Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2015 Issue

Early Medical Books from James Tait Goodrich

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Medical books and instruments.

James Tait Goodrich Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts has issued Catalogue V-77 MMXV A.D. with a fine collection of medical instruments and ephemera plus books. This catalogue is filled with both scholarly texts and some suitable for laypersons. Of course, even those that were "knowledgeable" at their time may be wanting today. We've come a long way.

 

There are also some fascinating medical instruments from years ago. Those items displayed on the cover are not woodworking tools. Surgery was convenient back then, brought to your home or battlefield. Would you like a trepanning set (or trephanning or maybe just one "n")? You need it like a hole in your head. It's kind of drill, except it's used to literally drill holes in the head. Why? Who knows. Probably to let evil spirits out of crazy people or those who suffered headaches, or maybe just for the fun of it. You can even get a skull with a trephanning tool embedded in it. It came from the collection of the noted neurosurgeon, Dr. Albert Rhoton. I will think twice before seeking his services.

 

There is an almost 20" long walrus penis bone that was used by Eskimos as a club. Or how about a collection of a dozen glass eyes? Here's looking at you. And now, for some books.

 

If you would like to learn more about trepanation, or however it is spelled, here is the book: Trepanation History, Discovery, Theory, by Robert Arnott and S. Finger. The book traces a history that goes back thousands of years, though it remains unclear why these ancient people did it. The belief is that it represented medicine, but it also might have been based on magic or religion. Whatever the reason, it was being practiced in ancient times in Europe and South America, though there was no known contact between the two. Along with showing the extent of the practice and possible reasons, the authors discuss the tools that were used. Item 378. Priced at $135.

 

This isn't brain surgery. No wait, it is. Item 46 is the offprint for the journal article Case of Cerebral Tumor. By A. Hughes Bennett... The Surgical Treatment by Rickman J. Godlee, published in 1885. This was the first instance of a diagnosis and removal of a brain tumor. Hopefully they didn't use a trephanning tool. The patient survived for a month. $1,695.

 

Of all the elements of surgery, this one may represent the most important development. Item 51 is Insensibility during Surgical Operations produced by Inhalation, the first separate edition (a reprint from the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal) of the announcement of the discovery of anesthesia. How people endured surgery, or doctors kept them sufficiently immobile to operate, in the days before anesthesia is incomprehensible. What Henry Bigelow had come up with was ether, which put people under during surgery. This printing is undated, but most likely was published in late 1846. $2,500.

 

From what may be the most important medical development of the 19th century we go to what is likely the most significant of the 20th, antibiotics. Item 165 is On the Antibacterial Action of Cultures of a Penicillium with Special Reference to Their Use in the Isolation of B. Influenza. This is an article in a 1929 issue of the British Journal of Experimental Biology. Alexander Fleming was not expecting to find a revolutionary new way of fighting bacteria, nor did he appreciate how monumental was his discovery at the time. He was working on antiseptics, but was a little careless and left one of his petri dishes exposed to outside air. Something in the air killed off a section of his culture, which he then determined was the mold penicillin. While what Fleming had discovered was a cure that would go on to save millions of lives, it was not of much value at the time as it could only be produced in minute quantities. It would not be until the outbreak of World War II, and the desperate need for something to fight infections, that the resources were employed to come up with a way to produce the product in large quantities. $4,750.

 

Here is a book of medical marvels, Physica Curiosa... by P. Gasparis. These creatures are very curiosa. People saw the world, much of which was still unknown, very differently in 1662. Some of the illustrated case studies you will find, Goodrich informs us, are "satyrs, centaurs, marine monsters, cyclops, man with a head on his belly, 2-headed animals, child with arm growing from the neck, craniopagus and ischiopagus twins" (conjoined). Item 346. $1,750.

 

We conclude with the worst disease of them all: The Bibliomania; or Book-Madness; containing some account of the History, symptoms, and Cure of This Fatal Disease... This is the obsessed collector Thomas Frognall Dibdin's contribution to this medical collection. Of course, with two centuries of scientific advances since Dibdin's time, we now know Dibdin was wrong. This disease is incurable. Item 142 includes the first edition and the much expanded two-volume second edition. $1,595.

 

James Tait Goodrich Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts may be reached at 845-359-0242 or James.Goodrich@Einstein.yu.edu.

Rare Book Monthly

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