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Prints and Photographs

About the Prints and Photographs Collection

The Prints and Photographs Collection contains images dating from the 15th to the 21st century. The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, 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. If you are interested in making a donation to the Library, please refer to Donating Historical Materials to the National Library of Medicine

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How to Access the Prints and Photographs Collection

Images from the Prints and Photographs Collection can be accessed online through Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) in NLM’s Digital Collections, a free online resource of biomedical books and still and moving images.

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. Access to originals require advance notice.

Questions regarding the Prints &s Photographs Collection can be directed to:

Ginny Roth, Curator
Phone: (301) 827-4480
Fax: (301) 402-0872

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

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About Images from the History of Medicine (IHM)

IHM, is an online picture database of images from HMD’s historical collections. IHM is available through NLM’s Digital Collections.

Many of the images in IHM are featured in the HMD’s blog, Circulating Now. New content is posted every week.

IHM is also available in Open-iSM, NLM’s open access biomedical image search engine from the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (LHNCBC). Open-iSM enables search and retrieval of abstracts and images (including charts, graphs, clinical images, etc.) from open source literature and biomedical image collections.

A selection of public domain images from IHM is also available on Flickr Commons.

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How to Search and Download Images from IHM

Search for images in IHM in NLM’s Digital Collections or LocatorPlus.

Instructions for searching images in NLM’s Digital Collections

Instructions for searching images in LocatorPlus

Images in NLM’s Digital Collections can be downloaded in either TIF or JPG format. While viewing the resource record for an image, click ‘Download’ underneath the image to select the format.

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Other Sources for Historical Pictures