The Vail Collection is generally described as a library rich in materials on electricity, electrical engineering, magnetism, animal magnetism, and lighter-than-air travel. General scientific landmarks are well represented, too, including Gregor Reisch’s Margarita Philosophica and Otto von Guericke’s Experimenta Nova (which was first published as an appendix to Gaspar Schott’s Mechanica Hydraulico-Pneumatica).
At the same time, the collection includes many materials that are only tangentially related to these core topics. There is a number of books on horology, for example, and hundreds more on the universal expositions that became so popular during the second half of the nineteenth century (George Edward Dering, the creator of the collection, presented some of his inventions at these expositions). Other subject areas defy explanation, simply because we just don’t know enough about George Dering the man to contextualize such interests. The collection contains scores of books on gymnastics and exercise, and the small number of books that happen to contain Dering’s personal inscriptions run the gamut from English poetry to dentistry.