Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2020 Issue

Map Collector and Historian Dr. Seymour Schwartz, 92


Dr. Seymour Schwartz (University of Rochester Medical Center photo).

Dr. Seymour Schwartz, age 92, of Rochester, New York, passed on August 28, 2020. Dr. Schwartz was a world-renowned surgeon. He practiced surgery from the 1950s until his retirement at age 72. He is the author of several books on surgery, including the field's bible, known as Schwartz's Principles of Surgery, along with hundreds of scientific articles. He and his wife, also a physician, moved to Rochester in 1953 to complete their residences and never left. On completion, Dr. Schwartz joined the faculty of the University of Rochester Medical Center and was associated with the center until his death.


While Dr. Schwartz's accomplishments in surgery were worthy of great honor, you may be wondering why he is being remembered on a site devoted to books and works on paper. The answer is that he had a second career, or hobby anyway. In 1963, his wife, Ruth, became concerned he was too focused on surgery and little else. She suggested a hobby. Mrs. Schwartz bought he husband a book on maps and something clicked. He became almost as devoted to map collecting and learning as he was to surgery.


At first, Schwartz's map collecting was unfocused. A dealer told him he needed to a develop a focus. In a 1998 interview with Barber Conable, Dr. Schwartz explained, “I sat back and thought about it and I said, well I really enjoy American history, so I'll focus on American maps and with that he offered me the earliest printed map available of the North American continent, which is a 1507 map, and I bought that map and as a collector that sort of was a springboard for continuing the collection.” That collection expanded in the 1970s to include a very rare map drawn by George Washington at the age of 21.


A true collector, Dr. Schwartz never sold any of his maps. However, by the 1980s, he was sufficiently learned in this second career that he began writing books in the field. He authored six books on maps and history. This includes his work as coauthor on one of the definitive works on American maps, The Mapping of America. His work was so respected that he was asked to serve on the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution and the Advisory Board of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress.


Dr. Schwartz earlier donated many of his maps to the University of Virginia and the University of Rochester. He was predeceased by his wife and is survived by three sons.

Rare Book Monthly

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