May 16, 2022

‘These Books Shaped the Practice of Medicine’: Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries (VCU) Acquires Large Collection of Rare Medical Texts, Illustrations and Documents

From VCU:

VCU Libraries has acquired a treasure trove of thousands of rare medical books, manuscripts, silhouettes and prints, providing researchers with the opportunity to explore the history and evolution of medicine in its earliest printed form.

The collection of Joseph Lyons Miller (1875-1957) — who practiced medicine in Thomas, West Virginia, while serving as medical director of the Davis Coal and Coke Co. and as surgeon to the Western Maryland Railroad Co. — includes 2,250 books, published from 1500 to 1946; 78 silhouettes; 3,500 prints; as well as approximately 400 manuscript items, including correspondence, account ledgers, medical student notes and essays with a significant portion related to Virginia and Virginia physicians.

“The Joseph Lyons Miller Collection contains remarkable first and second editions of books dating back to 1500, as well as prints and records,” said Teresa L. Knott, associate dean for VCU Libraries and director of the VCU Health Sciences Library. “These books shaped the practice of medicine, nursing and public hygiene. Many are artifacts themselves — offering beautiful illustrations, interesting printing techniques and insight into medical history.”

“Chirurgia minor” by Paracelsus, a 16th century Swiss physician, alchemist and philosopher who pioneered the use of chemistry in medicine. From VCU Libraries: “[Paracelsus] is referred to as the father of toxicology. Many of his works were not published until after his death, including ‘Chirurgia minor.’ This particular book is an example of expurgation by the Catholic Church. Works that included information the church deemed heretical could remain in circulation if the passages were censored. This volume contains passages that were burned with hot irons and acid to obscure the text.” (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)


Jodi Koste, interim department head and university archivist, VCU Health Sciences Library, said the collection is significant for a number of reasons.

“It represents a chapter in the history of VCU and the story of the public/private partnership that resulted in the first library building for the Medical College of Virginia,” she said. “The collection is noteworthy for the books, manuscripts, photographs and prints related to Virginia and the history of health care in the commonwealth. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is a collection of rare books that would be almost impossible to replicate today. The Miller Collection contains many 15th-, 16th-, and 17th-century titles vital to our understanding of the history and development of medicine. These scarce volumes rarely come on the market today. Only private collectors and the major research libraries in the United States and abroad are fortunate enough to have them in their collections.”


The collection also includes a significant number of prints, photos, engravings and lithographs focusing on prominent figures in the history of medicine.

Learn More, Read the Complete Acquisition Announcement (about 1500 words) and View Several Images

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.