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Royal College of Surgeons of England Library

Address. 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PN [Map]
Telephone. (020) 7973-2138
Fax. (020) 7405-4438
e-mail. [library@rcseng.ac.uk]
Internet. http://www.rcseng.ac.uk/

Governing body or responsible institution. College Council
Functions. To serve the diplomates of the College, its Faculties and members of the Specialist Associations. Use by the wider academic community and members of the public is encouraged on the basis of prior arrangements.
Subjects. Surgery, anatomy, pathology, history of medical science.

Access. Open to staff and diplomates of the College, to others upon introduction by a Fellow of the College, or by a Dean of a medical school, or at the Librarian's discretion. - Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. The library is closed on bank holidays and other days when the College is closed and throughout the month of August.
Special facilities. Photocopying, photography, microfiche reader.
Printed information. Library leaflet; periodicals list, available also on the College's webpage.
Travel directions. Nearest underground stations: Holborn, Temple. On several bus routes. - Parking at meters in Lincoln's Inn Fields (limited).


1.1 A guild of surgeons had been in separate existence in London since at least the 14th century. In 1540 its Master, Thomas Vicary, the author of a noted anatomical textbook, The Englishman's treasure (London 1596), obtained from King Henry VIII an act of union with the Company of Barbers. This united guild continued in existence until 1745, when they separated, the surgeons becoming incorporated under the title of ``The Masters, Governors and Commonalty of the Art and Science of Surgery'. A library had been collected by the united guild during the 17th century, and as part of the proposals made in 1701 for its proper regulation a committee of the Court drew up detailed rules. Unfortunately no trace of this library now remains.

1.2 At the time of the separation of the Barbers and Surgeons this library was retained by the former group, which considered it to be its property. Two years later, however, as a method both of showing their respect for the Surgeons and of maintaining good relations, the Barbers offered the library to them for 25 guineas. This was refused by the Surgeons on the grounds that they considered the books to belong to them under the provisions of their incorporating Act of Parliament. After several futile attempts by the Barbers to sell the books they were sold to a local bookseller for £13. Evidence of the Surgeons' continuing lack of interest in forming a new library is seen in the unsuccessful urgings of their distinguished Scottish colleague, John Hunter, in 1786 and in the bitter protests of a Master of the Company, John Gunning, four years later. Gunning's suggestion that £80 should be expended each year on the purchase of suitable textbooks met with as little success as his other one that every member of the Company should donate a copy of each of his publications to help form a library.

1.3 It seems, however, that more weight was given to the provision of a suitable building, Surgeons' Hall in the Old Bailey, in which meetings could be held. Finally, after litigations between members of the new corporation of surgeons and those who were practising without the corporation's diploma, a charter was obtained in 1800 to establish a Royal College of Surgeons in London, but only on the insistence of its opponents that a library should be part of the new body. In spite of the receipt of an investment of £300 in 1816, whose proceeds were to be devoted to the purchase of books, the library's progress for the first quarter of the century was very slow. There was no librarian and complaints were voiced frequently by members about the inaccessibility of the books.

1.4 However the years from 1827 to 1829 saw significant efforts to improve the situation by the expenditure of large sums of money on books. In 1829 Robert Willis (1799-1878), a trained doctor and friend of the leading German scholars of his day, who had published a book on the diseases of the skin, was appointed librarian until his resignation in 1845. His expert knowledge of the history of medicine was used to great effect in his purchases from the Heber (Richard Heber), Kloss (Dr Georg Kloss) and Huzard sales, but his particular service to the collections was to ensure that the most modern publications, including periodicals, were added as soon after publication as possible.

1.5 After a gap of eight years, apparently caused by a lack of interest in the library by the Council of the College, another doctor, John Chatto (1809-1887), was appointed in 1853, who held the post until his death in 1887. Like Willis, he ensured that the most recent publications in a wide range of medical sciences, irrespective of the language in which they were written, were purchased. The first catalogue of the library was issued in 1831. Drawn up by Willis, it was followed by a classed one, again under his preparation, which was in use in manuscript for some years before a synopsis was printed in 1838 and which was recast for the complete classified catalogue printed in 1843. Work on a printed catalogue was discontinued under Chatto's successor, J. B. Bailey (d. 1897), who instead began a card catalogue, which was then unusual in British libraries. Another of Bailey's innovations was a separate, published list of periodicals. The first separate list of medical periodicals to be issued in this country, it showed that the library possessed at that time one of the best collections of such works in Europe. Although the number represented in the list, some 300, represented only a fraction of all those published at that time in the world, they included the best ones in anatomy of that period as well as many rare earlier journals of medical and scientific societies.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The Library of the Royal College of Surgeons today holds c. 45,000 vols, c. 50,000 pamphlets and c. 110,000 vols of periodicals. The Rare Book collection was separated from the main library in the 1950s and has c. 7,500 vols. There are 57 incunabula (among them early medical texts), c. 145 STC and c. 490 Wing items. The foreign 17th-century items (mainly on anatomy and surgery) total c. 1,000 vols, the 18th-century English and foreign books c. 2,500 vols. Later 19th-century books (c. 3,500 vols) include French and German texts on anatomy and physiology. The number of German-language and German-printed items before 1901 may be in the region of several hundred.

Subject Outline

2.2 Apart from occasional donations to the collections the 1831 catalogue and its four supplements contain the sum total of the library's holdings of German imprints up to the mid-19th century. After this date purchases concentrated increasingly on English-language materials, irrespective of the place of publication. Although the vast majority of the incunabula are Italian, there are 4 from German presses, including the standard works by Arnoldus de Villanova, Speculum medicinae ([Leipzig:] Martin Landsberg 1475), Hieronymus Braunschweig's Buch der Chirurgia (Strasbourg: Grüninger 1497) and Conrad Schellig's In pustulas: malum de Francia (Heidelberg: Miesch c. 1495), an example of that all too human tendency to ascribe medical ills and character defects to foreigners.

2.3 Examples of the rare earlier periodicals held by the library are Archiv für die Physiologie (Halle 1795-1815), Nordisches Archiv (Neues Nordisches Archiv) für Natur und Arzneywissenschaft (Kopenhagen 1799-1801), Chirurgische Bibliothek (Göttingen 1771-1797), Bibliothek für die Chirurgie (Göttingen 1806-1813; Hanover 1815-1828), while publications of early scientific societies include Acta (Nova Acta) Academiae Electoralis Moguntinae Scientiarum utilium quae Erfurti est (Erfurt 1777-1796), Abhandlungen der Churfürstlichen-baierischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (München 1763-1776), Historia et commentationes Academiae Electoralis Scientiarum et Elegantiorum Literarum Theodoro-Palatinae (Mannheim 1766-1794), Beschäftigungen der Berlinischen Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde (Berlin 1775-1779) and Annalen (Neue Annalen) der Wetterauischen Gesellschaft für die gesammte Naturkunde (Wetterau 1809-1818). As examples of collective writings one may cite Collectio dissertationum medicarum Marburgensium (Marburg 1791-1796) and the six-volume Selecta medica Francofurtensium (Frankfurt/Oder 1736-1739).

2.4 In the early period of the library's existence numerous works on subjects other than surgery, such as zoology, botany and natural history, were acquired, but the acquisition of these was later discouraged. However traces of these extraneous subjects can be found by a careful perusal of the published catalogues, e.g. Joannes Jonstonus' Historia naturalis de arboribus et plantis (Heilbronn 1768) and Vincenz Fohmann's Das Saugader-System der Wirbelthiere. Erstes Heft: Fische (Heidelberg 1827).

2.5 Such a perusal can also reveal numerous volumes which, in addition to treating subjects more central to surgery, also provide evidence of a sociolinguistic nature, namely the shift from Latin to German as a vehicle for technical works. That this shift had begun in the 18th century can be illustrated from the Physikalisch mikroskopische Zergliederung des Korns oder Rokens (Nuremberg 1764) by Martin Frobenius Ledermüller, by whom the library possesses two other works. This shift is all the more interesting in that some writers are represented by works which are written not only in each language, but where the vernacular text predates a Latin one, an example being Jacob Fidelis Ackermann's Ueber die körperliche Verschiedenheit des Mannes vom Weibe ausser den Geschlechtstheilen (Koblenz 1788) and Infantis androgyni historia et ichnographia; accedunt de sexu et generatione disquisitionis physiologicae (Jena 1805).

2.6 However, that that shift was a slow one can also be seen from the stubborn rearguard action put up by such medical writers as Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, Conspectus morborum secundum ordines naturales (Berlin 1819), Carl Zeller, De cephalaematomate, seu sanguineo cranii tumore recens natorum, commentatio inauguralis (Heidelberg 1822) and F. A. L. Popken, Historia epidemiae malignae anno 1826 Jeverae observatae (Bremen 1827).


3.1 General catalogues

The library catalogue is now available on the Unicorn system back to 1850.

Card catalogue

[separated into author and alphabetical subject; also covering earlier material]

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

3.2 Historic catalogues

Catalogue of the library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. London 1831 (authors); Supplements 1840 (part 2), 1849 (vol. 3 part 1), 1853 (vol. 3 part 2); classified index in vol. 3, 1853; Additions to the index, 1855, 1855 (vol. 4 part 1), 1860 (vol. 4 part 2)

Catalogue of the library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England [c. 1885]

A classed catalogue of the books contained in the library of the Royal College of Surgeons in London. London 1843

[Although a work of considerable skill, the classified catalogue was difficult to use on account of its lack of an author index, and in 1848 it was decided that no further work should be done on collating this with the other catalogues.]

List of the transactions, periodicals, and memoirs in the library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. London 1890 [interleaved with additions]. 2nd ed. London 1931


Bailey, J. B.: The library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. In: The Library 1 (1889) pp. 249-261

Le Fanu, W. R.: The history of the library of the College. Thomas Vicary lecture delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 25th October 1951. In: Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 9 (1951) pp. 366-382

Cope, Z.: The Royal College of Surgeons of England. A history. London 1959, pp. 257-273


Le Fanu, W. R.: Incunabula in the library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. In: Annals of Medical History, n.s. 3 (1931) pp. 674-676

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ... 2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 331-333

May 1998

William A. Kelly

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.