A periodic table found in the University of St Andrews’ School of Chemistry is thought to be the oldest in the world.
Discovered during a clear out of a storage area in 2014, the table is similar to Dmitri Mendeleev’s second version of 1871. It could be the only one to have survived from the period and may have been in storage as far back as 1968 when the School of Chemistry changed buildings.
The University’s Special Collections team used a funding grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust (NMCT), aid from Richard Hawkes of Artworks Conservation, and several international experts to date the table to 1885 and restored it for future generations to enjoy.
Professor Eric Scerri, an expert on the history of the periodic table from the University of California in Los Angeles, dated it to between 1879 and 1886 based on the chemicals represented. German inscriptions identified a scientific printer based in Vienna between 1875 and 1888 as the source, and the lithographer who died in 1890. Financial records confirmed that the table was produced in Vienna in 1885 and purchased by Professor Thomas Purdie in 1888 for the School of Chemistry.
The original table has been rehoused and will be kept in the Special Collection team’s climate-controlled store. The funding from the NMCT allowed an exact copy to be produced, which will now be on display in the School of Chemistry.
The former Head of Chemistry at the University Professor David O’Hagan said the discovery was “remarkable”: “The table will be available for research and display at the University and we have a number of events planned in 2019, which has been designated international year of the periodic table by the United Nations, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the table’s creation by Dmitri Mendeleev.”
Gabriel Sewell, Head of Special Collections said: “We are delighted that we now know when the oldest known periodic table chart came to St Andrews to be used in teaching. Thanks to the generosity of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, the table has been preserved for current and future generations to enjoy and we look forward to making it accessible to all.”