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Prints and Photographs

NLM Prints and Photographs Collection are administered by the Prints and Photographs Program.

  • About the Prints and Photographs Collection

    The Prints and Photographs Collection contains approximately 100,000 images dating from the 15th to the 21st century. The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine. Most types of printmaking are represented: woodcuts, engravings, etchings, mezzotints, aquatints, and lithographs. Also included in the collection are illustrations from the historical book collection. The collection is administered by the NLM History of Medicine Division (HMD).

    • Description of the Prints and Photographs Collection

      The collection's strength lies in its pre-World War II materials. Areas of concentration include portraits of health professionals and biomedical scientists; views of health institutions, such as hospitals and medical schools; fine prints with medically related themes; and images reproduced from the Library's rare book and manuscript collections. There are smaller numbers of illustrations of anatomy, medical techniques, and diseases, chiefly derived from rare book illustrations, such as Andreas Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Subjects include medieval astrology, World War I hospitals, international efforts to overcome drug abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases, among others. Of particular note is the fine prints collection, numbering more than 3,000 items, including several hundred caricatures on medically related subjects by Honoré Daumier, George Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson, and Louis Léopold Boilly. The poster collection of approximately 12,000 items includes representative examples of historical and contemporary posters dealing with public health issues, such as AIDS, smoking, illicit drugs, and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as several hundred posters documenting activities at NIH.

    • History of the Prints and Photographs Collection

      The collection began in 1879 with the acquisition of 6,000 medical portraits by Cornelius Wilhelm Hendrik van Kaathoven. The prints were purchased at auction in Amsterdam by John Shaw Billings, the first director of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office, United States Army, which would later become NLM. In 1942, to insure the safety of the collection during World War II, the Prints and Photographs Collection was moved to Cleveland, along with the Library's rare and valuable books and manuscripts. During the ten-year period following the war, the portrait and print collection grew from 15,000 items to almost 60,000. In May 1962 the collection was moved from Cleveland to the Library's current location in Bethesda. The Prints and Photographs Collection has continued to grow through the generosity of many donors, transfers from other government agencies, and purchases. Recent collection efforts have concentrated on posters, especially those dealing with the AIDS epidemic, and 20th-century materials.

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  • About the Image Database (IHM)

    The Image database, Images from the History of Medicine (IHM), is an online picture database of nearly 70,000 images from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) History of Medicine Division's Prints and Photographs Collection. IHM includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century.

    Newly acquired posters and other materials are continually being added to the IHM. In addition, existing records are regularly reviewed and upgraded, with new records and edits made available in the IHM.

    Future plans include adding more new images and catalog records to the database.

    See Recent Acquisitions: Prints and Photographs.

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  • How to Search Prints and Photographs

    Search for prints and photographs in the Image database (IHM) or LocatorPlus.

    To Search Images in the IHM

    There are five different ways to search IHM: the Search IHM box, Advanced Search, within the Data Panel of the Detail View, Browse All, and Browse Categories. For keyword searching, we recommend using the Search IHM box.

    Search IHM BOX

    Enter keyword searches here. The search engine will retrieve images that have the keyword(s) entered in any of the fields in the bibliographic data record. The IHM search engine employs "similar to" searching, which means that it self-corrects commonly misspelled words.

    To expand or narrow your search, you can use the Boolean operators AND and OR. It is not possible to use the NOT operator at this time.

    To search for an exact phrase, enter the phrase within quotation marks (for example, "medical college").

    Keyword searches can be truncated using an asterisk (*). This is also called wildcard searching (for example, medic* for medical, medicine, medicinal). You can also use a question mark (?) in place of a single letter.

    Words with accent marks or other diacritics, such as François or Honoré, can be searched by adding the special characters to the search term. If you do not add the special characters to your search term the words with special characters will not appear in your search results.


    Use the Advanced Search option to perform complex searches or to search for specific database terms, where you do not know their exact spelling.

    1. Select a specific data field from the drop down menu to search in.
    2. Enter search terms in one of 3 search options:
      • 1. Find all these words
      • 2. Find any of these words
      • 3. Find this exact wording

      As you begin to enter terms to search by, you will see how the search query is being built.

      The first option, "find all these words", will search for all the words in any order – similar to using "and". The search results will contain only those images containing the terms you entered. For example, if you select the data field "Subject (MeSH Term)", and enter the terms "health education", the results will be limited to images with the terms health AND education in the Subject (MeSH Term) data field.

      The second option, "find any of these words", will search for any of the words – similar to using "or". For example, if you select the field "Title" and enter the terms "AIDS SIDA", the results will be limited to images with either the term AIDS OR SIDA in the Title data field.

      The third option, "find this exact wording", will search for all of the words in the exact order you enter them. This option also provides you with a speed search feature. As soon as you begin typing you will see existing terms from the collection, making it easy to select specific terms.

    3. You can continue to add values to your search using one of the 3 options, or a combination of them. Click on the + icon, to choose additional data fields and add additional search terms. To expand your search, change And to Or in the drop down menu.
    4. Click on the Search button.


    Searching within the data panel of the Detail View is another way to perform a keyword search within all the fields of the bibliographic data record or limited to one particular field.

    To view an image in Detail View, click on the image. The data panel is on the left side of the screen. Scroll over a data field and choose either "Search All Fields" or "Search Data Field Name". "Search All Fields" will search for the keyword(s) in all of the fields in the bibliographic data record. "Search Data Field Name" searches only within that particular field.


    Use this search method to browse all of the images in the database, page by page. If you are not certain what you are looking for, this may be the search for you.

    Narrowing Your Search

    To the left of the thumbnail images is the Narrow Your Search box, which lists the most frequently used terms in the database in the categories What, Where, and Who. See Browse Categories below, for a detailed explanation of what displays in each category.

    To see all the images that have these terms in their bibliographic records, simply click on the term.

    Note: At this time, clicking on a term that contains an ampersand (&) does not work. We expect this system bug to be fixed shortly in a future release of the system software.

    To see a list of all the terms in a particular category, click on the Show More link in that category. The screen that opens up will show an alphabetical list of all the most frequently used terms in that category in the database.

    After you have selected a term, the images will display in a results screen. On this screen you will have the option of further narrowing your search by clicking on additional terms in the categories list or expanding your search by removing previously selected terms.


    This option allows one to browse the most frequently entered names, places, and subject terms in the data fields of the bibliographic records. Only terms used 5 or more times in the database will display under the categories, What, Where, and Who.

    "What" terms contain topical subject terms (including MeSH), physical formats (portraits, posters, etc.) and the names of people who are the subject of an image.

    "Where" terms include both geographic subject terms and countries of publication.

    "Who" terms include the names of people and corporations who are responsible for creating or publishing an image.

    The terms are listed alphabetically in each category. The number in parentheses after each term shows how many times the term has been used in the database.

    If the term contains an ellipsis or three dots (…), it has been truncated. To see the full term, point your cursor at the term, but do not click on the term. When your cursor is pointing at the term, it will become underlined and a text box will display the full term.

    To view all the images that have a particular term in their bibliographic records, click on that term. The images will display in the Browse All screen.

    Note: At this time, clicking on a term that contains an ampersand (&) does not work. We expect this system bug to be fixed shortly in a future release of the system software.

    In the Narrow Your Search box to the left, you have the option to further narrow your results by adding more terms from the categories list. The terms you select will display in the Narrow Your Search box under the heading Remove. Remove a previously selected term by clicking on that term in the Remove list. Removing a term will automatically expand your search results.

    Using the "alpha-numeric links" (A, B, C, … 7, 8, 9, Other)

    At the top of the Browse Categories screen are links to the alphabetic characters a-z, the numbers 0-9, and an Other category.

    Click on a letter or number, to see all search terms in the What, Where, and Who categories that begin with that letter or number.

    Click on the "Other" category to see all search terms that begin with a special character, such as a quotation mark, parenthesis, or square bracket.

    The alpha-numeric links display lists of search terms combined from all 3 categories. Currently it is not possible to view just the terms beginning with one letter from a single category.

    To Search Images in LocatorPlus

    • Go to the NLM LocatorPlus website:
    • Click on LocatorPlus.
    • Go to QUICK LIMIT and highlight the HISTORY OF MEDICINE IMAGES selection.

      Or you can go to SET LIMITS BEFORE SEARCHING, scroll down to "LOCATION" and click on HMD PRINTS AND PHOTOS. Click on SET LIMITS.

      Note: Limits only work with Keyword and Title searches.

    • Go to SIMPLE SEARCH – AS: ("Keyword Anywhere" is recommended).
    • Enter your Keyword in the Search: field and click the Search button.
    • A list of images will display. Click on the ones you want to see. For the most complete information, click on DETAILED VIEW and read the SUMMARY.

      Note: Sample search examples to come.

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  • How to Access and Use Prints and Photographs

    The easiest access to the Prints and Photographs Collection is through the Image database (IHM).

    Prints and photographs may also be consulted in the History of Medicine Reading Room between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. Please see the Reference staff to request an item.

    How to Order Reproductions from the IHM Web Site

    Photographic reproductions and digital representations of images in the Image database (IHM) can be obtained from Light, Inc. by using the following process:

    • Place order directly with Light, Inc. Orders cannot be filled by NLM.
    • When ordering an image, identify the image by Order Number, which is located in each picture's record.
    • Read carefully the IHM Copyright & Permission Information FAQ.

    Note: The following commercial non-government company is listed for your convenience. The government does not endorse or guarantee the services of the company.

    For reproductions contact:

    Light, Inc.
    12160-A Tech Road
    Silver Spring, Maryland 20904-1914
    Phone: (301) 680-9700
    Fax: (301) 680-0575

  • Contact Prints and Photographs

    Ginny Roth, Curator
    Phone: (301) 435-4994
    Fax: (301) 402-0872

    Prints and Photographs Collection
    History of Medicine Division, Bldg. 38, Rm. 1E-21
    National Library of Medicine
    8600 Rockville Pike
    Bethesda, Maryland 20894

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