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Philip Mills Arnold Semeiology Collection, Department of Special Collections

Collection Profile

Philip Mills Arnold (1911–1994) began collecting books while a student at Washington University. After receiving his undergraduate degree and a master's degree in chemical engineering, he worked for nearly 40 years at Phillips Petroleum Company, retiring as vice president for research and development in 1976. Throughout his professional career and into retirement, Mr. Arnold continued to develop his remarkable collection of books and manuscripts in the specialized field of semeiology, often called semiotics. He donated his collection to the libraries in 1969, and subsequent purchases were sent directly to the Department of Special Collections. The collection currently numbers some 1,600 items, and new materials are added through a sizeable endowment left to the libraries upon Mr. Arnold's death.

The American philosopher Charles W. Morris has defined semeiology as "a theory of signs in all their forms and manifestations, whether in animals or men, whether normal or pathological, whether linguistic or nonlinguistic, whether personal or social." Signs might include an actor's gestures, a writer's alphabet, a stenographer's notations, or images used to convey ideas or emotions, such as a nation's flag. Mr. Arnold identified important developments in the field of semeiology and collected landmark works in its major areas of enquiry: cryptography, the decipherment of ancient writing systems, languages for the blind and deaf, memory and mnemonics, palaeography, the philosophy of language, shorthand, signs and symbols, telegraphy, and universal writing. Notable among a collection rich in imagery and striking design elements are a rare 1591 broadside illustrating the organization of universal knowledge, and the first printed edition of Rabanus Maurus's magnificent series of pattern poems, De Laudibus Sancte Crucis Opus (1503).

Reflecting Mr. Arnold's interest in the non-verbal aspects of signs and their relationship to written and verbal expression, the collection is especially strong in works that explain a given system's theoretical underpinnings. In a 1989 letter to the department he writes that "in the field of communication for the blind and deaf, I excluded books printed in Braille or other raised letters that do not explain the system used; in shorthand and cryptography I excluded books written by such methods that do not explain the methods." Included, then, are works on cryptography such as Blaise de Vigenère's Traicté des Chiffres (1586) and John Falconer's Cryptomenysis Patefacta (1685), both of which describe methods for conveying concealed messages. In Chironomia: or, The Art of Manuall Rhetorique (1644), the 17th-century physician John Bulwer admonishes speakers against gesturing with the left hand alone, explaining that the right hand is "planted neerer the fountain of the blood. And verily, the Left Hand seemes to be born to an obsequious compliance with the Right."

This emphasis on description and explanation by contemporary theorists makes the Arnold Semeiology Collection particularly valuable for researchers studying semiotics and, more broadly, the history of ideas, philosophy, and human expression. But the collection is equally valuable for practitioners—artists, graphic designers, performers, cryptographers, and others—who seek to inform their work through a greater understanding of the nature of communication in its many forms.

Collection Profile: Erin Davis
Overview: Anne Posega
Illustrations: Mary Butkus

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