Spectacular Collection of Rare Medical Books Headed to Auction

As readers of this blog will recall, antiquarian medical books are a particular interest of mine, so it was great fun to browse the catalogue of Bonhams’ upcoming auction of the medical and scientific library of Dr. W. Bruce Fye. (I also listened to an engaging lecture Fye gave last year in which he talks at length about book collecting and bibliomania. He donated about 15,000 volumes to the Mayo Clinic, and still has thousands left to divest.) Next week’s sale will offer up 351 items; there are too many superlatives to feature fully -- Darwin, Descartes, Curie, Cushing, Hooke, Nightingale, Pasteur, Rush -- so I have limited myself to just eight highlights.

Bigelow.pngThe name Henry Bigelow may not ring a bell, and yet, he was the first to describe the use of ether anesthesia in this original Boston Medical and Surgical Journal article “Insensibility During Surgical Operations Produced by Inhalation” (1846). It is estimated at $4,000-6,000.

Gray.pngHenry Gray, on the other hand, is a household name, as in Gray’s Anatomy. What we have here is a c. 1850s letter by Gray asking about a medical course he wished to take. The estimate is $1,000-1,500.

Hope.pngBecause it showcases the beauty of nineteenth-century illustrated medical books, here is a first edition of James Hope’s Principles and Illustrations of Morbid Anatomy (1834), with 260 hand-colored images. It is estimated at $2,000-3,000.

Jenner.pngConsidering the recent measles outbreaks, it seems a good time to recall early vaccination proponent Edward Jenner and his 1798 classic, An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae... which is estimated at $20,000-30,000. The sale also includes a Jenner manuscript letter.

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 9.55.50 AM.pngThere are three lots related to Joseph Lister in the sale. His “Observations on Ligature on the Antiseptic System,” published in the Lancet in 1869, speaks to his pioneering ideas about the application of germ theory to surgery. (A recent biography asserts that Lister “transformed surgery from a butchering art to a modern science.”) It is estimated at $1,500-2,500.

Vesalius.jpgIt would be negligent to skip the high point of the sale: a first edition, association copy of Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica... (1543). To read more about it, click here. It is estimated at $300,000-500,000.

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 10.05.25 AM.pngThe William Osler first editions, presentation copies, and letters caught my attention because, in our current issue, IU Lilly Library’s Joel Silver provides a wonderful Osler overview. This lot, a book titled The Old Humanities and the New Science (1920), is particularly eye-catching, as it pictures Osler examining the 1538 edition of Vesalius’s Epitome. It is estimated at $3,000-4,000.

Baskin.pngIn more modern offerings, don’t miss Leonard Baskin’s stunning folio of illustrations, Ars Anatomica: A Medical Fantasia (1972), estimated at $600-800.

Images via Bonhams

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