Our Collections

Due to our transition, our manuscripts, rare books and special collections are not available at this time.

A Living Resource

The roots of many answers to today’s questions in clinical medicine can be found in the experiences of the past, whether a 17th century description of anorexia nervosa or 20th century data concerning the use of penicillin to control rheumatic fever. The Boston Medical Library’s collection of ancient and rare medical literature allows you an unrivaled opportunity to visit medicine’s past and present, all housed in a single location. The chance to locate and examine under one roof a collection of medical literature that ranges from the Middle Ages to the age of space exploration is equaled by few medical libraries in the world. The rich heritage of medicine at the Boston Medical Library awaits you.


Thanks to the stewardship of James Reed Chadwick, the physician responsible for the revival of the BML in the 1870’s, and succeeding librarians, the Library now contains an outstanding collection of portraits of famous Massachusetts physicians, including works by Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin Greenleaf, Rembrandt Peale, and other notable American artists. The Library’s periodical collection, now generally acknowledged as one of the best and most complete in the world, was also created during Chadwick’s tenure and contains medical titles ranging from the earliest 17th century periodicals to issues newly off the press.The Boston Medical Library’s first rare book collection was a collection on the subject of placenta previa donated in 1875 by William Read, a Boston physician. It became the nucleus of the Library’s significant collection on obstetrics, one of the most extensive in the world. In 1888 the Library received Dr. Holmes’ collection of 1,200 volumes, including many rare, ancient, and valuable works in anatomy.

One of the most remarkable of the Library’s collection is its holdings of incunabula, the largest collection of rare 15th century medical printings in any medical library in the world. The Library’s Solomon M. Hyams Collection of Hebrew Medical Literature, a collection of medical Judaica endowed in 1930, allowed the Boston Medical Library to acquire many early Hebrew manuscripts and books from Europe during the rise of Nazism, when many of them would have otherwise perished. The Boston Medical Library now preserves 5 percent of all pre-1600 Hebrew manuscripts in America, as well as a fine collection of books and incunabula written by Jewish physicians or concerning Jewish medicine.

An unrivaled depth and breadth of medical history

As one of the great treasure houses of the world for old, rare, and historical medical literature, the Boston Medical Library contains large and significant collections of books, and frequently, manuscripts on almost every medical specialty. The Library’s holdings are especially rich in:

  • Anatomy, surgery (including an outstanding collection of anatomical atlases and visual works), artistic anatomy (anatomical texts and atlases intended for the use of artists)
  • Plastic surgery, physiology, chemistry, anesthesia, radiology, obstetrics and gynecology, neurology and psychiatry
  • Herbals and medical botany, as well as pharmacy and materia medica
  • Dentistry, and
  • 15th – 19th century European books, English medical literature of all ages, and medical books issued in America between 1668 and 1870.

The library’s holdings of early English medical literature caused a recent researcher from England to exclaim, “You have all of the English medical titles I haven’t been able to find in England. Letting a scholar loose in your library is like letting a child loose in a candy store with a thousand dollar bill!”

Medical literature, coinage, portraits, iconography

The Boston Medical Library also houses:

  • One of the largest collections of medically related manuscripts in America used by scholars worldwide
  • The Storer Collection of Medical Numismatics, the world’s largest assemblage of medical coins, medals, and similar artifacts
  • A choice collection of early instruments and other medical artifacts
  • A significant collection of medical portraits and iconography, including approximately 80,000 portraits, photographs and prints of physicians and medical scientists of all ages, plus medical scenes, antique medical prints, and medical caricatures and satires.
Special thanks to Richard J. Wolfe, M.L.S., A.B.
Former Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Countway Library, & Joseph Garland Librarian, Emeritus of the Boston Medical Library, for original text.