April 18, 1997

Library lands rare collection of medical textbooks

Library lands rare collection of medical textbooks

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Dr. Harris Riley Jr. (left) looks over a newly donated collection of textbooks with (from left) Eskind Biomedical Library's Mary Teloh and medical students Chris Petit and Sarah Lilly

A rare collection of books by Sir William Osler, one of the pioneers of modern medical education, has been donated by a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine alumnus to the historical collections of Eskind Biomedical Library.

The family of the late Dr. G. Dykes Cordell ‹ a 1970 VUSM graduate, member of the 1970-72 housestaff and a 1986 fellow ‹ has donated 251 books to the history of medicine room.

"It gives us a priceless collection of one of medicine's most important figures," said Dr. Harris D. Riley Jr., professor of Pediatrics. "Sir William Osler wrote the first textbook of modern medicine. He was quite a physician and I'm delighted that we have received this wonderful collection through the generosity of Dr. Cordell and his family," he said.

Riley became a friend of Cordell's when Cordell was director of Pediatric Education at a hospital in Austin, Texas in the 1970s. Cordell had written Riley about a study he had published at the University of Oklahoma and mentioned he was an avid collector of Osler books. The two became acquainted through their letters and Riley suggested that Cordell donate his collection to Vanderbilt at an appropriate time.

Osler, who died in 1919, was not considered a great scientist, but gave modern medicine one of its greatest gifts ‹ a well-organized textbook which survived 16 editions and ran through 1947. The textbook was translated into French, German, Chinese and Spanish.

In 1892, he published Principles and Practice of Medicine, a 1,050-page textbook which he wrote alone while continuing his full clinical and academic responsibilities at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Osler was physician-in-chief and professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The need for a comprehensive textbook was evident in the late 1800s. The few in existence were difficult to read and out of date.

Cordell's collection includes a first edition of Principles and Practice of Medicine. The collection is marked with special bookplates and is estimated to be worth more than $25,000.