Ciba Review: A Rich Addition to ATHM’s Electronic Database

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

Among other ongoing endeavors, ATHM’s Osborne Library staff works consistently to increase the accessibility of its holdings, slowly and steadily adding records to its electronic database. Currently, librarian Jane Ward is directing efforts to add the records of the Ciba Review, a textile chemical company periodical, to the museum’s online catalogue, the Chace Catalogue. Periodicals, perhaps because they tend to be deemed less unique than other library materials, are often relegated to the back of the line in cataloging efforts. In this case, however, the periodical in question is of such value to researchers that it was not only bumped to the top of the to-do list, but is also being spotlighted in this special series of blog posts.

Although the Company for Chemical Industry Basel (CIBA) may not presently be a familiar name to many, the firm is traceable to a prominent modern-day outfit. CIBA (as the company came to be known), originally founded in 1859 in Basel, Switzerland, started out as a manufacturer of the silk-dyeing chemical fuchsine. In 1971, it became CIBA-Geigy in a merger with J. R. Geigy, Ltd., and in 1996, a merger with Sandoz Laboratories brought the agrochemical and pharmaceutical operations of these companies together under the Novartis umbrella. Today that company’s global research operations division, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One of the many issues of "Ciba Review" to focus on a particular culture or geographical area. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-33-65.

One of the many issues of Ciba Review to focus on a particular culture or geographical area. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-33-65.

Over the course of its existence, CIBA’s focus remained within the textile industry, and the periodical it produced from 1937 to 1971 is a testament to its dedication to the field. The Ciba Review—at first published monthly, but after June 1940, bi-monthly—set out to examine the history of “dyeing, printing, tanning, weaving, etc., and the numerous supplementary crafts connected with the refinement of textile products,” according to the editor’s statement that opens the first issue. Although “general appeal” articles rather than “weighty… erudite treatises” are its stated goal, readers may be surprised by the heft and density of the pieces it contains. For instance, the first of five articles in Ciba Review’s premier issue, “Mediaeval Dyeing,” is titled, “The Sociological Basis of Mediaeval Craftsmanship.” Richly illustrated and with layers of informative detail, the articles are a boon to researchers of textile history. Naturally, the Ciba Review also served as a platform for advertising the company’s patented dyes (“Fast attractive reds on cotton and rayon with Chlorantine Fast Scarlet BNLL”) and as a repository of scientific notes and practical trade tips.

The premiere issue of Ciba Review, published in September 1937. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-36-1.

The premiere issue of Ciba Review, published in September 1937. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-36-1.

Another point of interest is that the periodical is strongly organized by subject, making it a cataloger’s—and researcher’s—dream. Each issue is devoted entirely to the title topic and contains a number of articles touching on it from a different point of view. The range of subjects covered is impressive, including everything from fabrics used throughout the ages (“Fur,” “Velvet”) to categories of garment (“Children’s Dress,” “Gloves”) to examinations of textile making in a variety of world cultures throughout history (“Pile Carpets of the Ancient Orient,” “Bark Fabrics of the South Seas”). Later issues began to focus more on the technical and chemical processes of the textile industry and less on historical subjects.


Beyond the techniques of dyeing and weaving, Ciba Review studied subject matter in textile art as well. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-33-30.

There are now 170 separate issues of Ciba Review available in the online catalog, with approximately 40 still to come. In an effort to share a small sample of this incredible wealth of textile history information with our readers, we’ll take a closer look at a select number of articles in two upcoming blog posts. We think you’ll agree that the Ciba Review is a bountiful resource for those interested in the history and evolution of textile manufacturing around the world.

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