Interesting discovery in an Ex-Libris

For centuries, book owners and collectors have used bookplates to identify their books and their collections, a tradition that seems to be falling in disuse. Not me, I have one that you can see here.

Bookplates (also known as Ex-Libris) can be a tantalizing study, and finding an interesting one is part of what makes an old book a journey of discovery. Every detail in an old book is important. Who owned it? What is their story? Did they leave personal notes within the pages of the books? I have found prescriptions, personal notes, medical shopping lists, and in some cases corrections to the book itself! One of the most interesting cases of this is Vesalius' Annotated Fabrica!

Bookplates are personal. In many cases, they depict the coat of arms of the owner’s family, sometimes a motto that drove the book’s owner, and in some cases a humorous jab at something. They are very personal.

While researching my series of articles on Dr. Ephraim McDowell, I ordered the book “EPHRAIM MCDOWELL, FATHER OF OVARIOTOMY AND FOUNDER OF ABDOMINAL SURGERY. With an Appendix on JANE TODD CRAWFORD”. By AUGUST SCHACHNER, M.D. Cloth, 8vo.A p. 33I. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott CO., I921. A great book, I finished reading it overnight!. Dr. McDowell has also been featured in this blog in the series "A Moment in History"

What interested me was the bookplate on the book frontis, a picture of which I placed in this article. It is from the Library of the Medical and Chirurgical faculty of the State of Maryland, and has a legend that states "Purchased through the William Osler Testimonial fund for the advancement of Medicine”. It depicts a physician (probably Hippocrates) taking the pulse of a patient.

Osler MedChi Ex-Libris
Osler MedChi Ex-Libris
Click on the image for a larger depiction

Further research indicated that this bookplate was created to honor Sir William Osler by the Maryland State Medical Society and that Dr. Osler’s books never had personal bookplates. MedChi (Maryland State Medical Society) commissioned this plate that depicts the four seals of the universities with which Osler was affiliated: McGill in Montreal, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Oxford in England. The images are flanked by two rods of Asclepius.This Ex-Libris was designed and drawn by Max Brödel (1870 – 1941) a famous medical illustrator who worked at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and illustrated for Harvey Cushing, William Halsted, Howard Kelly, and other notable clinicians. Brödel was a personal friend of Osler. The bookplate was such a hit that doctors from all over the country requested copies of it, which the librarian at the time Ms. Marcia Crocker Noyes,  sent but with the request of receiving the requestor’s own bookplate. You can see all of them in the attached links in the "Sources" section. Interestingly, Ms. Marcia Crocker Noyes has been suspected of still haunting the library where she worked!!

An old book is important not only because of its content, but also because of its provenance. You know where you are going to start reading it, but you never know where are you going to end in researching it. Dr. Miranda.

1. Ex Libris: The Bookplate Collection, Part I MedChi
2. Happy Birthday, Sir William! MedChi
3. The bookplate that never was McGill University
4. The Osler Library of the History of Medicine: McGill's Medical Memory. Lyons C Mcgill J Med. 2011 Jun; 13(1): 90.
5. The MedChi Collection of Bookplates
6. Max Brödel & MedChi