Warren Library

Dublin Core


Warren Library


In 1928, the library of Harvard Medical School received a magnificent bequest from Dr. John Warren (1874-1928) of 2,000 medical books, pamphlets, and manuscripts, assembled by five generations of the Warren family of Boston. Ranging from the earliest days of printing to the start of the 20th century, the Warren Library contains some of the rarest and most significant works in the history of medicine and surgery, including titles by Andreas Vesalius, William Harvey, William Hunter, Joannes de Ketham, John Hunter, Ambroise Paré, and Celsus, along with ten incunables.

Both a working professional collection and a leisure-time resource, the Warren Library reflects the tastes, occupations, and preoccupations of its owners. Dr. John Collins Warren contributed a significant collection of pamphlets related to the development and use of ether as an anesthetic—hardly surprising given his role as the surgeon in the groundbreaking first public operation at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846. The published writings of the Warrens themselves are all represented in the collection. A number of Warren Library books bear presentation inscriptions from their authors to members of the family. A small handful even have a succession of family signatures on their title-pages or flyleaves, as the books passed from one generation to the next, over the course of a century and a half. Many of the volumes also carry versions of the distinctive Warren bookplate with the family’s coat of arms depicting a rearing lion on a shield. This device became the basis for the seal of Harvard Medical School.

Collection Items

Receipt for Spurzheim's cranium from the Boston Phrenological Society
In 1850, after some years of dormancy, the Boston Phrenological Society's collection of casts and skulls was sold to Dr. John Collins Warren and later added to the specimens of the Warren Anatomical Museum at Harvard Medical School. This is Dr.…

Letter from Oliver Wendell Holmes to John Collins Warren
While Holmes' views on homeopathy are well attested, this letter to Dr. John Collins Warren (1778-1856) indicates he had at least some early interest in the concurrent phrenological movement. Holmes here invites Warren to attend his lecture on the…

Report of a Committee of the Massachusetts Medical Society on Homœopathy
After the petition to resign of one of its homeopathic members, Isaac Colby of Salem, the Massachusetts Medical Society appointed a committee, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, to consider the question of homeopathy and whether its practitioners…

Conciliator differentiarum philosophorum et medicorum
The thirteenth-century Italian scholastic, Petrus de Abano, translated Hippocrates, Galen, and many other classic Greek medical texts into Latin. His major work, the Conciliator differentiarum [Reconciler of the Differences Between Philosophers and…

American medical botany
In addition to being a detailed examination of plants native to the United States with their medicinal uses, American medical botany is the first publication in this country to employ a color printing process for its plates, using an innovative…

The Enlarged Foundation
Just as his great-grandfather had been instrumental in establishing the Harvard Medical School in the eighteenth century, so Dr. J. Collins Warren provided the impetus for the construction of the buildings of the Quad at the beginning of the…

A View of the Mercurial Practice in Febrile Diseases
Although Dr. John Warren published a number of pamphlets and articles—including the first article to appear in The New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery—this is his only monograph. It was published near the end of his life and…

Etherization, with Surgical Remarks
Following the first public operation with ether anesthesia, Dr. John Collins Warren began to assemble data from over 200 surgical cases to promote the discovery, hoping to change "the slow progress of the practice of etherization in this country…

Pharmacopoeia Collegii Regalis Londini
The Royal College of Physicians first began to publish an authoritative list of pharmaceutical compounds and directions for their use in 1618. The title-page of this third edition of the Pharmacopoeia is notable for the succession of signatures of…

Physical Education and the Preservation of Health
The second edition of Dr. Warren

Rhinoplastic Operations with Some Remarks on the Autoplastic Methods
Dr. J. Mason Warren published his account of the first American rhinoplasty in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal for March 8, 1837. The article is a landmark in the history of plastic surgery in this country. It was reprinted with two…

Surgical Operations on Tumours with Cases and Operations
Based on years of study and examination of patients and specimens, this compendium of Dr. John Collins Warren's research was intended to help physicians distinguish between different kinds of tumors and growths. Specimens from several of the cases…

Description of the Gilbert Abbott Operation at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Description of the first public demonstration of a surgical operation employing sulphuric ether as an anesthetic, the Morton inhaler, and the imperfect. etherization.

Invitation to the Semi-Centennial of Anaesthesia Celebration
Invitation to the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first public demonstration of surgical anesthesia, signed by William Sturgis Bigelow and J. Collins Warren.
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