The Warren Library
In 1928, the Harvard Medical Library received a magnificent bequest 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 up to the opening 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. Many of the oldest items in the collection were among the last to be added to it. There are ten incunables—books printed before 1501—in the Warren Library. Most of these were purchased and added by Dr. John Warren just before his death in 1928. Book-collecting was his great personal pleasure, and he acquired many notable early anatomical and surgical works.
Both a working medical library and a leisure-time resource, the Warren collection 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—from Dr. John Warren’s A View of the Mercurial Practice in Febrile Diseases (1813) to editions of his great-great-grandson’s textbook, An Outline of Practical Anatomy (1924)—are all represented in the collection. A copy of John Morgan’s A Discourse upon the Institution of Medical Schools in America (1765) is inscribed by its author to Dr. John Warren in 1783—just as Dr. Warren was beginning to deliver the first lectures at Harvard Medical School. This volume is complemented by John Warren’s manuscript notes for the earliest surviving medical lectures at Harvard.
A number of other 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 carry versions of the distinctive Warren bookplate with the family’s coat of arms depicting a rearing lion on a shield. This became the basis for the seal of Harvard Medical School.