2017 Rare Books Highlights

Becker Library’s rare book collections have had an excellent year! Richard Chole, MD, donated his fantastic collection of rare otolaryngology texts earlier this year, and we’ve recently managed to acquire two more noteworthy monographs to complement our existing collections.

The first of these monographs is Guillaume van de Bossche’s “Historia medica, in qua libris IV. Animalium natura, et eorum medical utilitas exacte & luculenter tractantur (The history of medicine in four books in which the nature of animals and their medical uses are described accurately),” published by Joannis Mommarti in Brussels in 1653. This work focuses on medical zoology, meaning the medicinal uses of various animal parts. In early modern medicine, animals were an important source of “material medica.” Animal flesh, blood, organs and virtually every other usable part were used in a variety of remedies.

Van de Bossche’s work is notable for the numerous woodcuts that illustrate each section. These were the creations of Christoffel Jegher, a Flemish woodcutter who worked with the noted Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens. While the majority of the illustrations are fairly simple depictions of the whole animal, a few show the animal’s medicinal uses. The most famous of these illustrations shows a woman applying leeches to herself as a form of bloodletting, one of the most common early modern remedies.

The other new monograph is a German work of popular medicine with an extremely lengthy title that roughly translates to “The Assembled Medicines of Famous Surgeons and Physicians Offered Freely by Christian Samaritans.” It was first published in 1695, but our copy is a later edition published in 1709 in Leipzig by the German printer Thomas Fritschen. This work is an excellent example of the kind of remedy book that would have been kept in literate early modern households. It provides instructions for treating everyday ailments such as nosebleeds, sore throats and headaches by creating simple remedies using household ingredients such as herbs and fruits.

Unlike the vast majority of works in our collections, this one was authored by a woman – the German noblewoman Eleonora Maria Rosalia, Countess of Troppau and Jägerndorf. Women were often in charge of preparing remedies to treat sick members of a household, so it’s not surprising that they would have kept collections of basic recipes such as these. Most of these were probably handwritten manuscript books that have been lost over the ensuing centuries, which has led to the relative scarcity of medical works authored by women.  

We’re excited to have these fascinating works in our collections and look forward to incorporating them into exhibits and student class visits!