The story of an article search


When I finally got hold of Mulder's book, I found he had been prompted to investigate green flashes by an account of one published in the German popular-science journal Kosmos in December, 1912. The crucial report was by “Wharf-Inspector A. Welznig” — a strange and distinctive name — and it was followed, in 1913, by reports from other readers. Of course, I was eager to get hold of these and read them for myself.

The 1912 report was not difficult to obtain through Inter-Library Loan (without those helpful souls, I would never have been able to undertake this work myself), for Mulder cited chapter and verse — or rather, volume and page number. But the 1913 reference was more cryptic. On p. 3 of Mulder's book, footnote 2 gives it as “Abth. Wandern und Reisen” and the issue (Dec. 1913), but no page number. Well, “Abth.” is obviously short for Abtheilung (“Department” or “Section”); so the obvious thing to do is get hold of the index for the 1913 volume and find the pages where this department appears. I did; but it doesn't. There's no reference to such a department.

Well, that probably means there is an error in the citation, right? Maybe Mulder mis-printed the year. A good guess is that the 3 should be a 5; so I got the index for 1915. Nothing. How about 1914? Still nothing.

Asking for help

At this point, without a file of Kosmos to leaf through, I needed help. The obvious first thing to do was to see if the magazine still existed. It did! Kosmos even had a Web page. And a Web page usually has an email address. So I wrote to ask if someone could check into their file of back issues and locate this mysterious green-flash reference for me.

I got a very nice reply from Brigitte Hofmann, who kindly supplied copies of several other articles Kosmos had published about green flashes over the years. But, to my surprise, she couldn't find the mysterious “Wandern und Reisen” section in 1913.

What's going on here? Clearly the article exists; Mulder refers to it several times. On p. 4, and again on pp. 95–96, he quotes a paragraph from it. But, if it exists, why isn't it in the Kosmos back-issue files?

Asking for more help

Obviously, if the article somehow has escaped from the magazine's official files, the thing to do is go to some other library that might have a complete set of back issues. Some place like the Library of Congress.

Now, if you search the L.C.'s Web pages, eventually you may find some discouraging statements pointing out that the Library is there to serve Congress, not you. But you will also find that they just might, if they have some spare time, and if you can convince them you have already tried everything else that seems reasonable, and if you ask very nicely — they just might be willing to give you a hand.

Well, I was desperate. So I asked.

Some time later, to my surprise and delight, there showed up in the mail a couple of photocopies of the title page of the 1913 volume of Kosmos — and the mysterious “Wandern und Reisen” section! And, at the very bottom of the title page, so close to the edge of the paper that it missed being cut off in the bindery by only a fraction of a millimeter, is the solution to the mystery. In small (about 5 pt.) blackletter type is the warning:

Notiz für den Buchbinder: Es sind nur die  f o r t l a u f e n d  (arabisch)  p a g i n i e r t e n  Seiten auf  w e i ß e m  Papier einzubinden

or, if you don't read German:

Notice to the bookbinder: Only the continuously (Arabic) paginated leaves on white paper are to be bound”

So, now we know why the “Wandern und Reisen” section wasn't bound in the volumes kept in the Kosmos editorial office. It was printed on colored paper, so their bindery followed instructions and threw it away! Fortunately for me, the Library of Congress used a binder who couldn't read German, and the colored pages were saved. So I made a copy and sent it to Brigitte Hofmann.

Since then, however, Kosmos has gone through several changes. In 1998, it merged with Natur to become natur&kosmos; as of 2012, it became Natur; and their former Web pages are available only on the Wayback Machine.

But that doesn't answer all my questions!

No, it turns out that while the Wharf-Inspector's name was given as “A. Welznig” in the 1912 issue of Kosmos, it appears as “G. Melzing” in 1913. Well, in the old German script, the capital A and G were pretty much alike; and likewise M and W are rather similar. Evidently, our wharf-inspector had a rather illegible hand, and the editors had a hard time making out his signature.

So, though it has no scientific importance, I'd like to know what his name really was.

And can anyone tell me what a wharf-inspector did?

You see, the questions never come to an end. They just get less and less important, and less and less answerable.

Thanks again to Brigitte Hofmann in the Kosmos editorial offices, and to the kind folks at the Library of Congress who answered my plea for help!

© 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2013 Andrew T. Young

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