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I've been taking a fabulous course on rare books through NYU SCPS and the greatest part about it is that each session features a guest lecturer and/or a trip. We have visited the Morgan Library & Museum, Christie's auction house, a rare bookseller's store (thanks for having us, James Cummins Bookseller!), and the New York Academy of Medicine. One of the best aspects of living in NYC is that you are constantly discovering new places and things, whether they are new to the city or just new to you. The latter was the case for me when I 'discovered' the New York Academy of Medicine's Library.

The Academy was founded in 1847 by a group of prominent physicians whose aim was to advance the art and science of medicine, maintain a public medical library, and promote public health and medical education. The NYAM's efforts led to the creation of the city's first sanitation and public health departments and over the years the Academy has become "the vanguard for urban health."

The NYAM's library had already amassed more than 6,000 volumes when it was opened to the general public in 1878 (it was originally intended for fellows of the Academy). Over the years, the library's collection grew, largely through personal and institutional gifts, and historical texts became a central focus. Today, the library's holdings contain 32,000 rare volumes dating from the 15th through 18th centuries, as well as manuscripts, archives, and secondary reference materials about the history of medicine and the history of books and printing. The rare books collection includes 85% of medical-related printed matter produced in North America between the late sixteenth century and early nineteenth century, and is wide in its scope (the library also has an extensive cookbook collection).

Some highlights of the collection include: Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica, the landmark anatomical text; Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus by William Harvey, which was published in 1628 and marks the first explanation for blood circulation in the human body; the first Greek edition of Hippocrates's complete works (Venice, 1526); a set of amputation tools from 1820; a ninth century book of Roman cookery, De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking); and a prototype of George Washington's dentures. Perhaps the most valuable item is the Edwin Smith Papyrus, a text based on material from about 600 BC but written in hieratic script during the sixteenth century BC. The text is about the practical and magical treatment of wounds, and is considered to be one of the world's oldest scientific artifacts.

And that was only a taste of what the NYAM Library has to offer! The best feature, however, is that it is open to the public, so make sure to plan a trip next time you are in Manhattan (Note: visits must be pre-arranged by appointment).

The New York Academy of Medicine
1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street
New York, NY, 10029
Library: 212.822.7313

Medical Manuscripts & More