"Kb1" – that's the Iron Library's call number for the slim volume "Der Kautschuk und seine Quellen" [Natural Rubber and its Sources] published in 1899 by the chemist Dr. Robert Henriques. The number "1" at the end of the call number indicates that we're at the start of something new, in this case the first book in the new subject division "Kb – Prehistory and Early History of Plastics (before 1900)", which is part of the Iron Library's new collection focus "Plastics".
Like metal materials, plastics not only have a history but they also have a prehistory and an early history. Dr. Robert Henriques' 1899 publication "Der Kautschuk und seine Quellen" belongs in this category. The Iron Library has succeeded in purchasing this unassuming but rare volume, which only a very few libraries possess, from an antiquarian bookseller.
The book is the printed version of two lectures that the chemist Robert Henriques had given in 1897 and 1899. In an obituary, it was recalled that in his 1899 lecture Henriques had "captivated his audience with vivid demonstrations of how natural rubber is harvested and [described] the economic prospects of the rubber plantations in new, exotic rubber regions." Natural rubber, which is harvested from the latex of rubber trees, has played an immensely important role since the end of the 19th century as a raw material for tire production. Henriques' book provides an overview of the production of natural rubber in South and Central America, Africa and Asia. The slim volume contains an appendix with "Tables of the most important commercial types of raw rubber" and "Maps with the places of origin and export ports of various types of rubber".
Robert Henriques was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1857. He studied chemistry in Heidelberg, Berlin und Strasbourg, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1881. He then moved to industry and first worked as an assistant chemist in K. Oehler'sche Anilinfabrik in Offenbach, Germany; he later headed the scientific laboratories of Kunheim Chemische Fabriken in Berlin, where the famous Berlin blue dyestuff was manufactured. In 1890 Henriques set up on his own, founding a "commercial laboratory" in Berlin. His main interest as a chemist was in "studying fats, waxes and caoutchouc goods" and the "class of aromatic compounds". Robert Henriques died in Bayreuth in 1902 at the age of 44 "as the result of a brain disorder".
Biographical sources: Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft 35, 1902, pp. 4528-4533; Poggendorff, vol. 4, 1904, p. 617