Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Fighting Smallpox

Open book laid flat, featuring printed text and a handwritten footnote in French.
Traité historique et pratique de l’inoculation, a book written in French and published in 1799. A handwritten footnote is shown on one of the book’s pages.

The authors of the historical and practical treatise on inoculation, Traité historique et pratique de l’inoculation (Paris 1799), were both champions of prophylaxis experimentation with preventive treatments for smallpox. Both were French physicians and military surgeons. Francois Dezoteux (1724-1803) participated in the War of the Austrian Succession. He established a school of military surgery in Paris, served as inspector of military hospitals, and studied the success of the Suttonian method of inoculation in England. Louis Valentin (1758-1829) served as military surgeon on Saint-Domingue (in present-day Haiti), but in 1793 he had to flee to the United States, where he was in charge of treating French sailors in hospitals in Virginia. While there, he gained experience in inoculation against smallpox.

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Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Showing Some Love for Facsimiles

Falk Library has recently acquired facsimiles of two interesting medical manuscripts from the 14th century. Manuscripts, as unique objects, present a collecting challenge to both libraries and their patrons. Unlike books printed in multiple copies, manuscripts can only be in one geographic location—no matter who owns them. It is therefore impossible for other libraries to even dream of having the same manuscript. Since they can be so unreachable, the patrons who want to see and study manuscripts face barriers to access them, as well. Facsimiles—print books that are exact replicas of the originals—give patrons access not only to the intellectual content of the text, but also to the look and feel of the original manuscript. To libraries, facsimiles are a more affordable way of enriching the scope of their collections.

A page of the Chirurgia Albucasis facsimile showing miniature illustrations and gilded initial letters.

Falk Library’s two newest acquisitions are two surgical texts from the Middle Ages: Codex Vindobonensis and Manuscript Sloane.

Codex Vindobonensis SN 2641, Chirurgia Albucasis, the illuminated manuscript held by Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, was created in southern Italy in the second quarter of the 14th century. It was written earlier, in the ninth century, by Abu’l Qasim Halaf ibn Abbas al-Zahrawi (the court physician to the Caliph al-Hakam II), as part of his monumental thirty-volume medical encyclopedia. Only the parts on surgery in Al-Zahrawi’s encyclopedia were translated from Arabic to Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the 12th century. Continue reading

Treasures from the Rare Book Room: A Complete Treatise on Childbirth Well-Valued in 18th-Century France

Guillaume Mauquest de la Motte was a surgeon-accoucheur. Accoucheurs were male surgeons specializing in childbirth, which became fashionable in 17th-century France as an alternative to the tradition of women as birth attendants. In the early 18th century, accoucheurs were at the center of a polemic by physician Philippe Hecquet, who wrote on the indecency of male birthing attendants. Guillaume Mauquest de la Motte, who responded with a defense of accoucheurs, argued that the skills and expertise that accoucheurs have are necessary to save both mother and child. This midwifery debate was more about whether physicians or surgeons are the best medical providers, rather than justifying or challenging the role of midwives. Change was coming. Only seven years later, the first school for surgeons opened in Paris in 1725, and from then on, surgeons’ training began to resemble the training of physicians.

Guillaume Mauquest de la Motte is also the author of one of the best treatises on childbirth (Traité complet des accouchements, 1721), which was also very popular and had multiple editions. Mauquest de La Motte (1655-1737) studied at the Hôtel-Dieu. After obtaining his degree, he returned to his native region of France and established a practice in Valognes in 1701. He became well known and sought after, because he gained a reputation among women for delivering babies safely. He attended to three or four deliveries daily, and he practiced surgery and obstetrics for more than fifty years. The books he published helped solidify his reputation, because his writing was grounded in his extensive experience. Continue reading

Treasures from the Rare Book Room: “The Adventures of Dr. Comicus” and Clues to Identifying Missing Publication Details

“The Adventures of Doctor Comicus or The frolics of fortune; a comic satirical poem for the squeamish & the queer in twelve cantos” was written by A Modern Syntax in the 19th century. It is a satirical poem about the amusing misfortunes of a poor country doctor during his trip to find a wife and to escape life as the all-in-one village barber, doctor, schoolmaster, and sexton. Whether it was a dream or a real escapade, it ended with Doctor Comicus’s sobering observation that,

“Man in his eager haste to seize a bliss,

Which nature never destin’d should be his […]

He dreams of riches, grandeur, and a crown,

He wakes, and finds himself a simple clown.”

The author hiding under A Modern Syntax cleverly tied his pseudonym to the widely popular “Dr. Syntax” books, published between 1815 and 1828, that were written by William Combe and illustrated by famous British cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson. A Modern Syntax took advantage of the popularity that Dr. Syntax had earned as a hero through his peregrinations. At the same time, the original Dr. Syntax story was separated from the parody by using the label “modern.” A Modern Syntax introduced Doctor Comicus as a new hero who reaped the benefits of his predecessor’s fame. It was one of many imitations of Combe’s earlier parody.

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Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Willis and His Seminal Works

Thomas Willis (1621-1675) was a successful English physician, professor of natural sciences at Oxford, and a founding member of the Royal Society. He was an example of a physician who, instead of embracing classical authority, chose to study things based on direct observations. He was also the first to argue that research into the anatomy of the brain was the necessary foundation to speculations about the mind. Falk Library owns his work “Opera Omnia,” published in 1682 in Amsterdam by Henricus Wetstein.

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Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Discovering Unexpected Attributes of Old Books

4 microscope plates with annotationsWhen I selected Alfred Donné’s Cours de microscopie complémentaire des études médicales, anatomie microscopique et physiologie des fluides de l’économie: atlas exécuté d’après nature au microscope-daguerréotype (Paris: J.B. Baillière, 1845) as the next feature for the Treasures from the Rare Book Room series, I was certain it would be solely about the book’s novel illustrations. It turned out that this book has a link to Abraham Lincoln!

When this book appeared in print, the daguerreotype was cutting-edge technology. This was a new process for photographic images and was introduced to the public in 1839. However, French bacteriologist and physician Alfred Donné immediately recognized the usefulness of photography in microscopic observations. In 1840, he produced the first images under the microscope using this technique. Continue reading

Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Dr. Hitchcock’s Teeth Almanac for 1844

Dr. Hitchcock's Teeth Almanac for the 1844, Boston: Saxton, Peirce & Co. William White & HP Lewis, Printers.Today, the almanac is no longer the important and popular resource it once was in most households. It appeared in America at the end of the 17th century and its popularity was second only to the Bible. Almanacs offered lists of current events, advice, and weather prognostics tailored to a specific audience, such as that of the Farmer’s Almanac, and served as a basic home reference, especially for those in isolated households, helping to keep track of passing time. Dr. David Keyes Hitchcock started publishing almanacs annually around 1839, which happened years before printed calendars were invented (1870), and before there were any standards (1883)* by which to set clocks and watches.

Dr. Hitchcock (1813-1895) was a surgeon dentist with a practice in Boston at 98 Court Street. He was the author of Preservation of the Teeth: A Family Guide, published in Boston in 1840. Falk Library has Dr. Hitchcock’s teeth almanacs for the years 1843 and 1844. The first of his dental almanacs includes standard pages with an astronomical calendar and advice on the maintenance of teeth, brushing, filling cavities, considering artificial teeth as a replacement for lost ones, and determining the right time and motives for tooth extraction. Continue reading

Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Medal of Andreas Vesalius

Profile of person on a medalHave you ever looked at the HSLS collection of medical and scientific medals? Numismatic materials, including medals, coins, and tokens are not typical resources in a medical library. The first medals were produced in Italy in the 15th century. They were based on Roman coins, cast in bronze, and usually had portraits of emperors. The earliest medal in our collection is the Caracalla Medal. It was struck in Venice, Italy in 1466. Over the centuries, the techniques changed and new metals were used in production with later medals being cast or struck in silver or gold. By the 19th century, the medallic art became a recognizable new art form taught as a separate subject in art schools. Books and French transcription on a medalMedals, unlike coins, or at times tokens, are not monetary instruments. They are frequently used to commemorate people, events, or things. As a perfect medium, and due to their permanence, they pass along information about past events and man’s achievements to future generations.

The Andreas Vesalius medal, slightly bigger than an American silver dollar, is a typical commemorative medal. Continue reading

Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Strong Together—Delpeuch’s History of Gout

Leather bound book titled La goutte & le rheumatism

The first edition of La goutte & le rheumatism (Paris 1900) at Falk Library is a lovely copy in a very attractive leather binding. Its author, Armand Delpeuch (1856-1901) was a physician at the Tenon and Cochin Hospital in Paris. In 1900, he published an article in La Presse Medicale, describing a new sign of aortic insufficiency, a rhythmic bobbing of the head synchronized to a heartbeat. He proposed to call it “De Musset’s sign,” after French writer Alfred de Musset, who displayed the same characteristic head-shaking. The eponym coined by Delpeuch is used to this day. He also published the history of the gout from antiquity to the end of the 17th century. It was the authoritative source on the history of this disease for more than half a century.

Delpeuch’s book is not very old or rare, nor is it a unique copy. What is so special about it then? It is valuable because of the context in which this book exists. It is a part of our Rodnan Collection. Continue reading

Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Erik H. Erikson’s Manuscript

Historical manuscripts hand-copied by scribes largely disappeared after the invention of the printing press. With the advent of typewriters and computers, modern handwritten texts are also scarce and soon might disappear altogether. Today’s text editors do not offer the same opportunity to study penmanship, deletions, and notations to glimpse a writer’s personality and writing process. Falk Library’s small manuscript collection aims to preserve some handwritten resources to give researchers another angle from which to study the past.

Erik Homberger Erikson (1902-1994), a German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, is famous for his theory of the stages of psychosocial development, and for coining the term “identity crisis.” He never received a formal degree in medicine, but instead studied art, traveled widely in Europe in order to “find himself,” and studied psychoanalysis with Anna Freud in Vienna. He moved to the United States in 1933 and began working as a child psychoanalyst. He held various teaching positions at Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley. While working at the Austen Riggs Center in the 1950s, he was also a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Continue reading

Treasures from the Rare Book Room: The Curious Life of the Medical Battery

Battery in a case with wires

Physicians recognized the therapeutic use of electricity as early as the 1st century AD, centuries before the invention of modern electrotherapeutic devices. Scribonus Largus, the court physician to Roman Emperor Claudius, developed an interesting prescription for gout and headache. The advice was to stand on a torpedo fish, which was thought to deliver a strong electric discharge. The 18th century brought further developments by Luigi Galvani, the discoverer of animal electricity, and Alessandro Volta, inventor of the early electric battery.

Batteries used in electrotherapy evolved dramatically in the 19th century. Early ones used chemical reaction to produce electricity. Wet cells used in these batteries were prone to leakage. The invention of dry cells, in which paste replaced electrolytes, made them more portable. Batteries could provide direct current (galvanic), alternating current (faradic) or both. The variety of available devices made possible the advancement of electrotherapeutics. The widest use of medical batteries occurred between 1870 and 1920. These were considered to be a legitimate medical tool to provide electrical treatments both at home and in the clinic. Medical batteries fell out of favor in the 20th century. Today, when they appear on the antique markets or eBay, they are dubbed as “quack medical devices.” Why is that?

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Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Charles Estienne’s Anatomy Book

French title and description of Estienne anatomy book Charles Estienne (1504-1564) was a contemporary of Andreas Vesalius. He came from a family of Parisian printers and publishers. Estienne studied classical philology at the University of Padua in Italy, and upon his return to France, earned a medical degree at the University of Paris. He practiced medicine and taught anatomy at the Faculté de Médicine (1544-1547). His De dissectione partium corporis humani (1545) is often compared to the famous De humani corporis fabrica by Vesalius (1543). Estienne prepared anatomical drawings with the surgeon and artist Etienne de la Riviére. They partially printed the book in 1541, but its full publication was delayed due to a lawsuit in which both collaborators were involved. Had it appeared as planned, this work may have changed several “firsts” in medical history as claimed by Vesalius. Continue reading

Treasures from the Rare Book Room: The Super Brief History of Bloodletting

Spring lancet: a blade attached to a wire coil for bloodletting
A spring lancet in a box (ca 1870); part of the HSLS collection of bloodletting instruments

Bloodletting is thousands of years old. The therapy was based on Hippocrates’s humours theory. Though controversial from the beginning, it was widely in use by the second century AD. Galen was an avid enthusiast of the therapy. Bloodletting achieved the height of popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its wide acceptance waned in the 19th century, and at the turn of 20th century, was completely rejected as quackery. Bloodletting was often abused as a therapeutic technique for curing every illness. The recent discovery that therapeutic bleeding can be an effective treatment in selected conditions caused by iron overload, has led to the re-evaluation of bloodletting. A technique that was once seen as barbaric and ignorant, now has been revived in some instances.

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Treasures from the Rare Book Room: When the Provenance Matters

Title page of historic book noting its 1654 year of publication Peter Lowe, author of A Discourse of the Whole Art of Chirurgery published in London in 1654, left a significant mark on Scottish medicine by founding the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, reorganizing the practice of medicine in the same city, and then writing a book that made quite a stir. Contrary to the dominating trend at that time to write scientific books in Latin, this book was written in the vernacular and enjoyed great popularity (four editions in the 17th century). However, even more than its importance to 17th century medicine, are the provenance notes added in the 19th century that make the volume in Falk Library’s rare book collection special and unique.

Three prominent 19th century physicians, Sir John Eric Erichsen, Marcus Beck, and Herbert Seager, owned this book in succession. Continue reading