mounted on paper under glass (50mm. diameter) sealed with fabric tape with a note in blue ink ("P. Notatum 7 days modified Czapek Dox") and a further note ("C E Coulthard Alexander Fleming") in a different hand on the reverse
[together with:] a letter signed by Fleming to C.E. Coulthard agreeing to sponsor his application to the Royal Society of Medicine, 1 page, 8vo, 25 October 1945, 18 other letters to Coulthard and related documents concerning his work during World War I in bacteriological laboratories in Alexandria and elsewhere, and subsequent work for Boots, and also 7 letters and documents relating to other members of the Coulthard family, all mounted on loose pages from an album
[also with:] C.E. Coulthard, "Notes on the History of the Bacteriological Laboratories and other Departments of Boots Pure Drug Co. Ltd with special reference to the Research and Fine Chemical Departments Reminiscences of Retail and Army (1915-1919) Experiences", undated [c.1955] mimeograph typescript in green cloth
An early sample of the penicillin mould with excellent provenance, presented by Fleming to C.E. Coulthard, a fellow bacteriologist who worked closely with him from the 1930s on the development of antibiotics. Coulthard worked in the Nottingham based Bacteriological Laboratories of the Boots Pure Drug Company. In his History of the Laboratory Coulthard recounts his introduction to penicillin: "In the early 1930's Professor Fleming gave me a culture of Penicillium Notatum (suggesting that I might be able to get our chemists working on it) to see if it would inhibit the growth of a bacterial contamination in cultures of our amoebae." Coulthard paid a number of visits to Fleming's laboratory at St Mary's Hospital in London and recalls, alongside their scientific conversation, his fascination with aesthetically pleasing slides made with pigment producing bacteria and how his desk "was always crammed with all sorts of things, cultures, specimens, and so on". Coulthard notes that Fleming gave him this "watch glass preparation of his Penicillium notatum" as a personal memento on one such visit to St Mary's, probably on the same occasion that he "showed me a very beautiful slide of Penicillium conidiophores stained by Nigrosin". This is a very early instance of Fleming making a gift of a specimen of the mould: almost all other examples date from the period of Fleming's late fame in the 40s and 50s.
Although Fleming had discovered penicillin in 1928, it was not until Florey and Chain's experiments of 1940 that the scope of its antibiotic properties began to be recognised. Coulthard's lab was engaged in parallel research on Penicillium notatum throughout this period (see also next lot) and their work resulted in the development of a related antibiotic, Notatin, that they hoped would have clinical uses. Coulthard took part in meetings to discuss the feasibility of the industrial production of penicillin (and other antibiotics) in Britain during World War II, but although Boots was willing to invest in developing deep culture facilities the government decided the necessary quantities of stainless steel could not be spared. Coulthard was closely involved in the early development of penicillin and this specimen is therefore an exceptional relic of the breakthrough period in the history of antibiotics.
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