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W. Bruce Fye History of Medicine Library: Special Collections

Special Collections

Medical bookplates - In 1934 Mayo Clinic Librarian Miss Frida Pliefke began a collection of medically themed ex libris, known as bookplates in English speaking countries. Bookplates represent a miniature art form developed to adorn books, and a convenient individualized way for the book’s owner to be identified. The bookplate label is placed on the inside of the front cover of the book. Miss Pliefke wrote to hundreds of libraries and received in return a fine assortment of beautiful bookplates.  The History of Medicine Library collection comprises over 800 bookplates. 

Vanity Fair lithographs -  This collection consists of caricature style lithographs of medical and scientific dignitaries published in Vanity Fair, the British society magazine, which ran from 1868 to 1914.  In 1970 the majority of this collection was donated to the History of Medicine Library from the estate of Mayo physician Dr. Mandred W. Comfort, (1895-1957) through the generosity of his wife Mrs. Aurelia Comfort.  The acquisition of the balance of prints were purchased from rare book dealer Patrick Pollak, ABA, Devon, U.K. sometime in the early 1990s. In October 2020 six framed copies were donated to the W. Bruce Fye History of Medicine Library by Doctor David J. and Mrs. Elizabeth Katzelnick. 

Caricatures of medical specialists by Bavarian wood carvers - This collection was presented to the library by Dr. Frank H. Heck, (1897-1984) in October 1973.  These small wood carved figures are of early 20th century German medicine.  They could be purchased at several outlets in southern Germany following World War II.  It is believed that the work was done by a single family, the men doing the carving and the women and children adding the color.  

Medical philately - Donated in honor of Dr. (Emeritus) & Mrs. Gerald M. Needham in the late 1980's and early 1990's by Mr. Lawrence L. Ware, Jr., of Fairfax, VA (1920-1996).  This collection consists of many First Day Issue stamps, mounted stamps issued by the United Nations member countries publicizing the World Health Organization's fight against malaria and miscellaneous medical themed stamps.

Heraldry - Heraldry was originally a system of personal identification developed in war for knights in armor and later used by nobility and merchants needing seals.  Guilds and groups, boroughs and other bodies then petitioned for grants of arms, and corporate heraldry arose.  Received in 1992 by the wife of the late Mr. Trevor Llewllyn Bowen, M.B., F.R.C.S., (1932-1974) this collection consists of images of arms from  both medical and non-medical sources.  There are also exquisite hand-painted arms by Mr. Bowen as well as his correspondence and heraldry research information.

Mayo Clinic related cartoons - In 1983 Dr. Howard F. Polley (1913-2001) donated his private collection of Mayo referenced cartoons to the library.  Whenever Dr. Polley saw, or was told about a cartoon referencing Mayo Clinic he contacted the cartoonist and asked them if they would be willing to donate an original or printed signed copy of same for his unique collection.  His collection comprises approximately 82 cartoons.  The W. Bruce Fye History of Medicine Library continues to collect cartoons referencing Mayo Clinic.

Japanese ex libris stamps - November 1957 marked the commemoration of the 30th year of the establishment of the Japanese Medical Library Association. A collection of Zôshoin (an owner’s sign as it is referred to in Japan) was compiled by Tomio Ogata, President of the Japanese Medical Library Association, of the 46 members of the University Medical Libraries in Japan. This collection was presented to Mr. Thomas E. Keys, then Director of Mayo Medical Libraries.  The collection consists of 46 individual sheets of hand-made Japanese paper known as washi. This paper had a front and back side to it, the front side being identified by a tiny Japanese character stamp meaning “front”. Each sheet shows the name and address of each university member of the medical libraries in Japan.

Browsing Collection - Dr. Henry S. Plummer, Mayo's very own Renaissance man, harbored a dream for the Mayo Clinic Library.  He believed physicians who had completed their medical training were in danger of thinking their was nothing in the world but medicine.  His passion was to establish a special collection of fine editions in art, literature, history, travel and philosophy for Mayo physicians to enjoy at their leisure.  Sadly, Dr. Plummer did not live long enough to see his dream fulfilled but his devotion to this idea, and his discriminating taste, live on in what is affectionately called the "Browsing Collection".  Comprising 865 volumes and original housed on the 14th floor of the Plummer Building, this special collection was opened in April, 1937.  Many of these beautiful leather bound books were purchased by Dr. Plummer or were gifts from his personal library.  This special collection is non-circulating.  For more information please contact the W. Bruce Fye History of Medicine Library Coordinator.

Wilbur C. Rucker, M.D., (1900-1991) collection - Pliny’s Historia Naturalis (Natural History) - The W. Bruce Fye History of Medicine Library is fortunate to own a variety of editions of an early encyclopedia written by Gaius Plinius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Elder, which appeared about AD 77.  Known by the Latin title Historia Naturalis (Natural History) this collection was donated by Dr. C. Wilbur Rucker, Mayo neuro-ophthalmologist, in the early 1970s.  Most editions are printed in Latin with others in Italian, French, Spanish, English and German.   

Pliny was born in AD 23 in what is now Como, northern Italy.  He was an author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire.  Historia Naturalis was an encyclopedic work in thirty-seven books.  It was the only work by Pliny to have survived and the last he published, lacking a final revision at the time of his death.  Dedicated to Titus, son of Pliny's close friend emperor Vespasian, it is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire and purports to cover all ancient knowledge.

References to Pliny’s observations on the eyes of animals and C. A. Wood’s translation of the statement: “The eyes of animals that see at night in the dark, cats for instance, are shining and radiant, so much so that it is impossible to look upon them; those of the she-goat, too, and the wolf are resplendent, and emit a light-like fire” led Dr. Rucker to investigate the Natural History and begin acquiring volumes. 

See link below for details of this collection.

Oscar Gans, M.D., (1888-1983) dermatology collection - On the world scene it was German dermatology which influenced American dermatology more than any other.  With regard to dermatopathology, Oscar Gans, (1888-1983) infused the United States with the latest knowledge.  By 1925 Oscar Gans had earned an early and lasting reputation as a histopathologist as a result of writing a two-volume work “Histologie der Hautkrankheiten”. In the early 1950’s, through the courtesy of Dr. Paul O’Leary, Mayo Clinic Libraries received a large donation of rare dermatology books from Professor Gans.  Gans’ reason for the gift was: “In a troubled world, the Clinic was a good and enduring repository for books.”  Included in this fine collection is the monumental Atlas der Hautkrankheiten, Wien: 1856-1876, by the founder of the modern, anatomical pathological classification of skin diseases, Ferdinand von Hebra (1816-1880).

Edgar Van Nuys Allen, M.D., (1900-1961) American Indian library collection - Doctor Allen was born in the small community of Cozad, Nebraska where he attended elementary and high schools.  Of this rural Midwest area, which was his family and ancestral home, he always spoke with pride and affection.  In addition, the local Indian lore and the story of the Oregon Trail remained interests throughout his life as evidenced by his large, unique library collection donated to the Mayo Clinic Libraries by his widow, Mrs. Margaret Wise Allen, in 1963.  

Doctor Allen began his career at Mayo Clinic in 1930, taking a leave of absence in 1942 to serve in World War II.  He was a specialist in cardiovascular medicine and particularly known for his research of peripheral vascular disease.  His name is lent to the eponymous “Allen test”, a procedure used to determine blood supply to the hand.  In 1960 he was co-recipient of the Albert Lasker Award for conducting extensive research and development of dicumarol, an anti-coagulant that is produced from coumarin.