The roots of many answers to today's questions in clinical medicine can be found in the experiences of the past, whether a 17th century description of
anorexia nervosa or 20th century data concerning the use of penicillin to control rheumatic fever. The Boston Medical Library's
collection of ancient and rare medical literature allows you an unrivaled opportunity to visit medicine's past and present, all
housed in a single location. The chance to locate and examine under one roof a collection of medical literature that ranges from
the Middle Ages to the age of space exploration is equaled by few medical libraries in the world. The rich heritage of medicine
at the Boston Medical Library awaits you.
Thanks to the stewardship of James Reed Chadwick, the physician responsible for the revival of the BML in the 1870's, and
succeeding librarians, the Library now contains an outstanding collection of portraits of famous Massachusetts physicians,
including works by Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin Greenleaf, Rembrandt Peale, and other notable American artists. The Library's
periodical collection, now generally acknowledged as one of the best and most complete in the world, was also created during
Chadwick's tenure and contains medical titles ranging from the earliest 17th century periodicals to issues newly off the
press.The Boston Medical Library's first rare book collection was a collection on the subject of placenta previa donated in 1875
by William Read, a Boston physician. It became the nucleus of the Library's significant collection on obstetrics, one of the most
extensive in the world. In 1888 the Library received Dr. Holmes' collection of 1,200 volumes, including many rare, ancient, and
valuable works in anatomy.
One of the most remarkable of the Library's collection is its holdings of incunabula, the largest collection of rare 15th century
medical printings in any medical library in the world. The Library's Solomon M. Hyams Collection of Hebrew Medical Literature, a
collection of medical Judaica endowed in 1930, allowed the Boston Medical Library to acquire many early Hebrew manuscripts and
books from Europe during the rise of Nazism, when many of them would have otherwise perished. The Boston Medical Library now
preserves 5 percent of all pre-1600 Hebrew manuscripts in America, as well as a fine collection of books and incunabula written
by Jewish physicians or concerning Jewish medicine.
As one of the great treasure houses of the world for old, rare, and historical medical literature, the Boston Medical Library
contains large and significant collections of books, and frequently, manuscripts on almost every medical specialty. The Library's
holdings are especially rich in:
The library's holdings of early English medical literature caused a recent researcher from England
to exclaim, "You have all of the English medical titles I haven't been able to find in
England. Letting a scholar loose in your library is like letting a child loose in a candy store
with a thousand dollar bill!"
- Anatomy, surgery (including an outstanding collection of anatomical atlases and visual
works), artistic anatomy (anatomical texts and atlases intended for the use of artists)
- Plastic surgery, physiology, chemistry, anesthesia, radiology, obstetrics and gynecology,
neurology and psychiatry
- Herbals and medical botany, as well as pharmacy and materia medica
- Dentistry, and
- 15th - 19th century European books, English medical literature of all ages, and medical
books issued in America between 1668 and 1870.
The Boston Medical Library also houses:
- One of the largest collections of medically related manuscripts in America used by
- The Storer Collection of Medical Numismatics, the world's largest assemblage of medical
coins, medals, and similar artifacts
- A choice collection of early instruments and other medical artifacts
- A significant collection of medical portraits and iconography,
including approximately 80,000 portraits, photographs and prints of
physicians and medical scientists of all ages, plus medical scenes,
antique medical prints, and medical caricatures and satires.
Special thanks to Richard J. Wolfe, M.L.S., A.B.
Former Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Countway Library, & Joseph
Garland Librarian, Emeritus of the Boston Medical Library, for original
THE MEDICAL REPOSITORY published by Samuel Latham Mitchell in 1797 is considered to be the first periodical in the United States with
medicine as its central theme. It provided the American physician with the first regular publication of medical news.
A chloroform inhaler illustrated in John Snow's ON CHLOROFORM AND OTHER ANAESTHETICS (1858). Snow, the first specialist in
anaesthesiology, delivered Queen Victoria of two children with the aid of chloroform in 1853 and 1857.
This image shows the valves in the veins of the arm as depicted in William Harvey's DE MOTU CORDIS (1628). Harvey pointed the way to the
reform of physiology and medicine by describing the functions of the heart and blood vessels.
Hippocrates, who flourished during the 4th century BC, is shown on a bronze medal in the Storer collection. Hippocrates is
credited with bringing the concepts of scientific spirit and ethical ideals to Greek medicine and this to Western medicine. Also
depicted on this coin is the staff of Aesculapius, a rod entwined by a snake. the staff frequently appeared in ancient
representations of Aesculapius, the god of medicine. It is still considered the symbol of medicine and is currently used as the
official emblem of the American Medical Association.