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Prints and Photographs

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, 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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About Images from the History of Medicine (IHM)

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

Newly acquired 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.

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

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How to Search Prints and Photographs

Search for prints and photographs in the Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) or LocatorPlus.

To Search Images by Keyword in the IHM

Using the “Search” IHM box, enter keyword searches. The search engine will retrieve images that have the keyword(s) entered in any of the fields in the bibliographic data record.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.

Instructions for additional ways to search including Advanced Searching can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

To Search Images in LocatorPlus

Images can also be found in the Library’s online catalog LocatorPlus. Detailed instructions for searching images in LocatorPlus can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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Other Sources for Historical Pictures

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Plate [1]. Anatomie méthodique, ou Organographie humaine en tableaux synoptiques, avec figures, Sarlandière, Jean-Baptiste.

Historical Anatomies on the Web (Anatomical illustrations)

Florence R. Sabin sitting at a lab bench with a microscope at the Rockefeller Institute.

Profiles in Science (Innovators in biomedical research and public health)

The nurse depicted in this 2006 photograph, was in the process of administering an intramuscular vaccination in the left shoulder muscle of a young girl. The nurse was pinching the overlying shoulder skin, in order to immobilize the injection site.

Medical Stock Sources: Medical Stock Image Sources

How to Access and Use Prints and Photographs

The easiest access to the Prints and Photographs Collection is through the Images from the History of Medicine (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. Access to originals may require advance notice.

Requesting Digital Copies of Images

Questions regarding digital copies 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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