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Rare Book Collection:

Trivia & Fun Facts

Oldest Books

From the McGoogan Health Sciences Library Rare Book Collection

De homine

On Man

Published c. 1300s
Albert Magnus


The oldest book in the collection is a handwritten manuscript dating to the 1300s titled De homine by Albertus Magnus or Albert the Great. Later canonized Saint Albert, he was a naturalist and scholar. Approximately 50 copies of De homine were produced during the 14th century. The McGoogan Library’s copy was studied by German scholars during the 1990s. Due to variances in the text, the scholars identified it as one of the copies likely to have been produced by a university scribe. University scribes, charged with distributing knowledge, worked quickly and were less exacting in their transcription than Catholic monks.





From the McGoogan Health Sciences Library Rare Book Collection

Liber phisionomie

The Book of Physiognomy

Published 1495
Michael Scot
(c. 1175-c. 1234)


The collection’s oldest handpress-printed books are Liber phisionomie by Michael Scot and Fasciculus medicinae, which is attributed to Johannes de Ketham. Liber phisionomie deals with the study of physiognomy or the practice of assessing a person’s character from their outer appearance, generally by studying the face. Fasciculus medicinae covers topics such as uroscopy, bloodletting, dissection, and women’s health. Both titles were printed in 1495.





Fasciculus medicinae

Little Bundle of Medicine

Published 1495
Johannes de Ketham
Dates unknown



Largest Books

Two of the largest books in the McGoogan Library’s rare book collection are 17th and 18th century books featuring anatomy. It is not unusual for the size of anatomy books to be large, as many anatomists wanted their illustrations to be as close to life size as possible.  

The anatomy of humane bodies is by William Cowper, published in England in 1698. Cowper’s book plagiarized medical illustrations created by Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo and his artist Gerard de Lairesse. Cowper wrote his own English text and added nine new illustrations. Cowper’s book is 26 inches along the spine and 36 inches across when open.

William Hunter’s Anatomia uteri humani gravidi (Anatomy of the human gravid uterus) published in England in 1774, measures 23.5 inches along the spine and 37 inches across when open. Born in Scotland, Hunter practiced as a male midwife in England. The book was mainly illustrated by the artist Jan van Rymsdyk. It took Hunter nearly 25 years to complete this book.


The anatomy of humane bodies

Published 1698
William Cowper
(c. 1666-1709)

Anatamia uteri humani gravidi

Anatomy of the human gravid uterus

Published 1774
William Hunter
Illustrated by Jan van Rymsdyk
(c. 1730-c. 1790)





Smallest Book

De alimentorum facultatibus libri iii, 1633

Courtesy of the H. Winnett Orr Collection, on loan from the American College of Surgeons

De alimentorum facultatibus libri iii

On the properties of foodstuff

Published 1633
Aelius Galenus (Galen)


One of the smallest-sized books in the library is in the H. Winnett Orr Collection titled De alimentorum facultatibus libri iii (On the properties of foodstuff) by Galen from 1633. The diminutive book, measuring 4 inches along the spine, fits in the palm of the hand. Galen was a second-century Greek physician who practiced in Rome. His medical writings were influential for over a millennium. 





Controversial Books

On the treatment of vesico-vaginal fistula

Published 1852
J. Marion Sims


J. Marion Sims was an American physician who specialized in gynecological surgery. He and his work are controversial due to his unethical methods. He developed a surgical technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, a severe complication of obstructed childbirth. From 1845 to 1849, Sims perfected this surgical technique on enslaved women, who could not decline to receive the operation. Additionally, anesthesia was a new discovery and Sims did not utilize it during his surgeries.  

From the McGoogan Health Sciences Library Rare Book Collection

Topographische anatomie des menschen

Topical anatomy of man

Published 1943
Eduard Pernkopf


Eduard Pernkopf was an Austrian professor of anatomy in Vienna and an ardent supporter of the Nazi party. He led the creation of Topographische anatomie des menschen (Topographical anatomy of man), a comprehensive anatomy atlas that came to be recognized as one of the most detailed and beautiful anatomy works. The earliest editions of the atlas had swastikas in the signatures of the artists. In the late 20th century, it came to light that Pernkopf had used the bodies of executed political prisoners for the dissections utilized to create the illustrations.




Famous Names

The McGoogan Library rare book collection contains titles from some of history’s most famous scientists and philosophers.

From the McGoogan Health Sciences Library Rare Book Collection

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

The historie of life and death: with observations naturall and experimentall for the prolonging of life

Published 1638


Francis Bacon was an English philosopher who developed the scientific method, the skeptical course of action for scientists to approach new ideas. He even developed a book-cataloging system that organized books into history, poetry, and philosophy categories. His book, The historie of life and death, details Bacon’s contemplations on how to live a long life. 



René Descartes (1596-1650)

Tractatus de homine, et de formation foetus
Treatise on the human and the formation of the fetus

Published 1677


René Descartes was a French philosopher and mathematician. His work Tractatus de homine, et de formation foetus (Treatise on the human and the formation of the fetus) was meant to be part two in his writings on “The World.” In this text, Descartes furthered the study of physiology by approaching the human body as a machine. The illustrations for the book were created by several individuals. It was not published during Descartes’ lifetime because he wished to avoid prosecution from religious authorities for possible heretical ideas.




Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726)

Opticks: or, A treatise of the reflections, refractions, inflections and colours of light

Published 1730


Sir Isaac Newton is known for his many contributions to the advancement of science, including his work on optics. In Opticks: or, A treatise of the reflections, refractions, inflections and colours of light, Newton laid out his theory that white light is made up of all colors of visible light. He is one of the first to show a diagram of a prism as a beam expander.



Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

On the origin of species by means of natural selection: or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life

Published 1859


Charles Darwin’s On the origin of species by means of natural selection from 1859 laid the foundation for evolutionary biology. Using evidence he collected on his scientific voyage on the HMS Beagle, 1831 to 1836, Darwin introduced his theory of natural selection.


From the McGoogan Health Sciences Library Rare Book Collection

From the McGoogan Health Sciences Library Rare Book Collection