Established in 1788, the Historical Medical Library was Philadelphia's central medical library for over 150 years, serving its medical schools, hospitals, physicians and other health professionals.
Today, it is an independent research library devoted to the history of medicine and the medical humanities, serving hundreds of scholars, health professionals, students and popular writers each year.
The College's collection of early printed books includes more than four hundred incunabula or editions printed before 1501. Thanks to a recent grant from the William Penn Foundation, we can claim that ours is the best-cataloged collection of incunabula in the world. Among our more than 12,000 other rare books are the majority of editions that laid the basis of modern biomedicine—including one of the world's best copies of William Harvey's De motu cordis [On the Motion of the Heart] (1628) which first described the circulation of the blood, and two copies of De humani corporis fabrica [On the Fabric of the Human Body] (1543) by Andreas Vesalius, which was responsible for the later development of both modern anatomy and modern medical illustration.
In addition to its rare books and nineteenth- and twentieth-century collections, the College Library is notable for its manuscripts and archives. Within this collection are the College's own archives, the archives of other Philadelphia medical institutions, and letters, case books, and student notebooks that document the personal life and professional practice of doctors in the Philadelphia region and around the world. Among our most important manuscript collections are the bulk of extant letters written by S. Weir Mitchell—Civil War surgeon, neurologist, physiologist, novelist, and leading member of the College for more than fifty years.