October 25th, 2010

Anyone remember these?

Caltech Reprint Request Cards

I don’t…they’re reprint-request postcards from the chemical days of yore.  I’m not sure how old the cards are, but maybe we can calculate it:  since they were printed, the Caltech ZIP code has grown from 91109 to 91125.

I think this is how the system worked:  When you published a paper, you would also order reprints (neatly printed copies of the paper) from the publisher to give to colleagues.  If someone wanted to read your paper and didn’t have access to the journal, he would fill out one of these cards and mail it to you, and you’d sent him back a reprint.

Despite the woeful inefficiency of the system relative to today, I suppose it had its charms.  Many professors didn’t wait for requests and would mail unsolicited reprints to colleagues and competitors.  I love coming across these papers, which often have some short note scrawled across the top of the page followed by a signature (e.g., “Dear Harold, It looks like we scooped you again.  All the best, Ernest”).

I’m tempted to send a card to a professor to see if the request is honored.  Any suggestions?

(HT to Larry for the cards.)

10 Responses to “Reprints”

  1. Fleatamer Says:

    I got a few of these (dated 1999×2, 2000 and 2003) when I started out in my academic career, despite it being possible to get pdf downloads and interlibrary loans. Having said that ILLs cost us £10, whereas this is was the cost of a stamp and a card. If I can’t get access to a journal from my library I often have emailed the author and asked for a pdf.

    I had them from Poland, France, Belgium and the USA. I kept them for posterity.

  2. Liberal Chemist Says:

    Oh yes, I remember these. I remember the cold blackness that would fill my head when a couple of these would show up in my mail. When I was “in the game” my majour competitors were all from Germany and as far as I could tell from follow-up conversations at conferences they sent these requests for reprints not out of any lack of ability to acquire a copy of my paper but as a polite way of saying a) you missed my work in this area or b) step aside you are about to be lapped. Yes, once one of these arrived I would huddle with my post-doc, two graduate students and whatever honours students were in the lab and we would wonder what Prof. Dr. Dr. MainGrup and his hoards of mitarbieters were doing. We would then try to figure out what could be immediately published even if it meant going to a second tier journal just so we would at least get some recognition for our blood in the beaker.

  3. Jordan Says:

    I remember them and I’m only a few years older than you. When I was an undergrad, my research supervisor used to get them regularly, mostly from developing countries or the then-newly-liberated Eastern Bloc.

  4. John Spevacek Says:

    I remember them as well, but I’ve also seen the advent of electronic requests from people able to get my email. As was stated above, usually from people outside the US, Europe and ANZ.

  5. CR Says:

    Actually, the author would not order reprints, the journal used to send a certain amount for free to the corresponding author – more could be ordered for a price. I remember publishing not too long ago and getting free reprints, alas, nobody sent me a card requesting one of those reprints…

  6. Chemjobber Says:

    Ah, yes, I forgot (but John reminded me) about the electronic version of this — we’ve gotten requests from Siberia.

  7. wolfie Says:

    You don’t mean this, do you ? What are your articles.

  8. Eric F. Brown Says:

    I published a few papers in the late ’80’s and received a few requests from Eastern Europe. At the time, it was explained to me that photocopy machines were in short supply in that part of the world. One person told me that his visitors from Eastern Europe always needed time at the photocopy machines in order to get the latest articles.

  9. Klaas Says:

    Ah, yes, I remember those cards and I even remember my dad coming home with the first ever photocopy. If you licked the back, it tasted funny.

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