Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - August - 2013 Issue

Medical Antiquities from James Tait Goodrich Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts


Medical antiquities and books.

This month we have our first catalogue from James Tait Goodrich Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts. Its title is Catalogue S-74 MMXIII A.D., or Fine Collection of Historical Artifacts, Medical Antiquities and Books. This catalogue is both broad and highly specific. The great majority of the items are books and pamphlets, though related items completely outside the world of works on paper can be found. For example, there are some Roman coins, depicting people or symbols of medicine of the day, and ancient figurines celebrating childbirth to be found. Within the works on paper, science and medicine is the focus, but it is primarily medicine, and within medicine, a notable concentration within the field of neurology and diseases affecting the brain. While some works date as late as the 20th century, the focus is older, often much older, to times when medicine had not yet advanced far beyond what was known by the Greeks and Romans several millennia earlier. We have come a long way. This catalogue is designed for those with an interest in the steps that took us on that journey. These are a few examples.

Charles Bell is noted for his medical research, particularly in the field of neurology, but anatomy as well. He was active during the first four decades of the 19th century. He is credited with distinguishing between sensory and motor nerves, and studied illnesses of the nervous system. It is his name that was used to describe a condition where facial nerves become paralyzed – Bell's Palsy. Item 26 is a first American edition (1833) of a group of his essays that covers most of his observations on the nervous system, including the discovery of Bell's Palsy: The Nervous System of the Human Body. Priced at $795.

Item 27 is a broader based, illustrated work by Charles Bell: Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery, Trepan, Hernia, Amputation, Aneurism, and Lithotomy, published in 1821. This book has been described as “one of the most remarkable illustrated books in the history of surgery,” and “one of the most dramatically and beautifully illustrated works in the entire literature of surgery.” It includes 20 surgical plates, 17 of which are hand colored. The plates were made by Thomas Landseer from drawings Bell had made of operations over the preceding 20 years. $5,500.

Sigmund Freud is known for treatment of psychological ailments, treatment noted more for the use of words than knives. However, his interest in treatment of mental issues arose from his study of the physical parts, the neurological system and the brain. Here we have a look at Freud before he turned entirely to psychoanalysis. Item 121 is Die Infantile Cerebrallahmung, published in 1897, the first and only edition (it was not translated to English until 1968). It provides what is described as “an excellent description of the various forms of cerebral palsy, with precise classification of the different spastic symptoms.” $2,500.

This next work is atypical of this catalogue as it concerns plants, not people: The Anatomy of Plants. With an Idea of a Philosophical History of Plants. Author Nehemiah Grew was an early devotee of the microscope, which he used to examine his philosophical plants. He did study some human anatomy as well. Grew used his microscope to find internal organs in plants, something that most in his generation did not believe plants possessed. He then compared these with the function of organs in animals. As a result, Grew is looked on as one of the pioneers in the field of comparative anatomy, a term which Goodrich informs us is one he introduced. Offered is the uncommon large paper copy of Grew's work. Item 138. $2,500.

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