Gilt by Association

Charles II touchpiece

A Celebration of Medical History

Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine


Just what makes something rare? While medical books or letters or instruments may be intrinsically interesting, offer historical insight, or fascinate simply by virtue of their age or scarcity, these items all acquire an added luster when we know where they came from and who owned them, used them, or even just touched them. This added dimension, or association value, can transform even the most mundane item into an object of unparalleled rarity and distinction. The Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine houses one of the world’s largest collections of books, manuscripts, prints and photographs, artwork, artifacts, and museum specimens documenting the history of medicine from the Middle Ages to the present day. This exhibit, Gilt by Association, commemorates the drama and richness of medical history and allows the public a glimpse of extraordinary treasures associated with some of the most renowned figures and events in medicine. From Presidents in the White House to the Czars of Russia in the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg, Gilt by Association celebrates 800 years of milestones in the history of medicine through the rich and varied collections at the Countway Library of Medicine.


Stuart and Stuart Pretender touchpieces

Touchpieces, 17th-18th centuries

Since the days of Edward the Confessor, the power to cure scrofula or "king’s evil" was thought to be found in the hands of royalty. Those touched by a king were given a medal of gold or silver—the touchpiece—to wear around the neck. The obverse of each shows a ship under sail; the reverse depicts St. Michael the Archangel slaying a dragon.

Here on the left are examples of touchpieces from three English sovereigns—Charles II, James II, and Anne, the last monarch to touch for scrofula. The Stuart Pretenders continued the practice of touching, probably as a means of conferring legitimacy to rule. Touchpieces from James III and his sons Charles III and Henry IX, the Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati, are on the right.

From the Storer Memorial Collection of Medical Medals

Gift of Dr. Horatio R. Storer to the Boston Medical Library in memory of Dr. David Humphreys Storer, 1900

Henry VIII and the Barbers and Surgeons of London


Henry VIII in 1540 Handing to Thomas Vicary the Act of Union between the Barbers and Surgeons of London
(London : Bernard Baron, 1736)

This engraving, taken from an original painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, court painter to King Henry VIII, depicts the formation of the Company of Barber-Surgeons by an Act of Parliament in 1540. As they grew more powerful and influential, the surgeons withdrew to form their own independent organization in 1745 and were later chartered as the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Gift of Dr. Moses Lurie to the Boston Medical Library, 1961



De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564)
De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem
(Basileae : ex officina Ioannis Oporini, 1543)

One of the most renowned and beautiful of all medical books, Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica revolutionized the teaching of anatomy. Andreas Vesalius, a Flemish anatomist, believed that the body could only properly be examined through dissection and promoted the study of human anatomy in a series of layers—from the bones of the skeleton, through the muscles, blood vessels, and nervous system, to the organs and, finally, the brain. This series of layers is examined systematically in the text of the seven books of the Fabrica.

This first edition of the Fabrica is one of four copies held by the Countway Library. Prominent neurologist and historian, Henry Rouse Viets (1890-1969) credited his first sight of this particular copy—opened by Dr. Harvey Cushing "as gently as an obstetrician with a new-born babe"—with inspiring his interest in the history of medicine.

Gift of Sir William Osler to the Boston Medical Library, 1904




Nathaniel Hodges (1629-1688)
Loimologia, sive, Pestis Nuperae apud Populum Londinensem Grassantis Narratio Historica
(Londini : Typis Gul. Godbid, sumptibus Josephi Nevill, 1672)

The Loimologia recounts the observations and experiences of Nathaniel Hodges during the outbreak of plague in London in 1665 and includes statistical data on the victims in each parish. This copy was formerly in the library of King Charles II of England.

Gift of Mrs. Fritz B. Talbot to the Boston Medical Library, 1965




Royal bindingWilliam Brodum
A Medical Essay on the Nature, Cause, and Cure of Coughs
(London : Printed for the Author and Published by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1814)

William Brodum dedicated his treatise on coughs to the Prince Regent of England, and this is a presentation copy. The English Regency was declared in 1811 when the insanity of King George III progressed beyond the point of his ability to rule effectively. The Prince Regent was crowned King George IV after his father’s death in 1820.

Gift of Professor E. W. Gurney to the Harvard College Library, 1907, and transferred to the Harvard Medical Library, 1915


William Heberden (1767-1845)
Autograph Letter Signed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, September 12, 1811

The younger William Heberden was physician extraordinary to King George III and treated him during his bouts of madness and final illness. In this letter, Heberden describes the state of the king’s health and mind during the summer of 1811, just before the beginning of the Regency.

Gift of Reginald Heberden to the Harvard Medical Library, 1964

Silhouette of William HeberdenWilliam Heberden (1710-1801)
Commentarii de Morborum Historia et Curatione
(London : Veneunt apud T. Payne, typis mandavit S. Hamilton, 1802)

Based on cases seen over a long career, the Commentaries on the History and Cure of Diseases appeared just after William Heberden’s death and was edited by his son. The work is dedicated to King George III. This copy, from the Heberdens’ personal library, contains a silhouette of the elder William Heberden at his desk.

Gift of Reginald Heberden to the Harvard Medical Library, 1964


Hodgkin's disease tissue sampleThomas Hodgkin (1798-1866)
On Some Morbid Appearances of the Absorbent Glands and Spleen
(London : G. Woodfall, 1832)

Case II in this short work by Thomas Hodgkin is the classic description of lymphadenoma, later termed Hodgkin’s disease; it originally appeared in the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions. Hodgkin inscribed and presented this copy of the reprint in pamphlet form to Dr. James Jackson of Boston.

Deposited in the Boston Medical Library by the Boston Public Library, 1904

Microscopic Tissue Preparation

In the 1920s, Philadelphia pathologist Herbert Fox associated Specimen No. 1523 in Guy’s Hospital Museum in London with Thomas Hodgkin’s original case report of Ellenborough King. Fox had this preparation made from the specimen for microscopic analysis and reported, "The general picture of Hodgkin’s disease histology is readily recognized, the cell structure well preserved and the nuclei well brought out…. The loss of node architecture, the fibrosis as a reticular overgrowth, the scattered presence of the large endothelioid cells and of occasional Reed giant cells can clearly be followed." The color scan here accompanying the slide was made in 2002, and some of the characteristic binucleate Reed-Sternberg cells are visible.

Gift of Geneva Daland to the Harvard Medical School, 1955

Florence NightingaleFlorence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Notes on Hospitals

(London : Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1863)

Florence Nightingale’s study of the conditions and defects of hospitals opens with the provocative line, "It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a Hospital that it should do the sick no harm." She inscribed this copy of the third edition of her Notes on Hospitals "from a fellow-worker" to Dr. Valentine Mott Francis in 1863. Dr. Francis (1834-1907) had written on the same subject for his medical degree at the University of New York and then expanded and published the work as A Thesis on Hospital Hygiene in 1859.

Purchased for the Boston Medical Library, 1928


Ralph Waldo Emerson's dentures

Superior Rubber Denture, circa 1870

These upper dentures were worn by philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).

Gift of Dr. Adelbert Fernald to the Harvard Dental Museum, 1914




Henry James letterHenry James (1843-1916)
Autograph Letter Signed
: London, England, to Dr. James Jackson Putnam, Boston, Massachusetts,
January 4, 1912

During an extended visit to the United States in 1910 and 1911, author and Cambridge native Henry James sought the advice of physicians Joseph Collins and James Jackson Putnam for methods of losing weight and also the treatment of his "evil times"—what possibly now would be diagnosed as depression—following the death of his brother, William.

In this letter, written in the wordy and elliptical style characteristic of the author of The Golden Bowl and The Ambassadors, James describes his dissatisfaction with the recommendations of Dr. Collins and his physical and mental improvement following the treatment prescribed by Dr. Putnam and a return to London life.

Gift of Dr. Marian C. Putnam to the Harvard Medical Library, 1967


Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)
Memorandum for Dr. Lovett
: typescript, April 1923]

Roosevelt on his houseboat

Orthopedic surgeon Robert Williamson Lovett (1859-1924) consulted and examined FDR after he had contracted polio and become partially paralyzed during the summer of 1921. Two years later, Roosevelt constructed this memo for Lovett, describing his means of maneuvering around a houseboat during a fishing trip in Florida, hoping it might prove helpful to other patients.

Gift of Dr. A. H. Brewster to the Boston Medical Library, circa 1960

Banting and Best experimentSir Frederick Grant Banting (1891-1941) and Charles Herbert Best (1899-1978)
Laboratory Notes
: manuscript, August 7, 1921

During the summer of 1921, hoping to bring relief to patients afflicted with diabetes mellitus, Canadian surgeon Frederick Banting and his research assistant, Charles Best, began to experiment with ligating the pancreatic ducts of dogs to isolate a hypothetical internal secretion which allows the body to metabolize carbohydrates and regulate the level of sugar in the blood. In the autumn of that year, Banting and Best managed to keep a diabetic dog, Marjorie, alive for seventy days with their pancreatic extract. By 1923, Eli Lilly and Company began commercial production of a purified version of the extract—called "Insulin" from the Latin word insula for "island" since the extract was produced in the pancreatic islets of Langerhans—allowing patients a viable therapy to keep diabetes under control for the first time.

This leaf from the joint notebook kept by Banting and Best during 1921 chronicles a key experiment on Dog No. 408, showing the drop in the level of blood sugar after the hourly administration of Isletin, the original working name for the extract, coined by the scientists a few days earlier.

Gift of Drs. Banting and Best to the Harvard Medical Library, 1927

Harvey Cushing (1869-1939)
On Neurohypophysial Mechanisms from a Clinical Standpoint : manuscript, 1930

While on the staff of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital here in Boston, Dr. Harvey Cushing wrote this essay for the 1930 Lister Memorial Lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. This manuscript is the earliest of three separate drafts he donated to Harvard "to represent the evolution of a medical paper from its first thought to the finished article." He continued to revise and correct the essay while sailing to England and even during lunch just before the Lister Lecture. Dr. Cushing’s secretary, Madeline E. Stanton, estimated there were some ten drafts in existence "and if Dr. Cushing hadn’t been pressed for time there might have been half a dozen more. Whether this is due to his peculiarity as a writer or mine as a typist is not wholly clear."

Gift of Dr. Cushing to the Harvard Medical Library, 1930



Hand of Harvey Cushing


Cast of the Hand of Harvey Cushing, 1922

Gift of Dr. Cushing to the Boston Medical Library, circa 1922


Philip Drinker (1893-1972)
Breathing Machine
: manuscript, 1927-1928

Philip Drinker in his respiratorAlthough a pioneer in public health research on the hazards of exposure to lead and dust, Philip Drinker is best remembered for his development of a machine to induce artificial respiration—the Drinker respirator, popularly known as the "Iron Lung"—which helped to save thousands of lives during the polio outbreaks of the 1940s and 50s.

This is Philip Drinker’s notebook chronicling his research with Louis Agassiz Shaw in artificial respiration. In this particular experiment, on September 26, 1927, Professor Drinker first demonstrates the safety and effectiveness of the respirator. He is also the subject of the experiment.

Gift of Dr. Drinker to the Harvard Medical Library, 1954

Penicillium moldPenicillium Notatum, circa 1950

This is a colony of Penicillium notatum, the mold from which penicillin is derived. British biochemist, Alexander Fleming (1881-1955), inadvertently discovered the antibacterial properties of the mold at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, in 1928, when he observed its ability to inhibit the growth of staphylococcus. For his discovery, Fleming shared the 1945 Nobel prize with Howard Walter Florey and Ernst Boris Chain who were responsible for the purification and first clinical trials of penicillin in 1941.

Infections from casualties during World War II prompted the efficient production of this landmark antibiotic into the common drug we know today. This colony of Penicillium notatum was grown in Fleming’s laboratory.

Gift of Dr. Roger I. Lee to the Harvard Medical School, 1952





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