James Tait Goodrich Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts has issued their Catalogue Y-79, featuring the History of Medicine and Science, Pre-Columbian Artifacts, Medical Instruments and Antiques. Offered are just over 500 items, and the great majority are books describing medicine and medical advances over the past several centuries. Since this is a site about collectible books and paper, you will need to get a copy of the catalogue itself to find out more about the Congo baboon skull in a weaved basket, or the walrus penis bone that was used as a club. Instead, we will present a few examples of the printed material to be found in this catalogue.
Speaking of skulls, Armand de Quatrefages and Ernest Hamy conducted an extensive study of them, publishing their theories and numerous illustrations on 100 lithograph plates in 1882 in Crania Ethnica Les Cranes Des Races Humaines. Hamy was a doctor, but joined his mentor, Quatrefages, in a career devoted to anthropology, with a focus on comparative cranial anatomy. They studied ancient and recent skulls, and helped identify Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal men. However, some of their racial theories based on skull shape proved controversial and have since been discarded. Item 436. Priced at $795.
Sometimes science requires us to go to great lengths, even into rather ghoulish behavior. It's all for science. Item 26 is Essai Theorique et Experimental sur Le Galvanisme... by Jean (Giovanni) Aldini, published in 1804. Aldini was the nephew of the noted scientist, Luigi Galvani. Galvani made important discoveries concerning the effect of electricity on the muscles of animals. It is known as "Galvanism." Galvani didn't get everything right, but he devised the experiment you probably undertook in high school biology where an electric current is applied to the legs of a dead frog and it makes the frog's legs kick. Well, Aldini did some of the same sorts of experiments, except he did them on dead humans. Aldani visited England where he performed his demonstrations on the executed body of a criminal. Goodrich informs us he also used to hang around French guillotines to collect decapitated heads for his experiments. He succeeded in getting the body parts to twitch as if they were still alive. Aldini also experimented with running electric currents from ear to ear, through the brain, of mentally ill patients. It was the first attempts at electroshock treatment, though it does not appear it produced much more than pain. $2,500.
Goodrich notes that this article introduced "perhaps the greatest single medical innovation of the 20th century" to the world. I think that may be an understatement as it is hard to think of anything ever of more significance than this one in terms of curing illness. It announces the discovery of the first antibiotic and I can't even imagine how many millions of people have been saved by these since then. Item 197 is On the Antibacterial Action of Cultures of a Penicillium with Special Reference to Their Use in the Isolation of B. Influenza, by Alexander Fleming. It appears in a 1929 issue of the British Journal of Experimental Biology. Fleming actually stumbled onto his monumental discovery. He was looking for a more powerful antiseptic, which he was testing on a culture of staphylococci. However, his environment was not sterile, and some mold came through the window and settled on his culture. Fleming noted that the bacteria was destroyed by the mold. He had discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic. Fleming did not know how to produce the substance in sufficient quantities to be of much practical value, but the urgent need for such a substance in the war a decade later led to intense research that made large scale production possible. $6,750.
Next we have "an American surgical classic." Joseph Pancoast's name was practically synonymous with surgery in 19th century America, particularly in the field of plastic surgery. A physician himself, Pancoast spent most of his career as a department chairman at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. This is his most notable work, A Treatise on Operative Surgery... published in 1844. It went through three editions (this is the first), and is noted for not only its writing but the 486 clear illustrations it provides. They were so good that in some copies, religious purists removed the two plates depicting female genitalia. The book is divided into four sections, covering elementary and minor operations, general operations, special operations, and plastic and subcutaneous operations. Item 410. $1,675.
Kenelm Digby was a man who dabbled in all sorts of fields. At one time he was a privateer, but then became a diplomat, part of the court, philosopher, Catholic apologist (not always the best career in 17th century England). He had no medical training, but that did not stop him from publishing this work – A Late Discourse Made in a Solemne Assembly of Nobles and Learned Men at Montpellier in France, by Sir Kenelme Digby, &c. Touching the Cure of Wounds by the Powder of Sympathy, a second edition from 1658. The powder of sympathy was vitriol (copper sulfate) that had been dissolved in water and recrystalized in the sun. He applied this to the bloody bandage of his secretary who suffered from gangrene. The wound was miraculously healed. This healing was truly miraculous since your assumption, that the the bandage to which the substance was applied was then placed on the wound, is incorrect. In sympathetic medicine, the cure is placed on some related object or cause of the illness, in this case the bandage, but not to the wound itself. Digby was no scientist, but then again, medical science was still quite primitive at the time. Item 168. $795.
James Tait Goodrich Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts may be reached at 845-359-0242 or James.Goodrich@Einstein.yu.edu.