Preserving documents of Hermite and Picard IV: other items

[You are currently viewing a post that is part of a series : the story ; Hermite’s 1892 jubilee ; Picard’s youth ; Other items.]

Together with the jubilee papers, there were three other documents (pictures) :

1) a letter in german from Hermann Schwarz, from the 2nd of june 1893, concerning the great gold medal for science awarded to Hermite by the Kaiser Wilhelm II. There’s an hilarious letter of Hermite to Stieltjes from the 17th of may 1893, where he complains that a small 5-franc sized gold medal that didn’t bear his name had been delivered to him without previous notice nor explanations, and that he had been treated like a dog by the emperor (!!), and had written to Schwarz about it.  This explains that, then. (The portfolio that I couldn’t buy, mentionned in the first post, apparently contained the french translation of that Schwarz letter).  The medal itself is unaccounted for…

2) a letter from Matthias Lerch from the 29th of december 1892, which discussed some results, and also contains a nasty anti-semitic statement. (I don’t think that Hermite shared that kind of opinion, it’d be truly disappointing if he did!)

3) the draft of a letter by Hermite from the 15th of june 1893 thanking the king of Greece for…yet another gold medal.

Appart from that, a late twist was that in mid-november a fifth (!) seller came-up in the ebay auctions, this time with some genealogical documents and pictures of Picard (you can see them here), in particular one dating from 1889 upon his election to the Académie des Sciences (aged 33, now that is a moustache…)


and another one from 1939, a couple years before his death. One sees a very large library behind him, probably full of interesting items!


From this seller I finally learned that in the summer of 2014 an old house had been advertised for clearing, and the belongings sold to different people locally.

At this point it is unclear if most of what was sold then has been preserved: it is odd that the documents do not contain any of Picard’s reprints from before 1883, yet he had lots of papers before that.  It is also suspicious that only one Hermite manuscript would be there.  I’m fearing that some of the most interesting items have discreetly made it to specialized resellers and wealthy private collectors.

Obviously, I’m not expecting all of Picard’s library to have been available anyway: he had five children, three of which died around WW1 while the two remaining daughters married physicists Louis Dunoyer de Segonzac and Jean Villey-Desmeserets (who had four children, one of whom had preserved those documents). So Picard’s library has thus probably been split between his pupils and the sons-in-law physicists in the 1940s, and then between the children and grand-children of all of them.  It was already known that the Villey branch had some items, since in 1970 Pierre Dugac had documented part of the correspondance between Hermite and Stieltjes (which, it is mentionned, had later been given to the Archives de l’Académie des Sciences), but what else there were is as yet unsettled.

This little detective story ends here, for now at least, but it’s been exciting. I cannot begin to imagine the thrill that it must be to make an important archeological find, like the wonderful Kasta Tomb, or indeed any other major discovery


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