Cincy Obscura: The Oesper Collection

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Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

It started when William Jensen, Ph.D., was in high school in the 1960s. A teacher noted his nascent home chemistry work and gifted him antique cork bottles and chemistry equipment that had lingered in an 1898 campus building. Add to that pieces of apparatus he picked up while in graduate school, and you have one segment of the Oesper Collection housed in the University of Cincinnati’s Rieveschl Hall, where Jensen arrived in 1986.

There are spectroscopes, chemical balances, Edison batteries, and molecular models, plus multiple stockrooms beyond. See also: photographs and prints, like one signed by Marie Curie on a visit to UC, and books and journals dating back to the late 1500s.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

But perhaps the most compelling is the reconstructed circa-1900 laboratory, with no detail overlooked: shelves of original chemicals (that was an adventure with fire/safety approval, says Jensen); charts and ledgers; glassware and tubing and burners and pipettes—even period fire extinguishers.

But, says Jensen, “It would not be possible to assemble this museum today. Many schools are aware of the value of this stuff; it’s not like it was when they were more than happy to send me away with the contents of their basement.”

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