like brief review articles. CZ's quality and timeliness declined sharply after the war, not helped by its being co-produced in West and East Germany. It ceased in 1969. A listing of periodicals covered by CZ can be found in Periodica chimica (2nd ed., 1952 and a 1962 supplement, by M. Pflücke, QD 9 P45 1952).

CAS added selected machine-translated records from the 1897-1906 period to the CAPLUS file in SciFinder. In 2016 CAS launched the entire database as an add-on product in SciFinder, but UT Austin does not subscribe to this feature.

CZ has also been digitized by FIZ CHEMIE Berlin for purchase as an intranet database. A structure-searchable database version of CZ is available from InfoChem.

Review of American Chemical Research. 1895-1906
print Shelved with JACS
This abstracting journal was founded at MIT by Arthur A. Noyes. Its first two volumes were published with Technology Quarterly and Proceedings of the Society of Arts. From 1897 to 1906, it was published as a separate supplement to the Journal of the American Chemical Society (bound with the Society's Proceedings). As its title implies, it initially covered only U.S. journals. When William A. Noyes (a distant relative of Arthur) became editor of JACS in 1902, RACR's scope was enlarged to include U.S. patents and papers by Americans published in foreign journals. Chemical Abstracts took over and expanded this operation, under the latter Noyes' editorship, in 1907. RACR is not included in the ACS Archive or in CAPLUS. Various scanned copies can be found in the Internet Archive.

Reuss Repertorium.
print 016.3 B95 NO.29 PCL Stacks
e-book Digital Version (GDZ)
This bibliography, compiled by I.D. Reuss and originally published from 1801-21, covers journals published by scholarly societies in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its full title translates as "Index of Articles published by Scholarly Societies, arranged by discipline." For more information see the Scholarly Societies Project.

Science Citation Index (Web of Science) U.T. restricted
This tool indexes articles and books from all time periods that have been cited by other authors. For instance, if a modern author cites a paper from the 19th century, that citation will be listed under the original author's name in the Citation Index part of SCI. Doing a cited reference search is a good way to verify bibliographic citations to early papers, books, patents, and miscellany. However, the title abbreviations used in citations can be cryptic and often require further investigation.

Prior to the establishment of formal indexing services in the 20th century, some major journals published abstracts of selected literature. In addition to the journals listed above, others were:

  • Annalen der Chemie. 1832-60
  • Annales de chimie et de physique. 1789-1870
  • Bulletin de la Société chimique de France. (Répertoire de chimie pure and Répertoire de chimie appliqué) 1857-?
  • Chemische Berichte. ca.1880-96
  • The German Chemical Society published abstracts (Referate) in its Berichte from about 1880 (in a separate section after 1884) until it took over publication of Chemisches Zentralblatt in 1897.
  • Journal für praktische Chemie. 1834-73
  • Journal of physical chemistry. 1896-1906
  • Journal of the American Chemical Society. 1879-90
  • JACS published abstracts from major foreign journals starting in its first volume in 1879; this section disappeared after 1890. (A separate section abstracting patents of interest to chemists can also be found in these early years.) After 1897 the Review of American Chemical Research was included as a supplement. The pre-1890 abstracts have been digitized in the ACS Archive and have been added to the CAPLUS file in SciFinder.
  • Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry. 1882-1925

While retrospective digitization is progressing in both the open-access and commercial spheres, much of this early content still exists only in printed form,.

  • JSTOR has digitized substantial backfiles of historical journals, including Science, PNAS, and the Royal Society of London's Philosophical Transactions and Proceedings. U.T. 
  • Google Books and other digitization projects and repositories, such as the Internet Archive might contain snippets or full text.
  • To translate old journal title abbrevations use the CASSI tool (the 1907-2004 print edition or the free database). Pre-CA abbrevations are defined in a number of sources, including in the front matter of most bibliographies, abstracts, and handbooks listed above. See also the Beyond CASSI guide.


Library Catalog <
The UT-Austin online library catalog covers the book and journal holdings of all UT libraries.

WorldCat U.T. restricted
Search the holdings of thousands of libraries worldwide.

HathiTrust Digital Library
Millions of digitized titles, mainly from Google Books scanning projects, are stored and searchable in this shared repository. Full text of many public domain titles, mostly published before 1923, is openly available. Search UT's Library Catalog to see if we have a print copy.

Dissertation Abstracts U.T. restricted
Indexes PhD dissertations written at U.S. universities back to 1865. Records for older dissertations usually lack abstracts.

Select bibliography of chemistry. (Washington DC: Smithsonian Inst., 1893-1904)
print QD 11 B65 Chem Stacks
H.C. Bolton's bibliography and its two supplements list books in chemistry in many languages from 1492 up to about 1902. Entries are by author within these seven sections: bibliography, dictionaries/tables, history, biography, pure and applied chemistry, alchemy, and periodicals. Section VIII appeared later as a supplement covering dissertations.

National Union Catalog, pre-1956 imprints.
print Z 881 A1 U518 PCL Oversize Stacks
The NUC is a massive printed card catalog of the Library of Congress with book holdings information for a number of major research libraries. Essential reference source for obscure books and ephemera not included in the WorldCat database. Often referred to in library circles as "Mansell".

Library guide for the chemist.
print QD 8.5 S68 1938 Chem Stacks
If you're looking for an overview of the historical literature and reference sources prior to WWII, which are generally ignored in modern guides, this is a thorough primer.

see more See also the pathfinder on Chemical Biography.


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