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Geometrical Ratio


Prices for medical books a few decades old were usually insignificant. When superseded, they had lost their value to current medicine. However, Billings' determination to acquire historical texts led him to a new problem. Some books were so old that their age and rarity made them difficult to obtain.

Just such a situation occurred when Charleston, South Carolina, physician and botanist Dr. Francis Peyre Porcher offered Billings eleven 16th-century versions of the writings of Hippocrates and Galen. Porcher believed that Billings' labor on the Library formed a "great and useful work" but still felt that, given his financial circumstances and the value of the books, he couldn't donate them. He asked Billings to name a price for them, saying he had no notion of their value, but that

The works of authors of the highest merit increase in value in a geometrical ratio in proportion as their date reaches back into the 16th century if the editions also are scarce.

Billings' offer in July 1872 evidently was unsatisfactory. Replying to the rejection, Billings told Porcher that he didn't "feel justified in paying more for books than I can buy them in E[urope] with a few [months] delay."

By October Porcher was willing to entertain another offer and sent the books to Billings for inspection.

Determined to maximize his budget, Billings sent Porcher a check for $175, saying he had consulted with Surgeon General Barnes and that it "is the utmost I can give and if you think it is not equal to the value of the books I will return them to you." Evidently resigned to what he thought was an inadequate price, Porcher accepted with a "pang of regret," saying he was "partially reconciled to their leaving my library only because they go into yours."



Photographic portrait, in black and white, of Francis Peyre Porcher. Image is a three quarter view from the shoulders up of an elderly man in a business suit, balding, wearing glasses, has a mustache.

For Francis Peyre Porcher (1825-1895), botany was a family tradition. Porcher's great grandfather Thomas Walter was a pioneer South Carolina botanist. Porcher's cousin H. W. Ravenel's botanical research helped inform Porcher's compilation of medicinal plants in the South, which was intended to assist southern troops during the Civil War.

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Title page of book, text in black, as follows: Prize essay, (To which the first prize of one hundred dollars, offered by the South Carolina Medical Association, was awarded February, 1860.) Illustrations of Disease with the Microscope. Clinical investigations, aided by the microscope, and by chemical reagents; with microscopical observations of pathological specimens, medical and surgical, obtained in Charleston, S.C. A contribution intended to disclose the minute history of the diseases prevailing in this latitude, and to assist future students; w with upwards of five hundred original drawings from nature, made at the time of the observations. By Francis Peyre Porcher, M.D. lecturer on material medical and therapeutics. Part first. with one hundred and ten illustrations on wood. 'Natura maxime miranda in minimis.' - Linnaeus. 'Where there is an obscurity too deep for our reason, 'tis good to sit down with a description.' - Sir Thomas Browne's 'Religio Medici.' Charleston, S.C., C.S.A. Published by the South Carolina Medical Association. Evans & Cogswell, printers. 1861.
Page also includes handwritten inscription in black ink reading: Surgeon Gen. Barnes with compliments of the author, and also Surg. in ch. City Hospital, Charleston.

Though he directed military hospitals for the Confederacy, Porcher quickly adjusted to the reconciled Union. He presented a copy of this 1861 work to Surgeon General Barnes sometime between 1865 and 1868.

Title page of book, text in black, in Latin, as follows: Cl. Galeni Pergameni de morborum et symptomatum differentiis and caussis libri sex, Gulielmo Copo Bassileiessi interprete, accurate cum vetustis codicibus collation quamplurimis in locis diligentius quam vnquam antehac castigati. Praefixa sung singulis capitibus argument, quibus eoru quae tradutur, methodus indicator: accessit and index copiossissimus.Lugduni, apud Gulielmum Rouillium, 1560. Page includes a drawing of an eagle standing on an orb with two snakes rising up beneath its wings on either side and, written around the border the words in virtute et fortuna.
Page also bears handwritten inscription in black ink reading: Go: F. Peyre Porcher, M.D. Ra: Florence 1854.

De Morborum et Symptomatum Differentiis & Causis Libri Sex. One of the set of eleven 16th-century medical books that Porcher sold to the Library. He acquired all of them during a visit to Florence, Italy, where he had studied medicine in 1849.