1st Edition. FIRST EDITIONS OF TWO LANDMARK WORKS IN THE DISCOVERY OF PHOTOSYNTHESIS. Priestley’s 1772 paper reveals that plants produce and absorb oxygen from the atmosphere. Offered with Priestley’s discovery is the work that built upon it, Ingen-Housz’s 1779 volume presenting his discovery of photosynthesis – in short, how plants turn light into energy.
In the early 1770’s, Priestley “conducted a series of experiments that led to the discovery of the intimate relationship between plant and animal life. In his principal experiment, Priestley placed a mouse within a sealed jar and observed it to eventually perish. When repeated with sprigs of mint within the jar, neither did the animal die ‘nor was it at all inconvenient to a mouse’. He had made the breakthrough that plants produce a substance which is life-giving to animals and then went on to describe ‘dephlogisticated air’” (Martin, Priestley’s Bell Jar, Extreme Physiology, 1, 2012).
Priestley’s paper presented a wealth of other achievements, but relevant here, “the most surprising of these ... was the discovery of the 'restoration' of air by vegetation” Priestley, 166).
But Priestley “had not yet recognized the agency of light in the process; he didn’t understand that plants used the 'fixed air' in the atmosphere in a complex process of photosynthesis” (Schofield, The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley).
One year prior to publication, however, Priestley met privately with Jan Ingen-Housz who at the very least was inspired by Priestley’s discovery that plants produce and absorb oxygen from the atmosphere. “There is no evidence that Ingen-Housz had worked on photosynthesis previously”… but after meeting with Priestley, he began to conduct his own experiments on plant physiology (DSB). Seven years after their meeting and in the second work here offered), Ingen-Housz’s own experiments present his discovery of the mechanism of photosynthesis.
Ingen-Housz’s experiments revealed to him that green plants released bubbles of oxygen in the presence of sunlight, but the bubbles stopped when it was dark—at that point, plants began to emit some carbon dioxide. He had established that “only the green parts of a plant can 'restore' the air, that they do this only when illuminated by sunlight, and that the active part of the sun's radiation is in the visible light and not in the heat radiation.
“In addition, [Ingen-Housz] found that plants, like animals, exhibit respiration, that respiration continues day and night, and that all parts of the plant - green as well as nongreen, flowers and fruits as well as roots - take part in the process" (ibid). Further, he found that plants give off far more oxygen than carbon dioxide, thus identifying the benefits of having greenery around to purify the air" (DSB)
ALSO: It should be noted that Priestley’s paper also details the discovery of gases and “so many chemical discoveries [that it] contributed to the ‘chemical revolution’” and foreshadowed the discovery of oxygen in that”(PMM). Item #1584
DETAILS: Two first editions. 1772 Philosophical Transactions (London: Lockyer Davis, printer to the Royal Society) WITH 1779 Experiments Upon Vegetables (P. Elmsly and H. Payne). The Priestley an extract inclusive of the original wide margins and folding plate. It is tightly bound in maroon cloth in fine condition, as is the interior. The Ingen-Housz volume is solidly bound in contemporary boards with some scuffing at the edge tips; text block dyed with red speckles. The interior includes early ownership signature on the ffp and a private armorial bookplate on front pastedown; five numbers are lightly stamped on the title page and appear related to the early owner’s collection. Bright and clean throughout and inclusive of the folding plate depicting Ingen-Housz’s experimental apparatus. Very good condition.