For many collectors antique medical books provide a glimpse into a time when little was known about how the human body worked and the illnesses it contracted.
The Oldest Medical Book
When you think of the oldest medical book, what comes to your mind? Perhaps you thought of an early medical text from the 1920s or a book written during the Civil War. Or did you think of medical books from the American Revolution or the days of Christopher Columbus?
It may be surprising to learn that the oldest preserved medical text, the Papyrus Ebers, dates from approximately 1550 BC, during the time of the ancient Egyptians. The scroll, containing 110 pages, includes 700 remedies and formulas, chapters on many aspects of the human body and a description of the circulatory system that is fairly accurate. Some historians believe the Papyrus Ebers may actually be a copy of the works of Thoth, said to be the father of Egyptian medicine, alchemy and pharmacy, dating from 3,000BC.
Although collectors of antique medical texts cannot find works such as the Papyrus Ebers to add to their collections, there are many medical books ranging in value from several dollars to tens of thousands of dollars available to collectors.
One of the most well known antique medical books is the classic Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body written by Dr. Henry Gray and Dr. Henry Vandyke Carter. Originally published in England in 1858, under the title Gray's Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical, the medical text has been expanded, edited and revised many times over the years resulting in 40 editions.
Copies of this antique text range in value based on the edition of the book, and its condition. For example, the following volumes listed on Abe Books include:
- Two 1st editions published in London in 1858 are offered from B & L Rootenberg Rare Books for $16,500 and $13,800.
- An 1858 English hardcover 1st edition listed by R. Mahlon Jones in Evanston, Illinois, has a selling price of $9,500.
- A hardcover 1st American edition from 1859 with calf leather binding in fair condition with a selling price of $1500 from New Boston Fine and Rare Books
- A hardcover revised edition from 1974 in near very good condition has a selling price of $6.80 offered from the Book Faire.
Medical Books from Years Past
Throughout the centuries there have been many medical books written that are highly sought after by collectors. While many of these antiquarian works are very rare, there are also many that are more easily located. The following books are from the Antiquarian and Rare Books - Rare Medical Books section of Biblio.com
- Principles and Practice of Medicine Designed for the Use of Practitioners and Students of Medicine by William Osler, 1st edition 1st printing 1892
- The Natural History of the Human Teeth: Explaining Their Structure, Use, Formation, Growth, and Diseases Bound Together with A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of the Teeth, Intended as a Supplement to the Natural History of Those Parts by John Hunter 1st edition 1771
- A Discourse Upon some Late Improvements of the Means for Preserving the Health of Mariners by James Cook - 1776
- Psychosocial Factors in Relation to the Onset of Myocardial Infarction and to Some Metabolic Variables - A Pilot Study by Tores Theorell 1st edition 1970
- Text-Book of Physiology by Michael Foster 1st printing 1st edition - 1877
- Mental Maladies: A Treatise on Insanity by Jean Esquirol 1st edition (France) 1838
Antique Medical Book Resources
- Old South Books specializing in old and rare medical books
- Abe Books
- Tom Folio
- The website of Dr. Michael Echols, American Civil War Medical and Surgical Antiques includes an extensive section on Civil War medical books and surgical manuals. The entire website consists of more than 900 pages, including 9,862 photos, and is a work in progress.
Antique medical books provide us with the knowledge of how much progress doctors, researchers and scientists have made through the years as they continue to investigate and refine their understanding and treatment of the human body.