Season’s Greetings!

We’ve no shortage of stunning, interesting, and unique images in our collections. The task of choosing an image to feature on the library’s holiday card brought up a wealth of options. The winner? The lovely Magnolia below.


Magnolica Glauca, Plate XXVII

The Magnolia glauca, or small magnolia, comes to us from Jacob Bigelow’s American Medical Botany, 1817-1820. According to Bigelow, Magnolias “are distinguished by their rich, smooth foliage, large fragrant flowers, and aromatic bark… They begin to flower in different parts of the United States in May, June and July. The flowers are highly fragrant, and may be perceived by their perfume at a considerable distance.” The text goes on to classify Magnolia as an aromatic tonic that is most effective in treating chronic rheumatism.

Published as a three volume set in Boston, American Medical Botany is a compendium of plants and their medicinal uses. Each plant is illustrated and described in detail. American Medical Botany was one of the first botanical books printed with color. (The other, also in our collection, is Benjamin Barton’s Vegetable Materia Medica of the United States of the same year.) To avoid the time-consuming process of hand-coloring each of the sixty plates in each printing, Bigelow invented a mechanical method of printing the engraved plates and tinting them simultaneously. Read on to see more beautiful prints!

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Treating the plague in 1500

The Archives and Special Collections at UCSF Library maintains an extensive collection of rare books in many fields of health sciences. Due to their unique and often fragile nature, rare books are available for use only under supervision. One of the most interesting books in the collection is Liber pestilentialis de venenis epidemie, written in German by Hieronymus Brunschwig and published in Strassburg in 1500. This first edition book was acquired in October 1955 from a rare bookseller in New York City, for a mere $650.00. A transaction note in the book indicates it to be an excessively rare book, especially given its good and complete condition.


Hieronymus Brunschwig, Liber Pestilentialis de venenis epidemie,1500

This book is an example of incunabula – books printed between the 1450’s and January 1501, using metal type attributable to the transformative printer, Johann Gutenberg. You can note the black and angular gothic print, popular at the time. And as was the convention of the time, the parchment used was known as vellum made from calfskin that is bleached. The book includes 23 large woodcuts, and printed “pointed hand” nota marks in the margins. The book constitutes 40 leaves, or what we would call 80 pages today.


Hieronymus Brunschwig, Liber Pestilentialis de venenis epidemie,1500

This particular book is considered to be one of the most important documents of its time for the history of contagious diseases, in particular its devotion to means of avoiding and treating the plague.  While little is known about the author, army surgeon Hieronymus Brunschwig, he is known to have been a scholar in the field of surgery and credited for having taken advantage of the recently invented printing press to gain influence.  He is best known for his first book, Buch der Cirurgia, Hantwirckung der Wundartzny, which served as a guidebook for surgeons and those in training.  Also notable for its woodcuts and early specimens of medical illustration, this book draws extensively on Brunschwig’s own experience, and contains the first detailed accounts of gunshot wounds in medical literature.

For more information, please refer to these sources:

Dawn of Western Printing. (2004). Incunabula

Tubbs, R. S., Bosmia, A. N., Mortazavi, M. M., Loukas, M., Shoja, M., & Gadol, A. A. C. (2012). Hieronymus Brunschwig (c. 1450–1513): his life and contributions to surgery. Child’s Nervous System, 28(4), 629-632.

Waife, S. O. (Ed). (1976). Notable medical books.  Lilly Research Laboratories.


Prosper Alpini’s De Plantis Exoticis

One of the many volumes in the UCSF Special Collections is a first edition of De Plantis Exoticis, written by Prosper Alpini and first published in 1627. Take a look at the engraved title page below:

Alpini, Prospero, De Plantis Exoticis

Alpini, Prosper, De Plantis Exoticis, title page

De Plantis Exoticis, edited posthumously by Aplini’s son, builds on an earlier work of the author’s, De Plantis Aegypti liber1592. Exoticis boasts 145 beautiful, full-page engravings of plants, comprising nearly half of the entire volume.

Alpini, Prosper, De Plantis Exoticis

Alpini, Prosper, De Plantis Exoticis

Alpini was born in the Republic of Venice in 1553 and died at the age of 63 in 1617. During his career he was a personal physician and a professor of botany at Padua. Alpini was the first to publish descriptions of many plants that were unknown to other botanists at the time. Much of this information was gathered during his travels to Crete, other Greek islands, and Egypt.

Alpini, Prosper, De Plantis Exoticis, p. 46

Alpini, Prosper, De Plantis Exoticis, p. 46

Alpini, Prosper, De Plantis Exoticis, p. 12-125

Alpini, Prosper, De Plantis Exoticis, p. 124-125