Rare Book Collections

Harvey Cushing is well known as the founder of modern neurosurgery. Much of his energy and time was also devoted to his passion of collecting books and manuscripts. The Cushing Collection, which was bequeathed to Yale along with the collections of John F. Fulton and Arnold Klebs, formed the beginning of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library collections. The Cushing Collection includes over 15,000 volumes and represents one of the greatest collections in the fields of science and medicine ever brought together by a private person.

Cushing was primarily interested in collecting works in the history of anatomy but also collected more broadly acquiring history of surgery, medicine, astronomy, alchemy, herbals, geology, manuscripts and incunabula. Collecting over decades he acquired a vast bibliographic knowledge and compiled a collection that includes the most important and unique books in medicine and science.

[First one on left and continuing around]

Vienna, early 13th century

This manuscript, written on vellum, contains various treatises from Aristotle along with with Compotus and Sphera of Sacrobusco, Theorica Planetarum by Cremonensisan along with several works on the construction of the astrolabe. The treatises, dating between 1291 and 1330, were written by various hands.

Gilbertus Anglicus
Compendium Medicinae
France, early 13th century

Gilbertus Anglicus, or Gilbert the Englishman, lived and taught in France in the first half of the 12th century. Within this manuscript volume he mentions observations about patients encountered as he journeyed with Richard the Lion Hearted during the Crusade, 1190-92.  His Combendium Medicinae enjoyed a long popularity as a well-respected textbook through several centuries. 

Joannes de Ketham
Fasciculus medicinae : with Consilium pro peste evitanda
Venice, 1491

This incunabulum, a book created before the invention of the printing press, is the first illustrated medical book. The topics of the treatises cover a wide spectrum of medieval European medical knowledge and technique, including, uroscopy, astrology, bloodletting, the treatment of wounds, plague, and anatomical dissection

Robert Hooke
Nuremberg, 1687

Hooke invented the compound microscope, one of the best microscopes of its time.  Micrographia, a best seller of its day, is a detailed account of Hooke’s observations along with large copper plate illustrations of insects, sponges, bryozoans, foraminifera, and bird feathers.

Ambroise Pare
Les Oeuvre

Ambroise Paré, (1510-1590) a French surgeon who through his work as a field surgeon revolutionized how wounds were treated. He also invented several surgical instruments.  This book, the 1575 edition of his Oeuvres (Collected Works) is a compendium of his experience and study.

Ambroise Pare
La Maniere de traicter les playes faictes…

This second edition of La Maniere on is Pare’s treatise on the surgery, treatment of wounds, fractures, diseased bone and gangrene.  Harvey Cushing purchased this volume in 1938.  The volume, dedicated to King Henri II, not only contains a letter from Pare to the King but also displays on the title-page the image publicly used by the king in honor of his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.  

Charles Estienne
De dissectione partium corporis humani…
Paris, 1545

This book was completed and was to be released in 1539 but because of a disagreement between Estienne and the artist who created the illustrations the printing of the volume was delayed and not released until 1545, two years after Vesalius Fabrica.

Andreas Vesalius
Humani Corporis Fabrica
Basilae, 1543

Harvey Cushing collected one of the best and most extensive Vesaliana collections in existence which includes many editions of Vesalius’ works along with reprints and forgeries.  Cushing purchased this first edition of the Fabrica in 1905.  It was the first anatomical text he purchased and marked the beginning of his extensive Vesaliana collection. 

Andreas Vesalius was born in Brussels to an accomplished medical family.  He was a professor of anatomy at the University of Padua and was regarded as a master of dissection.  When Vesalius published De humani corporis fabrica at the age of twenty-eight, it became the most influential anatomy atlas ever produced.  The publication of this volume is the date that historians attribute as the birth of modern anatomy. 

Athanasius Kircher
Mundus subterraneus, in XII libros digestus….

Kircher, a 17th century German scholar, published around 40 works, most notably in the fields of geology and medicine.   A scholar with encyclopedic curiosity he focused on studying and understanding natural phenomenon.  This eight hundred-page volume has numerous engravings illustrating his theories on geophysics, earthquakes and volcanoes.  

Nicolaus Copernicus
De revolutionibus orbium caelestium
Nuremberg, 1543

Copernicus agreed to publish his work De revolutionibus… caelestium (On the revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) on his deathbed in 1543, which was the same year that Vesalius published the Fabrica.   These two books together are credited with beginning the scientific revolution. 

Cushing purchased this first edition in 1924.  He did extensive research of his own corresponding at length with Harvard librarians and with McGill University’s Osler Library, examining the translation of the introduction and looking at the differences that occur in different copies and editions of this volume.