Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2012 Issue

The James Gilbert Baker Science Library Available from Eveleigh Books

James gilbert baker

James Gilbert Baker.

If James Gilbert Baker had been as good at shooting a basketball, swinging a bat, or reading lines before a camera, as he was in his chosen field, you would know him well. However, he was a scientist, and though his contributions to mankind were greater than those of the typical athlete or actor, science is a behind the scenes field. Indeed, much of his career found Baker behind a camera, rather than in front of one, though he was not a filmmaker in Hollywood either. He designed lenses that captured images at great distances, either pointed toward the sky, or pointed from the sky toward the earth. He worked both to expand our knowledge of the universe and help keep America safe during the hot war of the 1940s, and the cold war that followed. We might also mention that Mr. Baker possessed a library in his field, and material from that library is now being offered to the public by Eveleigh Books.

James Baker was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1914. Eighteen years later, he went off to the University of Louisville as a mathematics major. It was there that he developed a keen interest in astronomy. It was this interest that would lead him to his career in developing optical lenses. He wanted to better understand the mysteries of the universe, and his means to discovery was visible light. The result was that he became an optical physicist, serving both science and his country. He went on to graduate school at Harvard after he graduated from Louisville, but with the advent of the war, he was called on to provide his burgeoning skills for the defense of the country. He developed wide-angle lenses for the “Victory Lens” project, used for aerial reconnaissance of the enemy. Baker not only designed lenses, but participated in many of the test flights.

After the war, Baker returned to Harvard as an associate professor, briefly moved to California, and by 1950 returned to Harvard. He was the first to use a computer to perform calculations needed for optical design. This would have been one of those gigantic machines that do less than your cell phone can today – even your dumb cell phone, but this was the 1940s and it was cutting edge. The 1950s saw Baker setting up a series of satellite-tracking cameras, before the Russians launched Sputnik, the first satellite. The cameras fortunately were already in place and ready to track the Russian device when, to the chagrin of America, it was launched before our country had anything in space. We would not be second again.

At this time, Dr. Baker was also designing wide-angle lenses and cameras designed to conduct surveillance from high-altitude aircraft. They would be the basis for surveillance conducted from the U-2 airplanes. These aircraft would fly very high over enemy territory to photograph military installations and movement below. Today, such surveillance is routinely and legally conducted by satellite, but in the 1950s, it required the use of airplanes flying over enemy territory, a violation of that country's air space. It was hoped the planes would go unnoticed at their high altitude, but one such flight turned into a major international incident when American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down while conducting a mission over territory of the Soviet Union.

In the late 1960s, Dr. Baker was called upon for assistance by Dr. Edwin Land, inventor of the “Land Camera,” and founder of the company that produced it, Polaroid. Polaroid cameras produced immediate photographs, using chemicals and paper that produced a finished picture in about a minute. Land's earlier cameras required opening the camera and removing the film, but Land wanted a camera that could be folded up, and when opened and used, spit out a finished photograph. However, the process of being able to fold the camera required a complex series of lenses and mirrors to focus the image on the film as well as provide the user with a viewfinder. Land felt Dr. Baker was the man who could accomplish this feat. The result was the model SX-70, an enormously popular design that survived until digital photography effectively made it obsolete.

James Gilbert Baker lived until 2005, when he died at the age of 90. Baker possessed a working library, with a focus on optics, astronomy, and physics. Nevertheless, there are some surprises that evidently interested the scientist, such as David Chandler's Campaigns of Napoleon. The Mind and Method of History's Greatest Soldier. Perhaps genius appreciates genius. Parts of that library are now being sold to the public. Eveleigh Books & Stamps of Dover, Massachusetts, has issued a catalogue of The James Gilbert Baker Collection. It contains 181 books from his library.

Among the items in the collection is Baker's copy of Theodore Dunham Jr.’s Report on Quantitative Studies and Observations of Factors Limiting Resolution of Aerial Photographs, Parts II and III. Dunham was an astrophysicist who, like Baker, spent time at Harvard and is best known as the man who discovered that the atmosphere of Venus was not like that of earth, primarily composed of carbon dioxide. The discovery dashed hopes that the cloudy planet was inhabitable. This work includes documents that at one time were strictly classified. Many of the books in the collection are signed by James G. Baker.

For a catalogue listing of the Baker Collection, you may contact Eveleigh Books at 508-785-0931 or estein300@aol.com. Their website is found at www.eveleighbooks.com.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
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    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Pilgrim Press.- Dod (John). <i>A plaine and familiar exposition of the tenne commandements ...,</i> [Leiden], [William Brewster], 1617. £15,000 to £20,000
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    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Automaton Chess Player & Mechanical Illusion.- Reynell (H., printer). “The Famous Chess-Player, No.14, St.James's-Street, next Brooks's,” broadside advertisement for "The famous Automaton", [1784]. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Clemens (Samuel Langhorne). <i>Life on the Mississippi,</i> first English edition, signed presentation inscription from the author, 1883. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Arctic Sledge Flag.- Fulford (Reginald Baldwin). Sledge flag... HMS Discovery, 1875. £4,000 to £6,000
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    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Piranesi (Giovanni Battista). <i>Le Antichità Romane,</i> 4 vol., 1756. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, called). <i>Urbis Venetiarum Prospectus Celebriores,</i> 3 parts in 1, Richard Ford's copy, Venice, Giovanni Battista Pasquali, 1751. £10,000 to £15,000
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    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Anatomical illustration.- Aselli (Gaspare). <i>De lactibus sive lacteis venis... dissertatio,</i> first edition, Milan, Giovanni Battista Bidelli, 1627. £20,000 to £30,000
  • <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Rowling (J.K.) <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,</i> FIRST EDITION, first issue, 8vo, 1997. £15,000 to £20,000
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    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
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    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Manson (John). Twelve by Sixteen Papers of John Mason, a collection of 50 sheets of paper, some watermarked, 12 x 16”, c.1978. £800 to £1,200
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    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Eliot (T.S.) <i>Four Quartets,</i> NUMBER 121 of 290 COPIES, signed by author, 1960. £400 to £600

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