Monday, December 04, 2006

Doctors as bookmen

Do you remember when you were a child, and the day came when you got to pick out your very own bookplates for your books? No? Maybe that day doesn't come for every child, or comes but is then quickly forgotten. I remember it well, but then I'm a little bit of a bibliomaniac.

Doctors, too, can experience the excitement of books. Not solely collectors of grisly tales from the operating room, some of them have built impressive collections of books: William Osler is a prominent example, having amassed an enormous library, organized the books, and then donated the whole thing to McGill University. McGill then cataloged the collection and made it accessible to the public.

When you have upwards of 8,000 books, as Osler did, and like to lend them to your friends and colleagues, you need to have a way of establishing your ownership of those volumes. If you have a little expendable income and a flair for the artistic (or a tendency to hand cramps when signing your name 8,000 times in a row), you might commission a lovely personalized bookplate. Physicians like to showcase their vocations and personalities as much as the rest of us, and some of the character of these characters can be seen in the bookplates they adopted.

There are now two places on the web to see interesting examples of medical bookplates: the National Library of Medicine's small web exhibit of ephemera Here Today, Here Tomorrow includes a section on bookplates; and now collector, dealer, and blogger Lewis Jaffe has begun highlighting medical bookplates in a series intended to run through Dec. 10, 2006. Both sites offer plates with images ranging from the beautiful to the bawdy.

By the way, we do have an example of an Osler bookplate here in the History of Medicine Collection. The book came to us through a rather circuitous route, which is outlined in the catalog note.

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