#ColorOurCollections 2017: Day 1


The second annual #ColorOurCollections week has officially begun! From February 6th through 10th, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions are showcasing their collections in the form of free coloring sheets. Follow the hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms to be introduced to new library collections, find out more about your favorites, and have some fun. Throughout the week, we will be featuring new coloring books from other institutions on the blog, and be sure to visit the #ColorOurCollections website for the list of participants and a collection of coloring books created for the campaign.

We also plan to showcase the work of the talented colorists out there! Share your filled-in sheets on social media with the hashtag #ColorOurCollections for a chance to get featured on our blog.

Our coloring book this year features hooved creatures from Ulisse Aldrovani’s Qvadrvpedvm omniv bisvlcorv historia, 1621; beautiful botanicals from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A curious herbal, 1739; and a dashing tattooed fellow from Ferdinand Hebra’s Atlas der Hautkrankheiten, 1856-1876. Download our full coloring book and check back throughout the week for background on our sources.


The coloring content shared by collections so far tell us we are in for an incredible week! We’re particularly taken with Europeana’s Art Nouveau coloring book. The style lends itself beautifully to coloring sheets and we cannot wait to get started on the nasturtium design.


The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s new coloring book features the work of great naturalists such Pierre Belon, Mark Catesby, and John Gould.


We’re excited to see some new participants this year! The Rosenbach created several coloring sheets based on bookplates from their exhibition The Art of Ownership.


Keep following #ColorOurCollections on your favorite social media outlets. Happy coloring!

Getting to Know GreyLit: National Network of Libraries of Medicine Grant Recipients

T229_logo_gl18he New York Academy of Medicine hosted the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature: Leveraging Diversity in Grey Literature (GL18) on November 28 – 29, 2016.  The Academy received a professional development grant from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) to help support attendance at the conference.  Five grant awardees, students and information professionals, were chosen to attend the conference for one or both days.  Post-event, the awardees stated that the conference had a remarkable impact on their understanding of grey literature.

In their own words, awardees describe their experience at the GL18 conference:

Jennifer Kaari
Library Manager | Mount Sinai

I was interested in attending the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature because like so many librarians, I often find that grey literature is a missing piece of the research process. I was struck during the conference by how apt diversity was a theme for a grey literature conference. Grey literature is a wildly diverse arena, from the many formats and publication types that fall under the umbrella to the wide range of fields that generate and use grey literature. Many of these were represented in the conference, from the law to nuclear science to community initiatives.

As highlighted by the presentations on the Indigenous Law Portal and LGBT communities, grey literature can also give a voice to communities that may be left out of traditional scholarly publishing. I came away with the understanding that leveraging grey literature is essential to ensuring that these voices are included in research and the policy decisions that result.

Perhaps most importantly for my personal development, I left the conference with a bright new idea about a topic in grey literature to research in the upcoming year. I’m looking forward to attending future conferences- hopefully as a speaker! Thanks to the NN/LM for this wonderful opportunity.

Sharon Whitfield
Emerging Technologies Librarian | Cooper Medical School of Rowan University

The 2016 Grey Literature conference, titled Leveraging Diversity, had at least one presentation of interest to everyone.  The presentation topics ranged from open access to LGBT+.

As this was my first GreyLit conference, I was surprised to find a very welcoming community of researchers, librarians and professionals who all were invested in researching, reporting and making grey literature accessible.  During the first day, I found the presentations inspiring. The presentation showed how grey literature impacted the various constituencies at each institution and the importance of making the literature available to the populations.

On the second day, the conference had more of a practical application by addressing open access and researchers’ needs. An example was the Data Science Panel. The Data Science panel, which included two librarians and a researcher, addressed research needs that are occurring at my own institution.  The panel provided new technologies that I am currently exploring for institutional adoption.  Yet, it was hearing the importance of access to grey literature and datasets by the researcher, which really help me to understand the role the library should be playing to support researchers at my own institution.


Poster session at GL18. Photo by Danielle Aloia.

Cheryl Branche, MD, MLS
P/T Adjunct Reference Librarian | Health Professions Library Hunter College, CUNY Brookdale Campus

On Tuesday, November 29, I viewed the engaging poster presentations and discussed the posters with the presenters, who hailed from France, Italy, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, and the United States. Three posters interested me:

  • Policy Development for Grey Literature Resources: An Assessment of the Pisa Declaration
  • Grey Literature in Transfer Pricing: Japan and Korea
  • WorldWideScience.org: An International Partnership to Improve Access to Scientific and Technical Information and Research Data.

During the Tuesday afternoon session, Debbie Rabina presented an ongoing long-term study, which identified the information needs of incarcerated people and demonstrated their willingness to write to agencies for information. The late afternoon session included a presentation entitled: The GreyLit Report: Understanding the Challenges of Finding Grey Literature.

On Wednesday, November 30, I joined the GreyLit: Intro and Search Strategies session. It was a hands-on learning session focused on finding grey literature. It was very interesting.

The conference was quite stimulating, informative and useful and I look forward to adding the new techniques to my armamentarium to seek, find…and explore more grey literature.

Alyssa Grimshaw | Drexel University
Library Services Assistant IV / MSLIS Student | Cushing/Whitney Medical Library / Drexel University

The 18th International Conference on Grey Literature was an exceptionally eye-opening experience. In regards to grey literature I consider myself a novice, but found this conference enlightening, as it clearly illustrated the benefits of promoting and utilizing grey literature within the library system.

The conference started out strong with the Keynote Address by Taryn Rucinski. Rucinski was very energetic and informative, discussing all of the literature found within the law grey literature. I was truly flabbergasted to discover that one can find expert testimony on a large wide array of different subjects in the legislative proceedings on government websites. This is just one example of the many exceptional ways to utilize grey literature.

The conference also helped me uncover a great resource – The Grey Literature Report! The New York Academy of Medicine publishes this report bi-monthly and takes all of the obscure grey literature and makes it easily searchable!  I particularly enjoyed the international aspect of the conference because it allowed me to learn a little more about how other countries use and preserve grey literature. I believe this to be incredibly important because in order for libraries to grow and develop they should be able to learn from, and interconnect with, one another. Each day of the conference was filled with valuable information and great tips that I intend to bring back to my library and apply in order to help our patrons!


Joachim Schöpfel at GL18. Photo by Danielle Aloia.

Kate Nyhan, MLS
Research and education librarian for public health | Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University

Attending one day of #GL18 at #GreyLitWeek at the New York Academy of Medicine – thanks to generous professional development funding from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine – I learned a great deal about what I don’t know. Of course, when it comes to grey literature, ignorance is a common state indeed.

  • Students and even a few eminent researchers I’ve spoken with aren’t quite sure what “grey literature” is.
  • Information professionals don’t always know the information ecosystem of grey literature’s producers and aggregators.
  • Medical librarians might not even be aware of the diverse types of grey literature that could be relevant to biomedical and public health questions – such as the governmental administrative materials that are generated by legislative, litigation, and regulatory processes. (Read “The Elephant in the Room” by excellent speaker Taryn Rucinski of Pace University Law School for more details)
  • Finally, organizations that generate grey literature sometimes seem not to know the first thing about the preservation and discovery of information – even when they are desperately trying to disseminate their high-quality, free, information products.

Thanks to the excellent talks, posters, and discussions at GL18, the unknown unknowns of grey literature are starting to become known unknowns for me. I choose that phrase to acknowledge that I’m still a novice at, say, retrieving government administrative materials, or even hard-to-find theses and dissertations – but now I’m a novice with better tools!

Cakes and Ale at Woodbine: From Twelfth Night to New Year’s Day

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director

Part of the Margaret Barclay Wilson collection of cookbooks and cookery, Cakes and Ale at Woodbine: From Twelfth Night to New Year’s Day is a pseudonymously published light novel of mid-century Fordham, New York. Ostensibly the work of “Barry Gray,” the book was written by Robert Barry Coffin (1826–1886), one of the “Bohemians” of antebellum New York.[i]  He was a critic for, and eventually editor of, the Home Journal, later renamed Town and Country, which continues in publication to this day.  This book was first published in 1868; the Library’s edition is from 1883.

The “cakes and ale” of the title is not culinary, but purely literary. On the title page is this quote from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” (Act 2, Scene 3).


Sir Toby Belch uttered the line “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” the epigram for the novel. This is an image of Lionel Brough in a 1901 production.

“Cakes and ale” are not only mentioned in Twelfth Night, they are parts of Twelfth-Night celebrations: the merriment on the day of (or day before, depending on how one count) the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, the twelfth day after Christmas. Coffin is therefore having fun with the title, “From Twelfth Night to New Year’s Day,” as it means from January 6 all around to January 1: a romp through the year, touching on all the major holidays in turn. Each day is an occasion for indulging in cakes and ale, “the good things of this life” (p. 13): Epiphany, the first day of spring, a birthday, Easter, the fourth of July, “summer,” Christmas and a Christmas wedding, and then New Year’s.

Set at the author’s purported cottage, Woodbine, in Fordham, New York, domestic scenes alternate with long fanciful stories, much of which contrast city and country life, to the decided benefit of the latter! Toward the end of the book, the narrator has an imagined (perhaps alcohol-induced) encounter with Santa Claus, who says he prefers the large expansive chimneys of the country to the narrow ones of the city, and thought that the new city fashion of Christmas trees might put him out of a job:

“When the city folks first began to talk about Christmas trees, and introduced them into their nurseries, it nearly broke my heart; for I feared that my occupation . . . was gone” [p. 225.]

The virtues of the country always win out, in grand matters of love, and more prosaic ones of cakes and ale.

May you have a great holiday season, and may you get all the cakes and ale you want!

Another literary retreat, left, the Edgar Allan Poe house in Fordham, New York, where the author lived from 1846 to 1849, some 20 years before the recounted events in Cakes and Ale, also set in Fordham, a village only recently connected to the city by rail.  Right, a view of the Poe cottage in its rural setting.


[i] “Gray, Barry (1826–1886) [Robert Barry Coffin],” in “The Vault at Pfaff’s: An Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York,” https://pfaffs.web.lehigh.edu/node/54192, accessed December 22, 2016.

Image Sources

A Show of Hands

By Emily Miranker, Project Coordinator

Welcome to my celebration of one of our collections’ unsung heroes – not a specific book, or author, but a punctuation mark that decorates many of them: the manicule.


As you can see from the example above, the manicule is a disembodied, pointing hand. In case this, as in many, the manicule also has a little cuff, and a fingernail on the pointing finger that is visible, too. This manicule comes from our Anatomia Carpi by Jacopo Berengario da Carpi, a 16th century Italian physician.

The manicule gets its name from the Latin maniculum for “little hand.” This connection with the actual human body is apparent in some of the other names of the symbol: fist, printer’s first, bishop’s fist, pointer, pointing hand, even mutton-fist.[1] Its usage starts around the 12th century, though there is a record of it appearing in the Domesday Book of 1086 in John Johnson’s Typographia.[2]

Professor William Sherman of York University draws a connection between the classical gesture of “three fingers doubled under the thumb [and index the] finger extended”[3] from formal Roman oration to the strong connection between hands and texts when zeroing in on the manicule in his research on marginalia. Sherman observes the bond between hands and reading is so innate it often goes unnoticed:

“Unless we’re wrestling with an unusually large volume or feeling our way through an unusually delicate book; unless we’re running our fingertips over a text in Braille or our pointers through a Torah scroll; and unless we’re the kind of reader who follows along with our index finger or gives them a good lick before turning the page, it’s probably safe to say that we’re not even conscious of our hands as we make our way through a text.”

It’s certainly compelling to think of the manicule mark as the descendent of an oratory pose and natural human gesticulation.

Manicules are windows into people’s relationships with their books and texts.  Time was taken to read the passage, react to it and record or reference it by hand on the page, which makes sense given the tremendous amount of work, time and expense it once took to get a book into your hands. Keith Houston, author of Shady Characters, observed readers’ investment and attachment to their books was quite unlike the modern day consumer. “It was second nature for a book’s owner to brand it, to annotate and embellish it as they read; to underline pithy phrases and fill the margins with notes.”[4] Indeed, the manicule isn’t really a punctuation mark, something put in by the author for grammatical structural or clarity. Rather, it’s a reader’s mark indicating something to that person – something that could be wholly mysterious, banal, or unimportant to me or you.


One past owner of our 1657 copy of The Doctor’s Dispensary found many points of interest in the book. Its pages are littered with marginal notes, underlining and manicules. This reader’s manicules are fairly simple, though they do include a cuff –or possibly a sleeve or an arm- while some examples can have long sleeves that drip down to mark the end of the passage of notable text, complete with shading on the clothing or secondary digits pointing things out as well.

As intellectual and cultural knowledge fairly exploded during the Renaissance, ink flowed from readers marking up their books. Then came the world-altering printing press from Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 in Mainz, Germany. Readers continued to annotate their printed books just as they had their handwritten ones; and printed manicules joined the handwritten ones on the page.[5] Printers inserted in-line manicules that indicated authorial notations that were not the readers’ own commentary, subtly (or not) guiding a reader to the ‘correct’ interpretation of the work. Printed manicules became more prominent as authors and publishers took advantage of a means to protect the integrity of their work. The manicule drawn in by hand more or less died out by the 19th century.


The mark lived on in its printed form and got almost annoyingly ubiquitous by the end of the 19th century. Manicules were a bread and butter symbol for advertising typography where they literally pointed the way to headlines, punchlines, venues and notable names.[6] They were even on gravestones, pointing the way to heaven.[7]


This gravestone photo from a Virginia cemetery was snapped by literature professor and medievalist Jonathan Hsy of George Washington University.

The public visually overdosed on the manicule as this point and it fell from such frequent (over)use. The manicule is definitely still around though; on returned envelopes from the US postal service, in design products seeking to impart a vintage flare and in directional signage. And of course in the newest frontier of information and communication; the digital screen where the computer’s cursor was, and sometimes still is, a hand pointing the way.



[1] Sherman, William H. Towards a History of the Manicule, 2005. Accessed November 22, 2016.

[2] McPharlin, Paul. Roman numerals, typographic leaves and pointing hands: some notes on their origin, history and contemporary use. New York: Typophiles, 1942. 47.

[3] Sherman, William H. Towards a History of the Manicule, 2005. Accessed November 22, 2016.

[4] Houston, Keith. Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographic Marks. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. 170.

[5] Houston, Shady Characters. 178.

[6] Palmer & Rey. Palmer & Rey’s Type Specimen Book. San Francisco: Palmer & Rey, 1887.

[7] McPharlin, Roman numerals, 1942. 65.

Item of the Month: John E. Stillwell’s Prize Notebook

By Becky Filner, Head of Cataloging

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, medical schools offered academic prizes, frequently accompanied by a monetary award, for the best essays, examinations, and student notebooks.[1] The New York Academy of Medicine’s Library holds several examples of prize-winning student medical notebooks, including John E. Stillwell’s Report of Prof. Thomas’ Gynecological Clinics, Session of ’73 and ’74. This notebook is an ornate presentation copy, not the rough notes Stillwell would have taken during the clinics. Written in a neat, legible hand, it also includes a calligraphic title page and twenty-nine watercolor illustrations. The notebook is bound in full leather with blind-stamped fleurs-de-lis and shamrocks on the cover and spine. The notes are from a series of clinics offered during the 1873-1874 school year by Theodore Gaillard Thomas, a professor of gynecology at New York’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and author of A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Women.


Calligraphic title page of John E. Stillwell’s Report of Prof. Thomas’ Gynecological Clinics: autograph manuscript, 1873-1874.

Stillwell’s notes, like Thomas’s lectures, are organized into a series of case studies. In the case study shown below, a woman named Annie Coyle reports that “her friends noticed her abdomen increasing in size” and her “menses … are ‘larger’ and … come twice as often as they ought.” When she had an examination at the dispensary, the examiner “pronounced her pregnant”; she came to Dr. Thomas for an examination because she was “unwilling to rest under such unjust suspicions.”

Stillwell’s carefully transcribed lecture notes and a watercolor showing a woman with an ovarian tumor, from Stillwell’s autograph manuscript, Report of Prof. Thomas’ Gynecological Clinics, 1873-1874.

Dr. Thomas notes that he found an abdominal tumor and gives details on how he determined that it is a “fluid tumor” rather than one “that is filled with air or that is solid.” He rules out pregnancy because he cannot feel any movement when he places his hands on her abdomen and her mammary glands are not enlarged. His conclusion is that she has an ovarian cyst and requires an ovariotomy to remove it. Stillwell’s account of the clinic is accompanied by a watercolor of a female figure with an enlarged abdomen labeled, “Ovarian Tumor.” Other clinics in the notebook cover problems of the uterus and cervix, tumors, peritonitis, fibroids, complications during and after pregnancy, menopause, dementia, and sterility. There is even an account (with an illustration) of a woman who has two vaginas.


Watercolor by John E. Stillwell of a retroflexed uterus, from his Report of Prof. Thomas’ Gynecological Clinics, 1873-1874.

Student medical notebooks were usually submitted anonymously to ensure that the judging would not be biased. In this case, we know that Stillwell submitted this prize-winning notebook (even though the notebook does not contain his name) because the Library acquired the notebook along with the prize itself, a wooden case of gynecological instruments with a plaque that reads, “A Prize Awarded for the best Gynecological Report of 1874 in the College of Physicians and Surgeons N.Y. by Prof. T. Gaillard Thomas to J.E. Stillwell.”[2]


A plaque on the wooden case indicates that Stillwell received this prize from Prof. Thomas for the “best Gynecological Report of 1874 in the College of Physicians and Surgeons.”


Stillwell’s prize consisted of a full set of gynecological instruments stored in a sturdy wooden box lined with purple velvet. The instruments were made by G. Tiemann & Co., Manufacturers of Surgical Instruments, 67 Chatham St., N.Y.

The tools include all the necessary implements for a gynecology practice in the 1870s. Thomas describes many of the tools in his A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Women (which was a required textbooks for medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons around this time). Shown below are drawings of several of the tools, including “Buttles’ spear-pointed scarificator,” a “hard rubber cylinder for dry-cupping the cervix uteri,” cauterizing irons, and tools for sutures, and descriptions of how they were used.[3]

Taken from T. Gaillard Thomas’s A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Women, 2nd ed., these drawings show obstetrical tools and give brief descriptions of how they were used.

Taken together, John E. Stillwell’s prize notebook and the handsome case of obstetrical tools that he won for his efforts provide an interesting window into both 19th-century medical school competitions and 19th-century obstetrics and gynecology.


[1] Contemporary handbooks from medical schools list the types of prizes awarded and the prize money attached to them. See, for example, the section on “Prizes” under “School of Medicine” in Columbia College’s Handbook of Information as to the Several Schools and Courses of Instruction 1886-1887, p. 222-225.

[2] An account of the commencement exercises of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in The Medical Record confirms Stillwell’s receipt of the Thomas prize. “The Thomas prize was awarded to J.E. Stillwell, for a report on ‘Cliniques for Diseases of Women’” (The Medical Record, ed. George F. Shrady, New York: W.M. Wood & Co., v. 9, issue of March 16, 1874, p. 158).

[3] Thomas, Theodore Gaillard.  A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Women, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea, 1869).

12 Gifts for the Medical History Buff in Your Life

By Emily Miranker, Project Coordinator

Search no further for one-of-a-kind gifts for the medical history buff in your life: the Library’s online shop has you covered with over 3,000 products to choose among. Find a few of our favorites below. And take an extra 15% off as our holiday gift to you: use code ZAZZLETHANKS at check out.

  1. This sturdy tote bag with a vintage advertisement for Tolu’s Rock and Rye cough tonic – good for what ails you. And groceries.


  1. Our skeletal musicians give a whole new meaning to death metal. They might be from 1779; but our headphones are totally 21st century with a 20hz – 20,000hz range, built-in answer button and microphone to seamlessly take calls, and vegan leather padding.


  1. This cheery orange fruits and leaves lunchbox includes a large sandwich container, two small containers and an ice pack. Dishwasher safe and BPA-free. Mangia!


  1. Speaking of eating, food goes great with wine. These wine charms featuring skulls by 16th century Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius go great with glasses of wine.


  1. Since red wine is good for your heart, admire this panel of an exquisite engraving of an anatomical heart by Scottish surgeon Charles Bell on your wall while you sip.


  1. Keep your life in order with this desk organizer, the illustration of one of several poems gathered by Hugo Erichsen to “amuse the busy doctor in leisure hours.”


  1. This flask is from a New York-based surgical supply company’s turn of the century catalogue. Chemistry-lovers, you’re welcome.


  1. Never be too far away from a good book with this rather cellular-looking red marbled book endpaper wallet.


  1. Take ‘digital’ back to its roots of actual fingers with this artificial hand by French surgeon Ambroise Paré on your laptop case.


  1. Just in case you feel naked without your actual stethoscope around your neck: this tie.


  1. Once upon a time, your garden was your pharmacy. Peonies were used to treat spasms and cramps, gout, headaches, and fatigue. Caffeine is more popular for fatigue now…


  1. Baby, it’s cold outside! Magnify your warmth by snuggling up with these microscopes.


Lastly, for the person who really and truly has everything already—or more likely just has no space—give the gift of membership to our Friends of the Rare Book Room, the people and programs that explore and support the books where all these remarkable images come from. All proceeds from the shop support the library’s collections’ preservation and public programming, and all Friends memberships are tax-deductible. Happy Holidays!


Found in the Eyes of Rams: The Bezoar and its Powers

By Emily Miranker, Project Coordinator

This post title is not strictly true. Or remotely true, actually. Bezoars are not found in rams’ eyes (to the relief of sheep everywhere, I’m sure). Maimonides, the 12th century Sephardic Jewish philosopher, reported an Eastern belief that bezoars could be found “in the eyes of rams,” though he then went on to note that “it is found in their [rams] gallbladder and this is true.”[i] Bezoars are in fact found in goats’ stomachs and gastrointestinal tracts, as well as that of other animals such as sheep, cows and us humans.


Our library’s trichobezoar, ca.1862. Basically the coolest hairball you’ll ever see.

A bezoar is a mass of undigested or inedible material found in the GI tract. Today, they are typically grouped into four categories: phytobezoars (made of vegetable or fruit fibers), lactobezoars (made of milk proteins), trichobezoars (made of hair and food particles) and pharmacobezoars (aggregates of various medications).[ii] Nowadays, if a bezoar doesn’t pass through the digestive system on its own they can be treated through medication to dissolve the mass, lavage therapy, and even surgery.

Once upon a time you may have wanted one in your system. I referenced this in Poisons, Pirates, and Professors in September for National Talk Like a Pirate Day. If you had been poisoned by an attacking pirate, you’d want to swallow a bezoar to cure yourself. Pierre Pomet, 17th century French druggist, wrote of bezoars curing all manner of things from smallpox to epilepsy, ending with its ability to work as an antidote to poison.[iii]



The word bezoar comes from the Arabic bazahr or badzehr, meaning counterpoison[iv] and it is also mentioned in ancient Hebrew texts as bel zaard, “master” or “master of poison.”[v] Its power to counteract poison may come from a near eastern goat, the markhor. In Persian, mar is snake and khor means to eat. Snake-eater. So presumably immune to venom. Except that the markhor is an herbivore dining upon grasses and leaves. Misnomer alert! The name may have to do with their corkscrew-like horns (reminiscent of a winding snake) or that they are known to kill snakes on occasion.[vi]


This handsome markhor is clearly eating carrots or yam, not a snake.  Source: A. Savin, A Markhor in Berlin Tierpark, Wikimedia Commons.

Whatever the origins of the belief in curing poison, bezoars were popular in the Middle Ages and into the 17th century as antidotes. They were carried as charms, included as decor or attached to drinking and eating vessels to protect the diner, and tests were even designed to detect fakes –the selling of which was a punishable offense.[vii]



Another Frenchman represented in our collections’ holdings, barber surgeon Ambroise Paré, conducted an experiment to test the healing properties of a bezoar stone in the 1500s.[viii] A royal cook caught stealing silver had been sentenced to death. The cook was offered the alternative of being poisoned and then being given a bezoar under Paré’s supervision. If the cook survived the poisoning, he’d be spared. The cook lived only seven hours after the poison was administered, and Paré concluded the bezoar could not cure all poisons.

Still, the bezoar as antidote and mythical token lives on in the popular imagination. In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories, Professor Snape quizzes Harry on where he’d find a bezoar in his first potions class and later when his friend Ron Weasley is poisoned with mead –intended for Professor Dumbledore- Harry quickly shoves a bezoar down Ron’s throat.


Box of bezoars and Half Blood Prince movie still.  Source.

Join us for a free First Mondays lunchtime tour in our Drs. Barry and Bobbi Rare Book Reading Room for a chance to see our bezoar in person. It’s well worth a visit even if poison and goat guts aren’t high on your to-do list; the Rare Book Room is pretty much the real life Hogwarts.


[i] Rosner, F. (trans.) 1988. Maimonides’ Medical Writings, Treatises on Poisons, Hemorrhoids, Cohabitation. The Maimonides Research Institute, Haifa, 1988, 49-50.
[ii] Eng, Katharine and Marsha Kay. “Gastrointestinal Bezoars: History and Current Treatment Paradigms,” Gastroenterology & Hepatology. Vol. 8, Issue 11, November 2012. 776.
[iii] Pomet, Pierre. A compleat History of drugs. Bonwick, London. 1725.
[iv] Williams, Randolph S. “The fascinating history of bezoars,” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 145. December 1986. 613.
[v] Barroso, Maria Do Sameiro. “The bezoar stone: a princely antidote,” Acta Med Hist Adriat. 2014;12(1):78.
[vi] “Capra falconeri – Markhor.”Brent Huffman. An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet. Accessed November 11, 2016.
[vii] Williams. 613.
[viii] Thompson, C. J. S. (1924) Poison Mysteries in History, Romance and Crime J.B. Lippincott, New York, 61-62.

Today is #GivingTuesday

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two whirlwind days for getting deals, #GivingTuesday is a day for giving back.  Through this campaign, millions of people have come together to support and champion the organizations and causes they value. On this day, please consider donating to the New York Academy of Medicine Library.

Open to the public since 1878, the library is home to a collection that spans 12 centuries of learning.  It is a place where world-renowned historians and students alike come to learn, to be inspired, and to form the foundation of knowledge that opens the door to a future discovery.  With your generous contribution, we can foster this discovery for years to come.


As we look to the future, please enjoy this look back at the past year through the eyes of our library staff.

“From Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, the African American physician leading the Mississippi Health Project during the Great Depression; Mexican physicians marching on the street for reform in the 1960s; to the doctors and nurses at the Lincoln Hospital creating a model for medical activism in the 1970s; this year’s “Changemakers” series was an important reminder that creating social and political change requires energy, engagement, and commitment, at any time in history.”  –Lisa O’Sullivan, Director

archivespanel“On October 26th, the Academy Library convened  ‘Archives, Advocacy and Change:  Tales from Four New York City Collections.’  I moderated a lively conversation with all-star panelists Jenna Freedman (Barnard College), Steven Fullwood (In the Life Archive), Timothy Johnson (Tamiment Library, New York University) and Rich Wandel (The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center).  The discussion hit on a lot of fascinating issues, including how archivists shape the historical record with the selection and acquisition choices they make, issues of privilege, and access for communities.”  –Anne Garner, Curator

edwardjenner“I was excited to learn in 2016 that the Library holds autograph letters from Edward Jenner in which he discusses the smallpox vaccine that he helped pioneer. These fascinating letters are available to the public for consultation. They demonstrate how strongly Jenner believed that inoculation with cowpox would protect people from the scourge of smallpox.”  –Rebecca Filner, Head of Cataloging

“As a new staff member, I really enjoyed the Rare Book Room tour that Arlene Shaner gave me during my first few weeks at the Academy. I got to see some absolutely incredible items and learned so much about the building’s history. As a little aside, these tours are free and open to the public! They happen from 12-1 on the first Monday of each month.”  –Audrey Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Assistant

pendleton_bugsandnuts_1924_cover_watermark“Most of my works has a lot to do with satisfaction—satisfactions from cleaning dusted books, from placing crumbled health pamphlets into clean, acid-free envelopes, from making fitted enclosures for damaged books, from putting torn pieces together, and so much more. But all of these satisfactions is ultimately coming from that I’m contributing in preservation of the library materials to be more accessible and usable for the future! One of the most memorable item I worked through in Health Pamphlet Rehousing Project this year is this “Bugs and Nuts” pamphlet by Andrew Lenis Pendleton, with so many absurd and eerie illustrations.”  –Yungjin Shin, Collections Care Assistant


color-our-collections“A recent highlight for me would be our first #ColorOurCollections week, held February 1-5, 2016. Over 200 libraries, archives, and cultural institutions around the world participated by creating collections-based coloring sheets and sharing them freely online. It was exciting to connect with other institutions and new followers, and it was especially rewarding to share our collection and see people engage with it in new and creative ways. I can’t wait for the next #ColorOurCollections, coming up on February 6-10, 2017!”  –Rebecca Pou, Archivist




“One thing I particularly enjoyed this year was developing an online store featuring images from our collections on a variety of products. It allowed me to delve into and share the collections in a new and often very quirky ways. A 1910 health pamphlet on a beer koozie, a 17th century microscopic slice of rock as your party clutch, a poster of vintage stethoscopes to adorn your walls, a refrigerator magnet with a an octopus, or beautifully calligraphic roman numerals from a 9th century Roman cookbook decorating a bookmark – these truly breathe new life into elements of the collection.”  –Emily Miranker, Team Administrator/Project Coordinator

“In sitting down to go through the William J. Morton Papers in connection with my residency as The Helfand Fellow, I was just stunned to find a 7-in thick stack of newspaper cuttings curated by Morton himself and preserved in their original order. The subject of my research is the history of the X-ray, and the difficulty is dealing with the voluminous print matter that appeared almost instantly. Yet Morton essentially curated some of that for me, by clipping articles that reflected his view of what was relevant to the New York metropolitan area and the networks of physicians and scientists in which he traveled. The collection is a gift for the historian, not just for its content, but because of its window into what one prominent NYC physician deemed worth noting about X-ray fever.”  –Daniel Goldberg, Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow

columbia-dermatology“Dr. Paul Schneiderman brought his Columbia dermatology residents to visit the rare book room on August 26th so that we could explore the history of dermatology. Looking at highlights from the dermatology collection from the 16th through the 20th centuries gave the residents a chance to think about the many ways in which their specialty has changed over time, especially since dermatology relies so heavily on visual representation. We looked at hand colored engravings, chromolithographs, photographs and stereoscopic images and the residents and their mentor engaged in lively debates about whether the descriptions and images matched with current information about some of the diseases that were shown. Not only did the residents have the opportunity to see these wonderful materials, but I had the pleasure of learning more about how to interpret the images from them.”  –Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

Shoot That Needle Straight (Item of the Month)

By Allison Piazza, Reference Services and Outreach Librarian

November is National Diabetes Month.  As one would assume, the New York Academy of Medicine Library has a large collection of books about the disease.  As I perused the stacks, however, one title jumped out.

Shoot that Needle Straight by Robert Rantoul was published in 1947, and tells the story of Richard “Dick” Hubbard. The book opens with Dick ill, and home from boarding school.  His symptoms are numerous and puzzling, including dry tongue, a constant craving for sweets, headaches, weakness, and a drastic increase in height.  It’s not long before Dick is told he has Diabetes Mellitus, a diagnosis that elicits a “What the hell is that?” from Dick.

rantoul_shootthatneedlestraight_watermarkWhat follows is an engaging, often-times laugh-out-loud narrative of Dick’s new life with diabetes.  Accompanying each chapter are charming illustrations by W. Joseph Carr.

After he is diagnosed, Dick and his mother travel to Boston, where he will have a two-week stay at a “diabetic home” known as the Carver Home, and see a diabetes specialist by the name of Dr. Anderson.  At the Carver Home, Dick learns about diabetes and how he must control it through a home routine of proper diet and exercise.  He also learns how to give himself insulin injections from his nurse, Miss Carver:

“Disinfect before you begin.
Press the needle firmly in.
Squeeze the plunger way down far.
Withdraw the needle and there you are.”

Dick’s new life as a diabetic is not without its hiccups.  In one chapter, he goes to see a physician who claims he can cure diabetes, which he explains is the result of “a nervous condition brought on by destructive and fearful thinking processes, as a result of strain, over-worry or disasters.”  Of course, the hope for a cure is too good to be true.  The doctor in question turns out to be the head of an international narcotic ring, wanted in Argentina, Mexico and California for peddling an “iron tonic” full of morphine to unsuspecting diabetes patients.

rantoul_shootthatneedlestraight5_watermarkIn another chapter, Dick agrees to be a diabetes research participant at a lab.  In a passage that would make any 21st century Institutional Review Board member cringe, the doctor explains to Dick what it means to be a “guinea-pig”:

“For this period you must be willing to do anything we ask, regardless of your feelings…. At certain times our requests will be difficult and will, no doubt, upset you emotionally, but you must realize the emotions cannot stand in the way of medical science, and content yourself with the thought that we look upon you as a medical specimen rather than a human being.”

rantoul_shootthatneedlestraight6_watermarkAnother highlight of the book is Dick’s (somewhat inexplicable) trip to Munich, Germany with his mother during Adolf Hitler’s reign.  During the trip, Dick is hospitalized with painful sores.  The situation is, understandably, quiet stressful for Dick, but he takes it in stride:

“Nazis. Heil Hitler! The Third Reich! You read ominous stories about them, you shuddered at what people said they intended to do to America and the world, but never in your wildest dreams did you imagine yourself sick and alone among more than one thousand of them in their homeland.  What a story to take home!”

These are just some of the situations Dick encounters as a diabetic.  While highly comical, the book is also meant to educate and inform the diabetic patient.  The American Journal of Digestive Diseases reviewed the book favorably in 1948, saying:

“This is a book that might safely be presented by a physician to a diabetic patient or by anyone to a friend suffering from the disease.  …  The general dietary regimen and the insulin therapy are described in exemplary fashion.”[1]

Another review in Science Education also speaks highly of the book, which they mention “has been checked for accuracy by eminent doctors.”[2]

While Shoot that Needle Straight may no longer be medically (or politically) correct, it is one of the gems of our collection.


[1] The American Journal of Digestive Diseases 1948 15(3):103.

[2] Science Education 1950, 34(4): 274-275.

Blood Transfusion: 350 Years

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director

Three hundred and fifty years ago, on December 17, 1666, the Philosophical Transactions published the first account of blood transfusion, in the form of a letter from physician Richard Lower to chemist Robert Boyle.1 Lower’s experiments transfused blood from one dog to another. The article provided his methods, specifying where the arteries and veins were to be cut, how the quill was to be inserted that formed the blood’s conduit between animals, and many other details of the operation.


Richard Lower (1631-1691), anatomist. Oil painting by Jacob Huysmans. Source: Iconographic Collections, Wellcome Library, London, accessed through Wellcome Images.

In addition to reporting on dog-to-dog transfusions, Lower also mentioned experiments between sheep, and interspecies transfusion between dogs and sheep, alternating donor (“emitter”) and recipient. In this first communication on the subject, Lower also laid out a broad experimental program:

’Tis intended, that these tryals shall be prosecuted to the utmost variety the subject shall beare: As by exchanging the bloud of Old and Young, Sick and Healthy, Hot and Cold, Fierce and Fearful, Lame [i.e., Tame] and Wild Animals, &c. and that not only of the same, but also of differing kinds.

The 1660s were the first heady days of the new Royal Society, whose motto, Nullius in verba (“nothing through words”), was the hallmark of the new “experimental philosophy.” And so these experiments have a bit of the quality of “ringing the changes”: try all kinds of animals, in all kinds of conditions, and see what happens!

Underlying the work, though, was the stronger sense of “blood as medicine.” Seventeenth-century physicians were well aware that too little blood led to death. But more, there was a general notion that blood and health were linked, a notion that came straight out of the humoral tradition. Sanguineous dispositions were healthy ones, in distinction to the melancholic ones that too much black bile created. A balance of humors, of course, was the best, but ruddy blood had an implicit edge.

In the same letter, then, Lower made these observations:

It seems not irrational to guess afore-hand, that the exchange of bloud will not alter the nature or disposition of the Animals, upon which it shall be practiced . . . . The most probable use of this Experiment may be conjectured to be, that one Animal may live with the bloud of another; and consequently that those animals that want bloud, or have corrupt bloud, may be supplied from other with a sufficient quantity, and of such as is good . . . .

Blood transfusion could serve as a type of reverse blood-letting; for those patients with too little blood, more could be supplied, and especially “good” blood rather than “corrupt.” Animals would serve as the blood source without fear that people would take on animal natures.

Human experimentation followed quickly. Similar experiments had been going on in France, and in June 1667, physician Jean-Baptiste Denis undertook the first transfusions into a human. His account, translated and published in the Philosophical Transactions, was called “Touching a Late Cure of an Inveterate Phrensy, by the Transfusion of Blood.”2 Calves’ blood served to restore to his right mind a man under the influence of a “phrensy.” In this case, the animal was chosen for “its mildness and freshness,” in order to temper the blood of the unfortunate—a different understanding from the English!


This image relates more to infusion than to transfusion, that is, placing medicines directly into the body through the bloodstream. The technique lent itself to infusions of blood itself. Source: Johann Daniel Major, Chirurgia infusoria, placidis cl. virorum dubiis impugnata, cum modesta, ad eadem, responsione (Kiloni [Kiel]: Sumptibus Joh. Lüderwald, imprimeb. Joach. Reumannus, 1667), p. 2

On November 23 of that same year, Lower and his colleague, physician Edmund King, transfused sheep’s blood into a Mr. Arthur Coga, also of unsound mind. The transfusion seemed to have a good effect:

The Man after this operation, as well as in it, found himself very well, and hath given in his own Narrative under his own hand, enlarging more upon the benefit, he thinks, he hath received by it, than we think fit to own as yet.3


An image attributed as Lower and King’s 1667 transfusion of Arthur Coga. Source: Matthias Goffried Purmann, Grosser und gantz neugewundener Lorbeer-Krantz, oder Wund Artzney (Frankfort; Leipzig: Widow & heirs of M. Rohrlach, Leignitz, 1705), opposite page 292 of part 3.

But transfusion as a therapy soon petered out. One case in France died. Though Coga survived, he did not fully recover, and he was soon drinking up the 20 shilling fee he received for undertaking the procedure. Blood transfusion was mocked and abandoned in England, and outlawed in France.4

Blood transfusion only revived in the middle of the 19th century, chiefly as a way of restoring blood volume. With the investigation of blood types before World War I, and Rhesus factors before World War II, transfusion became mobilized for war with the establishment of blood banks. In the last half of the 20th century, transfusion from banked blood became standard medical practice in surgeries of all kinds, and (using blood products) for hemophilia.

Suggested Reading:

  1. Holly Tucker, Blood Work: A Tale of Murder and Medicine in the Scientific Revolution (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011).
  2. Anita Guerrini, Experimenting with Animals and Humans: From Galen to Animal Rights (Baltimore: the Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.)


  1. “The Method Observed in Transfusing the Bloud out of One Animal into Another,” Phil. Trans. 1665-1666 1, 353-358. Accessed November 7, 2016.
  2. “An Extract of a Letter, Written by J. Denis, Doctor of Physick and Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics at Paris, Touching a Late Cure of an Inveterate Phrensy by the Transfusion of Blood,” Phil. Trans. 1666-1667 2, 617-623. Accessed November 7, 2016.
  3. “An Account of the Experiment of Transfusion, Practised upon a Man in London,” Phil. Trans. 1666-1667 2, 557-559. Accessed November 7, 2016.
  4. Elizabeth Yale, “First Blood Transfusion: A History,” JSTOR Daily: Where News Meets Its Scholarly Match, April 22, 2015. Accessed November 7, 2016.